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.

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One Response to “What We Mean When We Say “Security Sector Reform””

  1. Carol Jean Gallo January 6, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Good points, and nice how succinctly you make them. General stuff to think about: what kind of institutions are weak that should be strong? Does strong mean functional and reliable or does it imply something else when talking about a government or an institution associated with it? Is the FARDC really weak or is it just disorganized? (I don’t know, but these are all questions that pop into my head when I’m thinking and writing about this stuff.) I sometimes wonder how to tell the difference between “weakness” and apathy; if an alternative system is working well enough in favor of those in power, why should they care about expending energy on controlling things through other sectors? Particularly when you have a peacekeeping force to back you up.

    I have read that the few FARDC contingents that got AFRICOM training have turned out to be more effective than others, even in areas like civilian protection, and I think there are many in the army that genuinely want to see it function properly and protect people effectively. Maybe SSR can focus on those guys. In any case, that doesn’t clarify whether it’s a capacity problem or an apathy problem, or both.

    Anyway, all just things to think about. Nice post. 🙂

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