[rev_slider alias="blog-post-header-long-title"]


Jul 11, 2015 | Commentary

International and Intergovernmental Organizations (IOs & IGOs) have a shared desire to ensure peace and stability in post-conflict states. However officials in international institutions have their own agendas as to the conduct and outcomes of security sector reform (SSR).  It can be argued that these rivalries and contradictory agendas can significantly impede the pursuit of effective SSR programmes.

The presence of protectionism and competition within and between organisations is well documented.  Indeed, competition and rivalry have received close attention in developmental psychology, in administrative and political sciences as well as in economics. Additionally there is a body of literature referring to institutionalism and inter-organisational relationships.  Although some current literature analyzes regime-building processes, very few studies examine the interaction of whole organisations.  Therefore, research on organisations has not produced robust models for interaction, nor have concepts of competition and rivalry been sufficiently tested in various policy areas.  Indeed, current institutional theory has little to say on the role of confusion, rivalry and competition in shaping IGO behavior when operating in the security sector.  As SSR is a crucial but challenging component of peacebuilding it is essential to identify the sources of these influences, explain their impact, and suggest ways by which impediments to SSR outcomes may be mitigated.

Bureaucratic Politics and Security Sector Reform

The effect of rivalry and competition on the conduct of SSR programming and their impact on IGO relationships with local actors and other institutions has likewise not been closely examined. Academics have tended to follow a rationalist methodology looking for causal relations between actors, with inter-organisational competition being defined broadly in terms of whether one institution affects another’s development, performance or effectiveness.

Nevertheless, bureaucratic politics can and does manipulate the course of SSR planning and execution. In many cases, this process is characterized by rivalry and competition as officials vie for control of the same policy space.  Often the devices they employ to cope with uncertainties and work pressures influence decisions; in effect, these influences fashion policies.  Page and Jenkins suggest that, “much policy work is usually conducted with few direct and specific instructions from ministers and senior officials” and that bureaucratic reality does not always conform to theoretical models. [1]  It can be argued that SSR has typically been viewed from the perspective of its place within the peacebuilding lexicon where it is seen as a tool used to assist stabilization.  Consequently contemporary research into the evolution of SSR has largely neglected the detrimental effect of inter- and intra- institutional competition on post-conflict peacebuilding initiatives.

International Organizations and the Logic of Competition and Cooperation

As institutional theories have proliferated across the social sciences the impetus has been to explain how social orders are produced.  Researchers have strived to show that the institutionalization has occurred through a set of self-reinforcing processes. As one set of institutions has grown, it has influenced the behavior of others and actors have begun to take decisions in light of institutional structures and their norms and rules. However, neoliberal and sociological institutionalists seldom view institutions from a rivalry perspective.  Many academics believe that organisations are essentially ‘good’ and few have pointed to the conflicts between them. Indeed, Keohane suggests that:

“…without international cooperation, I believe that the prospects for our species would be very poor indeed. Cooperation is not always benign; but without cooperation, we will be lost. Without institutions there will be little cooperation”. [2]

Arguably, such a view is based on a predisposition to discourage analysis of the internal and external agency of organisations and, therefore, the significance of competition and rivalry.  This tendency applies equally to the study of security sector reform (SSR(.  There is therefore a requirement to reconcile the theoretical view of international organisations with the empirical reality of intra- and inter-organizational competition within the field of security reform.

Another issue is donor bureaucracy and politics, in that donor-supported SSR often promotes interventions more closely in line with the donor’s needs than those of the host state.  Caparini notes that donor priorities tend to shift frequently, with resultant fluctuations in the levels of funding. [3] With donor-driven implementation, planning tends to be top-down and influenced by donor priorities.

Moving forward: doing security sector reform differently

Caparini has also observed that SSR requires inter-agency cooperation but that this is rarely achieved in practice. [4] Despite assertions that local ownership is the key to security reform, international actors give scant regard to the security aspirations of local communities.  Security sector reform can only be successful if the aims and objectives of the SSR programming are rational and achievable, whilst grounded in local ownership.

Thus there is still a need for a pan-organizational agreement on the basics of SSR. The definitions of the security sector, the depth and breadth of the approach to its reform and how donors, organisations and practitioners cooperate in the forming of a concept for SSR should constitute the foundation for SSR practice. Debates on SSR should not be undertaken in isolated academic groups or solely within institutional structures. As Etherington warns, there is:

“…a need to raise the game; integrated pre-planning is very necessary with a blurring of the boundaries between civilian, military and local authorities. Regrettably, institutional protectionism is very present in the existing system.”  [5]


Dr Tony Welch is a former British Army One Star General and United Nations official.  He has worked on Security Sector Reform matters for over a decade, including coordinating the Kosovo Security Sector Review in 2005-6.  He currently advises on security, justice and international development at the UK Parliament and is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Security Governance, a Member of the Security, Conflict & International Development Panel of Experts, University of Leicester, UK and a Member of the Board of Experts, 1325 Policy Group, Sweden.


  1. Page, E., Jenkins, B. (2006). Policy Bureaucracy: Government with a Cast of Thousands. pp.13-18; 137-142, 181-182. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Keohane, R. (1989). International Institutions and State Power. Essays in International Relations Theory. p.174. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press.
  3. Caparini, M. (2005). Enabling Civil Society in Security Sector Reconstruction. In Bryden, A. Hänggi,H. (eds.). Security Governance in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. (pp. 69-95). Geneva: Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces.
  4. Caparini, M. (2004). Introduction: Dilemmas of Security Sector Reform in the Context of Conflict Transformation. In McCartney, C., Fischer, M., Wils, O. (eds) (2004). Security Sector Reform – Potentials and Challenges for Conflict Transformation. (p.4). Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series No. 2, Berlin: Berghof Research Centre.
  5. Etherington, M. (2008, November). Architecture of Approach. Paper presented at the Inaugural Conference of the Post-Conflict People. p. 8. London, United Kingdom.