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Security Sector Reform: A Case Study Approach to Transition and Capacity Building

Authored by Dr. Sarah Meharg, Ms. Aleisha Arnusch. Edited by Professor Susan Merrill. | January 2010

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A Primer to Security Sector Reform (Summary)28

Reforming the security sector and strengthening the rule of law in a post-conflict host nation requires a sophisticated understanding of state and nonstate ac­tors and the interconnectivity of such influences. There are several broad conclusions about SSR and specific recommendations for the U.S. policy community and its partners in SSR planning and implementation.

SSR stakeholders must understand and revisit the policy goals and objectives of SSR programs. Achieving a legitimate, effective, and accountable host nation security sector is aligned with the international community agenda for such reforms. To assist a host nation in realizing these types of reform, intermediate goals are required that articulate a transitional process of moving forward over time. These intermediate goals should define what is good enough and fair enough at various stages in an ongoing SSR process. This planning can consider vacillation between permissive and nonpermissive security environments in which the reforms are being implemented with the host nation. Intermediate goals must clearly address the appropriate sequencing and prioritization of SSR activities within the context of what is sustainable in terms of resourcing through the long-term commitment required for capacity building, transformation, and ownership.

There is a qualitative and functional difference between establishing security in a nonpermissive environment and providing justice and law enforcement services. Establishing security is a predominately military task, and the primary method for accomplishing that task is the defeat and detention of individuals that pose an imminent security threat to military forces and the communities that they are protecting. Establishing security in this context will not address the need for community-based justice and police services, and those implementing SSR strategies--especially at the planning stages--must recognize this issue. Transitional approaches, which blend military detention operations with longer-term programs to restore justice services and rebuild police forces, are essential. As part of a transitional approach, DDR can provide a bridge from military detention operations to a broader, community-based reconstruction process that addresses justice and police services.

There is a prevalence of nonstate security actors in the nonpermissive and semi-permissive environments where SSR is most needed. Collaboration with these nonstate actors, who frequently enjoy greater legitimacy than statutory host nation security forces within localcommunities, can offer significant short-term benefits to intervening forces in stability operations. Such collaboration can pose serious risks to the SSR agenda in the longer-term because some nonstate security actors tend to undermine host nation authority and are themselves prone to criminalization, abuse of human rights, and predatory behavior. SSR programs must recognize the presence of nonstate security actors in the earliest stages of planning and program design, and determine how those nonstate actors will be addressed by the SSR activities. Legitimization of such actors in the early stages can be problematic later on as authority and ownership are transitioned to a host nation.

The U.S. Government's--and U.S. partners'--efforts to conduct SSR in the justice and law enforcement areas must improve significantly. This is in part a question of out-of-balance resourcing, with too much going to defense and military activities and not enough to justice and civil law enforcement. This imbalance is exacerbated by a lack of focus at the policy level on the critical role that justice and law enforcement play in stabilization and reconstruction, and also by a lack of institutionalized best practices for capacity building and reform in the justice and law enforcement sector. Lessons learned from interventions in Haiti in the 1990s suggest that reforms of police, justice, and corrections (penitentiaries) must be likened to a three-legged stool. If one leg is weak because of under-resourcing then the stool will fall, despite the fact that one of the legs may be very strong and well-resourced. The three legs work together in a healthy security sector; one cannot be overemphasized at the peril of the others.

Efforts to address policing and law enforcement shortfalls must recognize the critical role that rule of law plays in this area, and must determine ways and

means to quickly establish rule of law frameworks in transition environments. SSR stakeholders, including U.S. interagency and military actors, must address this set of gaps in capacity and capability to advance the broader U.S. SSR agenda within the agenda of the international community of partners.

Establishing an integrated funding system for SSR and crafting the necessary authorities to support that process are essential. Current U.S. Government funding processes are characterized by stovepiping and functional specialization, both in the congressional funding process and in the executive branch program design and implementation process. This fragmentation impedes efforts--both nationally and internationally--to develop integrated strategies that address sequencing and prioritizing issues across the full range of SSR activities while acknowledging the interconnectivity of the actors and institutions.


The case study analyses that follow this SSR primer are designed to function together. The case studies offer examples of SSR approaches in Kosovo, Liberia, and Haiti related to recommendations published in “Implementing Security Sector Reform,” Security Sector Reform Workshop, Interim Report (Center for Naval Analyses and Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, December 4, 2008), and supported by the SSR agenda outlined in the U.S. Army FM 3-07, Stability Operations. These two documents are listed in the Additional References section at the end of this Introduction. Each case study has a theme that complements the others, although they are not cumulative, sequential, nor comparative in their methodology.

