The Challenges and Lessons Learned in Supporting Security Sector Reform

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung | 2016

Security sector reform (SSR) is often wrongly reduced to “functional capacity building” in the security forces. In fact, in many countries SSR is an element of state building, reduces concrete security risks for the population, and should always also contribute to democratic security governance within society. In other words, SSR is not primarily a technical, but a political task. It touches on core issues of division of power, demands close cooperation with local elites, and may require flanking incentives and conditionalities. In the long run, a democratically controlled security sector also represents the most reliable guarantee of security for the population. Supporters of SSR processes should therefore be ambitious in the long term but realistic in their choice of interim goals. Lasting change can only occur if local actors buy into the processes. The potential of civil society organisations is underestimated in this sector. Among their advantages, they operate below the threshold of state diplomacy, have often been on the ground for years, and are well networked. They can survive politically difficult periods and build the trust necessary among important elites. There are gaps in international SSR support, especially in a number of countries that – while being politically stable – have massive problems of violence and inadequate democratic-civilian control of the security sector. In such countries, the comparative advantages of civil society actors could be especially beneficial if brought to bear.

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