Archive | December, 2012

What We Mean When We Say “Security Sector Reform”

20 Dec

I’ve always been suspicious of security sector reform (SSR).  This partially comes from a lack of clarity regarding how it would be implemented in the DRC, and what the term even means.  Is it human rights classes, military advisers, or a goal that other governments ask Congo to move toward?  These competing definitions cloud the real meaning, and in my experience, security sector reform is a vague term that is not afforded the appropriate scrutiny.  I wish I were able to create better policy proposals regarding SSR than I am, but even without that expert knowledge, there are several problems with SSR proposals that I see.

Firstly, the term “reform” is misleading.  When we talk about SSR we really mean “security sector enhancement”.  Surely, there are parts of SSR, such as increasing civilian levels of control over the military, that fall under the reform category, but the meat of the proposed measures, such as increasing pay and professional behavior, are enhancements.  Therefore, I think it is important to acknowledge that security sector reform isn’t just an effort to create a more humane army; it intends to mold the FARDC into a more effective killing machine.  A more efficient military can strengthen security, but recognizing that SSR intends to better arm an armed force with a terrible record of human rights is vital.  Secondly, speaking about SSR without acknowledging the way it shapes our discourse on solutions is detrimental to advocacy and analysis.   Any military conclusion in eastern Congo will have to be accompanied by a robust political solution (and perhaps even talk of a solution is misguided).  SSR is a likely component of any civilian protection strategies in eastern Congo, but it is only one component.  The roots of the violence are localized conflicts, poor governance, and foreign meddling, and creating a more professional army won’t solve any of the three.

For me, SSR is problematic for the reasons listed above.  More broadly, however, I fear what will happen in a country with a strong military and weak institutions.   Human rights classes and increased civilian control are fine, but giving an abusive army more guns and training on how to make them more deadly?  As we saw during the Congolese elections, increasing military capacity in a country with weak democratic institutions is just as likely to lead to an increase in repression as security.  Significant caution, which I have not seen, is necessary before preceding with SSR.  I, of course, can not speak for anyone else (much less high-level policy makers who I have very little contact with), but I worry that this caution is not present in many individuals I’ve interacted with.  There are so few policy options regarding Congo, and so advocates and policy makers are much more likely to cling to the few options they have, even if they’re bad options.

Should MONUSCO’s Mandate Be Expanded?

14 Dec

Following M23’s taking of Goma, some questions were raised (I use the passive voice because I now can’t find the article) about whether MONUSCO’s mandate should be extended.  An expansion of MONUSCO’s mandate, however, would decrease its ability to protect civilians and jeopardize the legitimacy of the mission.

While it is true that an expanded mandate may have prevented M23 from taking Goma, turning MONUSCO from a peacekeeping and standardization force into the FARDC’s foreign legion is problematic.  There are two issues here.  Firstly, it would take personnel and resources away from protecting civilians, which is the reason MONUSCO exists.  Secondly, the term ‘stabilization’ in MONUSCO’s name implies that it is simply there to provide space for a Congolese political solution.  M23 is a symptom, not a cause of Congo’s problems.  Eliminating M23 will only further divides in eastern Congo, and so while MONUSCO’s ability to protect civilians is limited, it should stick to that task rather than trying to solve Congo’s problems on its own.

While there is plenty of evidence that M23 has committed atrocities against civilians, halting their military advance is not the best way to protect civilians.  A M23-free eastern Congo would then mean greater territory under the command of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC).  The FARDC also has a pretty bad record of mass rapes and atrocities against civilians, and so while they might look good in comparison with M23, this only speaks to the distorted frame of reference we see in eastern Congo.  Actively working with the FARDC (it’s happened before) would only further legitimate a force that consistently violates the basic human rights of the people it is supposed to protect.  Unfortunately for MONUSCO, it has to walk a tight rope.  If it were to attack the FARDC for committing violence against civilians, it would invoke a strong reaction for Kinshasa.  Non-consensual peacekeeping missions have lower success rates, and though I don’t know the statistics, I imagine the effectiveness goes way down when neither sides supports peacekeepers’ presence.  This dilemma speaks to the inherent contradictions of a peacekeeping mission, and demonstrates why the international community needs to do more  in the Kivus than half-heartedly supply a few thousand peacekeepers.

Use of Chemical Weapons Signals the End for Assad

6 Dec

News is coming out of Syria tonight that the Syrian military is preparing to use its chemical weapons against domestic targets.  Though previous articles have highlighted the difficulty of deploying chemical weapons, NBC’s article tonight makes it sound as if the initial hurdles have been overcome.  While the weapons could inflict high casualty rates, it also demonstrates that Assad is running out of options.  Assad is betting that his domestic military gains will outweigh the total deterioration of international opinion toward Syria, which is a very risky bet indeed.

Various US and UK government officials have repeatedly stated that the use of chemical weapons would cause them to ‘revisit their approach‘ to the conflict.  While it’s unclear what the international reaction would be, there does seem to be a credible threat of military intervention, and at this point, it would certainly spell the end for Assad.  The use of chemical weapons would also make continuing support for him basically impossible.  While Iran may be able to hold on, Russia would surely have to abandon Assad’s sinking ship.  If videos of the carnage find their way out of the country, then the negative publicity would be too great for even Russia to sustain.  Assad will have shifted the discourse surrounding intervention from the imperialism vs. humanitarian intervention paradigm to one that focuses on international security.  This narrative is much more powerful than humanitarian intervention, and unified action, especially on the UNSC, will be much more likely.