Kosovo: Rule of Law, Police, and Judiciary (Summary)

Since the international community intervened in Kosovo, the region,

has experienced a duality in governance, with the responsibilities shared between local and international authorities. This process of reserved competencies inhibits the clear division of responsibilities and creates confusion over lines of accountability. This situation is further aggravated by the lack of the culture of, and institutions for, coordination within the government. Furthermore, governing institutions are viewed with considerable suspicion by the Serb community.47

The onus is on UNMIK, as well as on the international community and Kosovo's leaders, to fulfill their obligation to develop autonomous institutions for whatever final status awaits Kosovo. Democratic, effective, and ethnically representative government institutions must and can be built.48

Despite the UNMIK mission transitioning to the EULEX mission, there will remain a local capacity gap in filling the roles undertaken by the international police presence.49 In addition, while international police forces are accepted by the Serb minority in Kosovo, the Kosovo police are not. This will remain an issue until a resolution of the ethnic divisions comes to pass in this region.

Liberia: Nonstate Security Actors (Summary)

While Liberia may have turned a page in its history with the end of the 14-year armed conflict, efforts need to be sustained to ensure that the root causes of conflict

do not reemerge to undermine the fragile progress that has been made. Where security gaps remain and frustration endures, local communities will continue to resort to extra-judicial measures, including gun violence and mob justice. Liberians, particularly youth, ex-combatants, and women, need to be provided with the peace dividends and the capacity to help ensure that progress is solidified and SSR is sustainable, accountable, transparent, and effective.

Attempts to link communities to the official state security infrastructure through the Community Police Forum have largely failed. A decentralized and ad hoc system for providing security has instead emerged and threatens to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the current administration under President Sirleaf­Johnson. Much stronger efforts need to be made for the government in Liberia to extend its reach and enhance its legitimacy in the eyes of its population by securing a monopoly on the use of force and being the principal provider of security for the Liberian people.

SSR in Liberia needs to be state-driven, locally- owned, and inclusive. While community-based meas­ures and approaches may continue to be applied to reinforce the state security system and architecture, they should not be applied in isolation from it. Unemployed youth, women, and ex-combatants have the potential to make a positive contribution to stability in Liberia; that is, if their existing potential is effectively harnessed. To be truly sustainable, accountable, transparent, and effective, locally owned and state-driven SSR processes need to incorporate, rather than isolate, these important nonstate actors and community-based approaches.

Haiti: Police and Law Enforcement (Summary)

Haiti's reality is understood through socio-eco­nomic devastation, criminality, a weak and corrupt government, a disenfranchised and frustrated popula­tion, and an uncertain future for the international in­tervention.152 These realities continue to influence the MINUSTAH intervention, which was further affected by the 2008 food, fuel, and economic crises and the four hurricanes that hit Haiti the same year. All factors compound the fact that Haiti remains a failed state de­spite international interventions and robust SSR pro­gramming in support of the rule of law.

SSR efforts in Haiti have produced poor returns, with few gains made toward an environment condu­cive to development, democracy, peace, and security. Despite having spent hundreds of millions of dollars for intervention support dedicated to the reform of the Haitian security sector, strengthening the rule of law through policing and law enforcement remains elusive. Establishing a rule of law framework that conforms to international standards continues to demand much effort, time, and resources to create a fully functional rule of law process. It is important to note that it will take time for Haiti to adopt a fully functional and legitimate host nation rule of law framework, underwritten by the HNP and the enforcement of law in the chaotic urban environments on Haitian shores. Considering that Haiti remains a failed state marked by economic devastation, environmental degradation, gang warfare, egregious human rights violations, and abject poverty, it is difficult to estimate just how much time will be required to invest in Haiti to increase its resilience.


28.This summary is based on the recommendations in “Implementing Security Sector Reform,” Security Sector Reform Workshop, Interim Report, Thomas Dempsey, ed., Alexandria, VA: The Center for Naval Analyses, and Carlisle, PA: The Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, December 4, 2008, available from http://pksoi.army.mil/Docs/Governance/SSR_Workshop_Interim_Report.pdf.

43.KIPRED. Kosovo's Internal Security Sector Review: Stages I & II, Strategic Environment Review & Security Threats Analysis, March 2006, p. 6.

47.KIPRED, p. 6.

48.A Kosovo Roadmap (II)

49.KIPRED, p. 9.

138. Eirin Mobekk, “MINUSTAH and the Need for a Context-Specific Strategy: The Case of Haiti,” Heiner Hanggi and Vicenza Sherrer, eds., Security Sector Reform and UN Integrated Missions: Experience from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, and Kosovo, Geneva, Switzerland: Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2008, p. pp. 113-168.

152. Mobekk, pp. 113-168.