Security sector reform in peacebuilding: towards an EU-UN partnership?

30 June 2006

Heiner Hänggi, Assistant Director and Head of Research at the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), said international organisations and Western donor countries had begun to “mainstream” peacebuilding in their external policies and the United Nations had reinforced its capacity by establishing a Peacebuilding Commission.

But there are still considerable gaps in the concept of post-conflict peacebuilding. Both the EU and the UN have sufficient resources to make the concept more effective, but the relationship is unbalanced because of the two organisations’ different agendas.

Taking an “holistic” approach

Jayantha Dhanapala, Senior Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka and former UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, said the international community had a long history of engaging in post-conflict peacebuilding, but Security Sector Reform (SSR) was relatively new. It should now be a central focus in applying the principles of accountability, transparency and the rule of law.

Global security is increasingly “collective, cooperative and multi-faceted”. Holistic solutions are needed, and both the UN as a global player and the EU as a regional one had the potential to play more integrated roles in peacebuilding.

Last year alone, there were 17 major armed conflicts in 16 different places, all of them “intra-state” conflicts. Against this backdrop, the demands for the international community to act have increased dramatically. Re-establishing a stable and secure peace is the aim - not just the cessation of hostilities, but also the dynamic management of human, political and economic development.

‘SSR’ is now used to describe a range of activities, from development assistance and security policy to democratic reform. The concept is driven by recognition that an unreformed security sector is a major obstacle to sustainable peace.

Peacebuilding involves three principles:

1. Local ownership: SSR initiatives must engage with the local community, using NGOs and individuals as bridges between governments and people.

2. Context is everything: there is no generic SSR model. It has to be adapted to local needs, respecting cultural patterns and engaging with recognised traditional sources of authority - including village chieftans and teachers where appropriate.

3. Cooperation and coordination: effective SSR is a long-term job and those involved have to stay for the long haul. But there is, so far, no long-term coherent approach to SSR work. The UN’s Peacebuilding Commission will help to develop this.

Mr Dhanapala said the Commission’s launch had been one of the most significant outcomes of last September’s World Summit. It now provides the framework for coordinated action, including with civil society - whose contribution in developing SSR has, in some cases, exceeded that of government bodies and academia, and should be more fully exploited.

Within the UN system, SSR has gained in relevance and effectiveness - an essential element in any stabilisation process. The Security Council has highlighted the need for adequate attention to be paid to SSR in future, drawing on best practice, and the UN secretariat is currently establishing a Peacebuilding Capacity Inventory.

All this demonstrates that SSR is very much on the UN agenda and it is in a position to develop the necessary “holistic” approach to peacebuilding. However there is still no common understanding, and even less a comprehensive policy framework, to guide SSR programmes.

Mr Dhanapala therefore welcomed Slovakia’s pledge to use its forthcoming Security Council Presidency to lead UN discussions on developing such a framework. It is an ambitious goal, not least because the 191-member UN is not as coherent an operator as the EU. Nevertheless, both bodies are, in different ways, uniquely placed to promote security sector governance.

Article 54 of the UN Charter emphasises the importance of regional organisations for maintaining global peace and security and, given the regional dimensions of many current conflicts, the EU's expertise and resources make it a particularly valuable partner.

EU and UN approaches to SSR

In the first panel debate on ‘EU and UN approaches to SSR in peacebuilding’, the speakers were EPC Senior Adviser Fraser Cameron; Alan Bryden, Deputy Head of Research, DCAF; Predrag Avramovic, Project Officer, Crisis Management and Conflict Prevention Unit, European Commission; Renata Dwan, Coordination Officer, Peacekeeping Best Practices Unit, UN Secretariat; and Kelvin Ong, Justice and Security Sector Reform Team Leader, United Nations Development Programme.

SSR is a “sexy” topic, but not uncontroversial: it has not been embraced by all donor states and is seen by some recipient countries as a vehicle for imposing Western values.

Most panellists agreed that the new Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for SSR were useful, and stressed that local ownership is crucial for success. Multilateral organisations like the EU and UN are better placed than individual states to support this because of their more transparent nature. Capacity-building is also important, both on the ground and for the EU and UN.

SSR is now high on the EU agenda and is an increasing component of its dialogue with third countries. Elements of what is now considered SSR (e.g. rule of law, governance support and human rights) are not new to the Union, and are being used as standards to help third countries align themselves with the EU.

SSR reflects a growing recognition that security is a precondition for development. It can also be an important “toolkit” in European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) missions by providing a series of achievable objectives, and engages local actors with EU initiatives by allowing them to serve in advisory and mentoring roles on the ground.

The EU-UN relationship on SSR should go beyond simply cooperating on peacebuilding. A “holistic approach” is needed which includes components like strengthening civil society, and disarming, demobilising and reintegrating ex-combatants.