Assad’s back is clearly right up against the wall.   Using chemical weapons is strategically a very poor choice, and even announcing possession was not well thought out.  However, if Assad is actually willing to use his chemical weapons supply, then he has accepted the fact that he can no longer win.  Assad will fall, and now, unfortunately, it’s just a question of how many civilians he’ll kill along the way.

The Coup in Sudan: Some Theories

5 Dec

Though the entire incident is shrouded in confusion, it appears as there was attempted coup in Sudan on November 22nd.  Though the coup did not have any real impact on violence levels or the situation of Sudan’s civilians, the potential impact of regime change on  in these sectors is enormous, and therefore it is an important issue to keep tabs on for civilian protection advocates.  The details of the event are still mostly unclear, and so while it is impossible to establish a comprehensive summary, there are a few ideas that I would like to put forward.  Inevitably, with time, the events of November 21st and 22nd will become more clear.

One theory regarding the incident was that it was simply a government hoax aimed to repressing dissent, and there was never a real threat to Bashir’s regime.  This doesn’t make sense for a few reasons.  Firstly, those arrested come from within the NCP, despite attempts to obfuscate.  Khartoum has no reason to publicize splits within the NCP if it doesn’t have to.  Secondly, the messaging in the early hours following the coup was confused.  Numerous government officials made conflicting statements about who was involved, who was arrested, etc.  Presumably, an government sponsored hoax would have been preceded by inter-agency cooperation and planning, and this seems not to have happened.  While this fact seems to almost certainly point to a putsch attempt, it at least indicates the severe lack of institutional organization within the regime.

While the coup has not led to overthrow of Bashir, it has significant analytical importance for examining the state of the Bashir regime.  Currently, Sudan is experiencing severe economic problems, which culminated in #SudanRevolts this summer.  Additionally, there are doubts about the health of Bashir, who is recovering from a throat operation.  Finally, the NCP is experiencing severe political divisions, with roughly the hard-line Islamists on one side and the reformers on the other.  These three factors, combined with the attempted coup, reveal the extreme vulnerability afflicting the current Sudanese regime.  Theda Skocpol, and other structuralists, has highlighted the importance of state collapse in precipitating revolutions.  Therefore, not only can regimes not fall without debilitating internal strife, but revolutionary movements can only exist if there are signs of state weakness.  If we accept this line of theory, we can expand her analytical framework to encompass coups, and conclude there could never have been an attempted coup without significant state weakness.  The regime is currently not fragile enough to crumble under its own weight, but it is weak enough to produce an attempted coup.

Despite obvious signs of state weakness, Bashir’s security forces responded promptly to the attempted putsch.  Though it seems clear the plotters were hard-liners from Al-Sae’ohoon, the government clumsily and belatedly tried to blame the opposition.  While the coup response was intended to strengthen and consolidate the regime, it seems to have only further isolated Bashir and his cronies.  One major question, however, is how active and deliberate was this coup?  Bashir clearly felt the need to crackdown, but was this because of an imminent coup or simply deep divisions within the NCP?  It is quite plausible that Salah Gosh was indeed organizing opposition within the NCP, but did not intend to overthrow the government.  Did Gosh really put everything on the line as the government has claimed, or was he merely working toward shifting the party’s policies in a more hard-line direction?  With the current information, it’s basically impossible to tell.

There, of course, is a long history of failed coups all around the world.  However, I think it is important, especially in the Sudanese context, to not merely dismiss the coup as a failure, but to place it within a broader context.  The current state weakness may indicate that this was a “dress rehearsal” coup.  What I mean here is that this coup was a first attempt to overthrow the government, which gives the opposition a reading on how the regime would respond to a later coup.  This can be interpreted in two ways.  Firstly, the opposition simply wanted to test out the strength of the regime, and therefore put a small group of individuals together to challenge the regime, with the knowledge that it would likely fail.  This model, however, seems overly conspiratorial.  Secondly, the weakness of the regime encouraged a small group of plotters to try to overthrow the government, but were unable to garner enough support due to others’ readings of state strength.  Opposing factions now know how the government will react to a coup, and may be able to create a larger, successful coup in the future.

“Dress rehearsal” coups have happened before.  Argentina in 1955 and Chile in 1973 both provide examples of an attempt by a portion of the armed forces to overthrow the government that failed.  In both cases, the armed forces united three months later and succeeded.  Could this happen in Sudan?  While the situation is not totally analogous, there are certainly similarities.  Like Argentina and Chile, Sudan is in a state of crisis and the public has a growing lack of trust in the government.  The initial attempt to seize the state seems to have been caused by the apparent fragility of the government, though it was too soon to actually gather support.  Ultimately, the failed coup attempt weakened the regime, and the armed forces saw that they would indeed be able to seize power.  In Sudan, we have a failed coup that included parts of the armed forces at a time of great state weakness, causing a backlash from the ruling faction.  In response to this coup, Bashir has seemingly isolated himself from both Islamists and the opposition by imprisoning the first and blaming the second.  A successful coup in the future certainly isn’t inevitable, but Bashir shouldn’t count himself lucky just yet.

* I am not a political scientist, therefore any comments or corrections on the theories presented in the last few paragraphs would be appreciated.