Why has Security Sector Reform (SSR) emerged as a key area for research and policy? How has SSR research and practice evolved, particularly since the 9/11 attacks? What research efforts have been made in the area of SSR? This paper charts the emergence of the SSR policy agenda and examines how it has evolved over time. Critically, there is a disjuncture between SSR policy as articulated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC), international security assistance programmes, and the needs of developing countries.
This paper, commissioned by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), aims to help IDRC target its research at issues of security and insecurity, and to support future programming on SSR. Recent changes in the international environment since the 9/11 attacks are having a mixed impact on the SSR agenda. These changes highlight the importance of understanding which factors affect the influence of research upon policy and practice in SSR.
Principles of SSR are well known to development actors but have not yet been fully incorporated into development programming. Challenges faced in turning policy into practice include a current lack of coherence between development and security policies, and a renewed emphasis on ‘traditional’ security approaches following 9/11.
- The SSR policy agenda has a weak empirical base – a heavy normative emphasis of SSR has tended to limit detailed, independent research on reform contexts in favour of prescriptive studies.
- ‘Buy-in’ to the SSR policy agenda has been patchy – not all of the security work that donors are involved in meets the definition of SSR, thus the emphasis on a holistic and governance-based approach has been diluted.
- Differing donor interests, objectives, working cultures and practices have made it difficult to harmonise international policies and align them with the needs and priorities of recipient countries.
- Weak alliances between researchers and advocacy groups in the South, and between the South and the North, impede efforts to use findings to inform and influence high level policy debates.
- The post-9/11 security agenda highlights the relationship between counter-terrorism and development policy – there is pressure to make security the key foreign policy, thus subordinating trade and development.
Current trends highlight the risks of the SSR term being co-opted by the ‘hard’ security community. There is a strong case to stimulate greater debate on the core principles which underpin the SSR concept and how these principles apply to different contexts. Debate should be accompanied by attempts to institutionalise SSR thinking in the practice of international assistance in both the development and security spheres.
- The overwhelming priority should be to support more empirical research in the reform environment – IDRC should give more attention as to how empirical findings can be used to influence high level policy debates.
- Donors that have attempted to incorporate SSR principles into programming need to develop new mechanisms to enhance collaboration among different government departments.
- IDRC should tailor its research to take account of the unique circumstances facing each of the regions – such as closer collaboration with sub-regional organisations, governmental agencies and civil society networks.
- Diversity of situations should provide an opportunity for cross-regional networks and research between countries which are undergoing similar experiences.
- Post-9/11, many aid-dependent countries are put under conflicting pressures – encouraged to reduce security spending by some donors yet to bolster internal security and intelligence by others.