Several panellists suggested the EU and UN should approach cooperation on a case- by-case basis. One stressed that the most realistic approach was to identify the most crucial, and feasible, areas for successful cooperative intervention. EU and UN cooperation could also help provide SSR with a much-needed early-needs assessment capability.

There is still no universal understanding of SSR within the UN. SSR-related language is often employed, but without explicit use of the term. Developing an SSR doctrine is a distinct challenge for an organisation with more than 190 member states - and it cannot achieve miracles, particularly within the unrealistically short time frames set for most missions.

From a peacekeeping perspective, it is often considered an “exit strategy”. Instead, it must be seen as part of the state-building process.

SSR is not the only answer

Lord Ashdown, former EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the discussion had produced “lots of interesting stuff and also lots that is rubbish”. He said “elegant, theoretical debate” was no substitute for experience on the ground, and more thought must be given to the wide scope of the “holistic” approach being recommended for SSR and peacebuilding.

His simple rule in a conflict region was “establish a security envelope early or you will fail”. He said he was “very disturbed indeed” that the international community appeared to believe it had suddenly discovered the answer to everything: “This brightly-coloured pebble on the beach called SSR.” It was not the full answer, nor was the reform of police and judicial system in post-conflict regions.

In Bosnia, SSR was not a priority and was not even touched upon until year eight. The real priority was to establish the rule of law. Not doing so early was a big error in both Bosnia and Kosovo: in the latter, a delay of a few weeks had been enough to let corrupt forces “get hold of the system”.

Economic reform is also important in the first year of peacebuilding. “If you want to bring stability, give people a job - that’s what they need and want: security and the possibility of a job,” said Lord Ashdown.

In Bosnia, the most beneficial thing would have been to abolish customs duties, which would have reduced economic corruption to virtually nothing overnight. This is an example of the lateral thinking required when dealing with SSR and peacebuilding.

Lord Ashdown also criticised the emphasis on “local ownership” in the UN’s SSR strategy: “What country are you living in? You arrive in a country devastated by war, with a starving population and 90% of the houses destroyed, and you turn up and say ‘we will give you local ownership’. That’s not what they want. They’ll think you’re mad and you probably are.”

He added that too much time was devoted to focusing on re-establishing civil society. “If you think that priority number one is to create civil society, then you are wasting time and money. Priority number one is the rule of law - and local people will want jobs and money.”

Stressing again that it was vital to act early, Lord Ashdown said there was the prevention phase, the war-fighting phase and peacebuilding phase. “If you win in the prevention phase you will save a lot of money, time and blood. We did it in Macedonia, but failed almost everywhere else,” he explained.

Establishing the rule of law requires domination of the security space, by introducing marshall law if necessary - from day one. Elections can wait - it took five years to hold them in Germany after World War II. It is also crucial to recognise that each crisis is different and a bespoke approach is needed. It is no good keeping teams of diplomats on standby with pre-ordained peacebuilding strategies.

Finally, the international community must speak with one voice. The problem is that the EU cannot even speak with one voice itself at the moment. Peace and stabilisation efforts also need the active cooperation of neighbouring countries, and, as had been proved in Iraq, dealing with neighbours sometimes meant “talking to some pretty unpleasant people”. Peacebuilding, Lord Ashdown said, was “not for the fainthearted”.

EU-UN collaboration in practice

In the second panel debate on ‘EU-UN collaboration in practice: security sector reform in peacebuilding’, the speakers were David Law, Senior Fellow, Coordinator of SSR Working Group, DCAF; David Leakey, former EUFOR-Althea Commander General; Michael von Tangen Page, Security Sector Development Advisor, Kosovo Internal Security Sector Review; and Veronica Cody, Deputy Director, Civilian Crisis Management, Council of the European Union.

The panel discussed the international community’s SSR efforts stretching from Haiti, Afghanistan, East Timor and Iraq to the Democratic Republic of Congo, with particular focus on the Balkans. Questions were raised about whether intervention is seen as legitimate by local populations, whether interveners have coherent SSR strategies, whether they are well coordinated and whether there are sufficient resources.

SSR is a key tool for assisting with the transition from conflict to peace. It requires long-term engagement, but the international community often suffers from ‘engagement fatigue’, as happened in East Timor, where it moved out before the job was done.

Local ownership of the process is important, but in some post-conflict situations, the local security sectors are too discredited and divided to be able to take on certain responsibilities in the initial phase. The military role is being widened in certain post-conflict missions, going beyond securing the environment to dealing with traditionally non-military areas such as the fight against organised crime.

The European Security Strategy (ESS) identifies SSR as a key priority and the UN as the EU’s chief partner in this area. Efforts are being made to build efficient and accountable security systems in fragile states and emerging democracies. OECD guidelines on SSR provide a framework, but there is as yet no internationally-agreed definition.