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May 28, 2010 | Publications

Military support is necessary—but not sufficient—to win the fight against organized crime in post-conflict states, according to a recent report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.  The report questions the role of the military in law enforcement and aims to fill an empirical knowledge gap in SSR by examining the role of international military forces in law enforcement in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.  The author concludes that when domestic security forces and international police forces are weak, international military forces should perform traditional law enforcement tasks until the security gap is filled.  However, all efforts should be made to construct a viable domestic security apparatus which can take over law enforcement responsibilities from the military.  The report could not be timelier, as international forces continue to struggle with criminal forces in Afghanistan, and question the appropriate role for international military forces in post-conflict law enforcement.

The report identifies several key problems.  First, there is a significant law enforcement gap in post-conflict states due to a weak or compromised domestic security apparatus.  However, international military forces are trained to confront and kill enemies, and do not possess the training or equipment to fulfill law enforcement roles.  As well, this use of the military may raise concerns of mission creep and an overuse of the military may negatively affect a state’s legitimacy.  Reliance on the military for law enforcement may also create a disincentive for policymakers to invest in conflict prevention, international civilian police forces, and SSR.  However, given the continued blurring between law enforcement and military tasks in post-conflict states and the changing nature of conflict, a broadening of the role of the military is inevitable and necessary.

However, military involvement in law enforcement has been problematic to date, as evidenced by the report’s case studies of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.  In Bosnia, the fight against organized crime following the Dayton agreement was outside the mandate of the international forces.  As well, there was generally poor intelligence gathering resulting from a lack of coordination and cooperation between groups.  Following the handover of security to EU forces, there was better recognition of these problems, but poor co-operation, fragmented polities, inadequate equipment, and the lack of an effective judiciary continued to block serious attempts at crime fighting.  The report’s author concludes that military counter-crime operations have been ineffective overall, and that the declining rate of crime in Bosnia has resulted from a shift from violent crime to white-collar crime.

In Kosovo, the report notes similar problems as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, most notably a lack of co-operation between the various international and domestic agencies, which frequently operated at cross-purposes.  This has contributed to a lack of accountability, poor interagency co-operation, and increasingly fragmented intelligence, military and judicial sectors.  As well, although the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) has supposedly scaled down its law enforcement activities, in practice it has continued to make its own arrests.  Similarly, although border patrols and security checkpoints were to be done jointly by KFOR and local police, KFOR has frequently operated alone due to a lack of officers.  In Kosovo, the military has become more like the police, and the police more like the military, undermining SSR norms and making future security sector reforms more difficult.

While the report finds that current military involvement has lacked effectiveness, efficiency and accountability, the changing nature of modern conflicts means that more military involvement in post-conflict crime fighting is inevitable.  The author makes the following recommendations:

  • Deploy troops immediately to fight serious crime post-conflict
  • Ensure robust mandates and interoperability
  • Train troops in policing skills and provide adequate equipment
  • Develop close military-police co-operation initially, but reduce military involvement over time
  • Respect principles of proportionality and subsidiarity
  • Avoid military primacy over SSR activities

These are idealized recommendations, and the cases of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo demonstrate how difficult it is to effectively use the military to fight crime.  However as the boundary between military and police tasks continues to blur in post-conflict states, these problems will become even more important.  Therefore, it is important for practitioners to address the issues raised by this report head on in order to to bolster the effectiveness of future SSR processes.