Apr 12, 2010 | Events

From March 11-12, 2010, CIGI held a workshop in Ottawa, sponsored by the Canadian Ministry of Public Safety, on “Security Sector Reform: Principles and Practice” (see description of workshop here). Attended by officials from across the Canadian government and a collection of SSR experts and practitioners from throughout the world, the aim of the workshop was twofold: to identify and discuss the latest trends and developments in the SSR field and to consider avenues and approaches for Public Safety Canada to better engage in Canadian SSR programming under the auspices of a whole-of-government framework.

A number of interesting tensions emerged during the workshop:

Conventional vs. Evolutionary Approaches: Several SSR experts present at the event questioned conventional SSR orthodoxy in planning and implementing SSR programs. The SSR model, as presented in documents like the OECD DAC Handbook on Security System Reform, typically calls for the design of a clear SSR strategy, based on a comprehensive assessment of the local environment and sectoral needs, at the outset of the process. Those questioning this approach asserted that in volatile security and political environments where political consensus on reform is weak or non-existent, such an approach is impractical and even dangerous. In such contexts, an evolutionary approach that rejects the setting of rigid strategic frameworks and timelines in favour of a gradualist and incremental vision that focuses on areas and actors ripe for reform,   was touted as more realistic by many workshop participants. Such an approach builds reform momentum and legitimacy and can buy-time for vital political will and reform capacity to take form. However, it was also recognized that this approach was not suitable for all contexts. Countries where it has succeeded, such as Sierra Leone and Burundi, have featured strong and long-term commitments by key donors, namely the UK and the Netherlands respectively. In contexts where there is less donor consensus and more short-termist commitments, the conventional SSR approach may be warranted and more effective.

Mobilizing Domestic Resources: One of the main challenges to the application of a whole-of-government SSR approach is the mobilization of domestic resources, whether it is police officers, judges or customs agents. Such domestic capacity is a key element of SSR assistance programs, yet domestic agencies in SSR donor states, whether it is the UK Home Office, US Department of Homeland Security or Public Safety Canada, tend to lack mechanisms, procedures and resources to rapidly deploy assets overseas. In the face of finite resources, such agencies must balance their central domestic security mandate with the imperative to contribute to such international operations. The inability to quickly mobilize and deploy domestic civilian capacity has prompted military actors to fill the space, a trend that threatens to militarize civilian aspects of the reform process. Other responses to this challenge include outsourcing to private sector firms and the formation of civilian expert rosters by both governments and NGOs. The former solution faces problems of transparency and accountability, as has been illustrated by the scandals involving the use of private firms in the training of the Afghan National Police ,and the latter approach has been slow to get off the ground due to numerous logistical hurdles. Regardless of the impact of these solutions, there is a need to establish new mechanisms and mandates to enable domestic agencies to better fulfill their responsibilities in SSR programming.

A Political Process: Workshop participants recognized that SSR is a complex and contentious political process that is often treated like a technical exercise. The adoption of apolitical approaches can create spoilers, facilitate the politicization of the process and stall change. To ensure that local political dynamics are factored into process design and implementation, donor agencies require greater analytical capacity.

Whole-of-Government Approaches: Few donor actors would question the importance of joined-up or whole-of-government programming. SSR is such a diverse process that no one government department could possibly mobilize the necessary expertise and resources to meet its needs. Important steps have been taken in various donor countries to facilitate integrated programming, such as the formation of the Stabilization Unit in the UK, the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) in Canada and the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in the US Department of State. However, these institutional structures have not yet resolved many of the gaps and tensions that mar genuine cross governmental decision-making and action. Issues of leadership – who should direct or oversee whole-of-government SSR projects – and funding – which institution should control the money for such international operations – remain contentious.

Wartime SSR: An overarching theme that emerged in the discussions was the emerging challenge of implementing SSR in acute conflict environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. While SSR is seen as the key to the international exist strategy in both countries, the model was designed with post-conflict or fragile state environments in mind, not warzones. Even more problematic is the apparent instrumentalization or even weaponization of SSR to support counter-insurgency operations, the transformation of SSR programs from holistic initiatives as much concerned with human rights and governance as security force operational effectiveness into classic Cold War era train-and-equip programs. Many workshop participants concurred that the approaches in Iraq and Afghanistan are SSR in name only. It was agreed that new SSR approaches and strategies are needed to address the needs of wartime environments.

It was widely recognized at the conclusion of the workshop that greater thinking must be dedicated to the role domestic agencies can play in the implementation of SSR as measured against the challenges of reforming domestic security structures in recipient countries. CIGI is currently authoring a paper on this subject for Public Safety Canada that will be presented in the summer of 2010.