Oct 8, 2014 | Article

On September 30, the European Union mission to support police reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo (EUPOL DRC) formally closed. The second EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission in the country, EUSEC, which contributes to reforming the defence sector, will maintain a limited presence until mid-2015. I argue that these closures highlight the failure of the EU to put its own SSR approach into practice. Further, they underscore the fundamental weaknesses of the EU as a security actor. On/off security sector reform (SSR) of this type will not – cannot – contribute to genuine reform and undermines EU engagement in the country.

Critics question the impact of the CSDP missions, with some justification. That SSR has struggled to make inroads in the Congolese security system – that is, in the parts of the service that even participate in security sector reform – is no secret. Yet the CSDP missions have had certain successes too. Census and identification processes that have identified each member (for now) of the police and regular army are a good example. EUSEC’s chain of payments project may have cut corruption in the higher echelons of the army. The missions have trained units, and helped improve administration and management: vital yet unglamourous SSR work.

The missions also had other, less visible but no less important effects. At a very tense time in late 2012/early 2013 in Bukavu, when the rebel M23 group seemed poised to take the city after their easy defeat of Goma, personnel from EUSEC’s antenna (closed in 2013) were reportedly the only internationals in regular soldier-to-soldier contact with the army units charged with defending Bukavu.

Other aspects did not have the impact hoped for. I have argued elsewhere that the CSDP missions in Congo could have made a firmer contribution to long time change with a stronger commitment to addressing impunity for human rights violations, a scourge of the Congolese security sector.

But the reason for closing the two missions seems supply-side driven, internal to the EU, and apparently disconnected from the context, the missions’ impact and potential. The official line is that as CSDP is a crisis management instrument, and that Congo is now in a post-conflict phase of consolidating institutions, so CSDP missions are no longer appropriate tools.

This assessment of the situation seems willfully naïve. Even if eastern Congo stays reasonably stable, current discussions over revising the Constitution suggest the road to the elections – currently planned for 2016 – will be bumpy. Recent army appointments suggest strategic placing of allies. How the security services engage with the political struggles shaping up, and respond to possible (likely?) accompanying violence, is fundamental to what happens in the country in the next couple of years. This does not sit easily with the idea of a state in the process of consolidating democratic, post-conflict institutions. It does however suggest a need for conflict prevention, one of the objectives of CSDP.

The missions are, to a certain extent, victims of EU horsetrading. Member states, particularly but not only Germany, express frustration at the cost and apparent ineffectiveness of CSDP missions, such as those in Congo.  According to Brussels insiders, the choice came down to CSDP in Congo or in Mali. Mali won. (This is not to say that the EU should not engagement in SSR in Mali, far from it. Rather, this is a poor reason for closing the missions in Congo.)

Despite the near hysteria regarding the CSDP peacekeeping mission in Mali that never was (French Operation Serval), typically seeing that instance as a failure or even heralding the demise of the CSDP, the closure of the EU missions in Congo, on the other hand, has barely raised a murmur. But I would argue that it is far more serious for EU crisis management than a peacekeeping mission that would never have been.

The closures point to several critical weaknesses in EU support to SSR. CSDP missions are intended as crisis management tools. But understanding ‘crisis management’ as short term and reactive, particularly in relation to SSR and especially in countries that have never had a functioning, democratic security service, is fundamentally flawed.  (It is also surely a selective reading the CSDP objectives in the Treaty). This is, of course, reflected in the fact that EUSEC and EUPOL have been in DRC to all intents and purposes since 2005. The decision to close the missions after 9 years, disconnected as it is from the context is purely arbitrary – in relation to DRC at least. Nine years is hardly short term, so surely the missions could have lasted a bit longer – if only to help prepare the security services for the possible turmoil that could accompany the elections?

The closure of the missions also undermines the EU’s own ‘Comprehensive approach’ to SSR.  Closing the missions present the EU with a conundrum. The EU has been in retreat in the DRC since around 2012, as I have argued elsewhere; these closures are part of this process. Yet the EU apparently remains committed to SSR. Commissioner Piebalgs recently announced a whopping 620 million EUR in development aid for Congo under the 11th European Development Fund. 120 million EUR of this is destined for ‘strengthening governance and the rule law’ – including SSR in the police and defence sectors.

Despite developments and numerous challenges on the ground, the EU is still planning to fund SSR. But it plans to do so without CSDP missions and – crucially – uniformed staff who have a level of credibility with uniformed counterparts, Congolese or international, that civilians can never attain, regardless of competence. Recognizing this problem, there was speculation that Article 28 of the Lisbon Treaty could enable one or more uniformed attachés to join the EU delegation in Kinshasa. The UK and others reportedly blocked this move, fearing that EU delegations would become too similar to embassies for comfort. The net result is that it seems one or two civilian officers in the delegation will replace the 70+ uniformed and civilian staff of the two missions.

This boils down to an on/off approach to SSR, with no real transition from the comprehensive approach, including CSDP missions, to aid alone. It is difficult to see how the EU can possibly maintain the necessary contacts and engagement to ensure that EU support to SSR meets its own requirements in terms of transparency, let alone human rights standards, or support the legacy of the missions’ achievements.

On/off SSR is surely bad for the EU’s contribution to SSR, when judged against its own objectives, bad for the EU’s waning standing in DRC and unfortunate for those reform-minded individuals who genuinely desire democratic security institutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Author

Laura Davis is a researcher and consultant who specializes in justice for human rights violations in peace processes.  Her publications include EU foreign policy, transitional justice and mediation: Principles, policy and practice (Routledge, June 2014). You can follow her on Twitter @LaDaBel.