6.0 What is a safe and secure environment?

A safe and secure environment is one in which the population has the freedom to pursue daily activities without fear of politically motivated, persistent, or large-scale violence. Such an environment is characterized by an end to large-scale fighting; an adequate level of public order; the subordination of accountable security forces to legitimate state authority; the protection of key individuals, communities, sites, and infrastructure; and the freedom for people and goods to move about the country and across borders without fear of undue harm to life and limb.

6.1 What are the key security challenges in societies emerging from conflict?

The most immediate concern is personal physical safety from violence. Even after the bulk of fighting is over, physical insecurity is often pervasive throughout society from politically motivated violence, rampant gunfire, retaliation by former enemies, gender-based violence, landmines, and emerging armed criminal elements. State authority and security institutions, meanwhile, are likely to be politicized, part of the problem, and severely impaired or nonexistent, creating a security vacuum that insurgents, terrorists, extremists, or criminals will seek to fill. The security threats in transitional environments call for a dual capability to subdue large-scale threats to the peace process while also maintaining public order.

6.2 Why is a safe and secure environment a necessary end state?

A country’s recovery from violent conflict depends first and foremost on the establishment of security.89 Without security, parties to the conflict will not lay down their arms, and a country will never progress beyond a state of siege and will remain stagnant in its economic, political, and social development. People will refrain from resuming normal activities that are fundamental to a healthy and vibrant society, like sending their children to school, opening shops for business, or traveling to the market. Civilian agencies will be unable to begin laying the critical foundation for promoting the rule of law, good governance, economic growth, and healthy social development.

6.3 What are the necessary conditions to achieve a safe and secure environment?

  • Cessation of Large-Scale Violence is a condition in which large-scale armed conflict has come to a halt, warring parties are separated and monitored, a peace agreement or ceasefire has been implemented, and violent spoilers are managed.
  • Public Order is a condition in which laws are enforced equitably; the lives, property, freedoms, and rights of individuals are protected; criminal and politically motivated violence has been reduced to a minimum; and criminal elements (from looters and rioters to leaders of organized crime networks) are pursued, arrested, and detained.
  • Legitimate State Monopoly Over the Means of Violence is a condition in which major illegal armed groups have been identified, disarmed and demobilized; the defense and police forces have been vetted and retrained; and national security forces operate lawfully under a legitimate governing authority.
  • Physical Security is a condition in which political leaders, ex-combatants, and the general population are free of fear from grave threats to physical safety; refugees and internally displaced persons can return home without fear of retributive violence; women and children are protected from undue violence; and key historical or cultural sites and critical infrastructure are protected from attack.
  • Territorial Security is a condition in which people and goods can freely move throughout the country and across borders without fear of harm to life and limb; the country is protected from invasion; and borders are reasonably well-secured from infiltration by insurgent or terrorist elements and illicit trafficking of arms, narcotics, and humans.

6.4 General Guidance for a Safe and Secure Environment

6.4.1 Build host nation ownership and capacity. While international actors may have to do the bulk of heavy lifting in the initial phases, the importance of using host nation resources, whenever possible and appropriate, is twofold: (1) to build host nation capacity and (2) to promote state legitimacy through programs that are internally promulgated rather than externally imposed.90 This is difficult in countries emerging from violent conflict and may only be possible after essential reforms have been implemented. Local forces are often poorly trained, notorious for human rights abuses or are linked to criminal enterprises.

6.4.2 Act only with an understanding of the local context. Societies emerging from conflict are bewilderingly complex and can differ vastly from one another. Understanding the unique forces at play helps create an effective security strategy. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Who are the primary actors in the conflict and what drives them?
  • To what extent will their interests be satisfied or undermined by a successful peace process?
  • What are their interests, relationships, capabilities, resources, agendas, incentives, and resources?
  • What are the motives driving the conflict (economic, cultural, political, ethnic, religious, institutional)?
  • What capacity do host nation institutions and actors have in performing critical security functions, restoring basic services, and implementing other emergency phase activities?
  • What role do host nation institutions and actors play in managing or exacerbating conflict?
  • What are host nation perceptions of security? How do host nation actors measure security?91 Is the military or police a symbol of corruption and abuse?

6.4.3 Prioritize to stabilize.92 The fundamental goal of a stabilization and reconstruction mission is to prevent a relapse of large-scale armed conflict. While interim decisions may not necessarily be ideal or most efficient, it is important to aim for what is “good enough” to maintain a fragile peace. Security priorities include promoting a political settlement, neutralizing hostile groups, providing basic protection for vulnerable populations and individuals, and securing critical sites and evidence of mass atrocities.93 Maintaining realistic expectations is essential for success.

6.4.4 Use a conflict lens. S&R missions should not be development as usual. All actions must be weighed against their impact on the political situation. Many actions have the potential to affect the balance of power among rival groups and become politically explosive, such as investigating war crimes and human rights violations, choosing where to locate an army base, releasing political prisoners, naming interim officials, deciding which mosque or site to protect, or helping refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) return to minority areas.94 Always be sure to assess and understand political ramifications of every action.

6.4.5 Recognize interdependence. Security is often considered a precondition for long-term development because without it, reconstruction activities cannot begin or be sustained and people cannot resume their daily activities. Conversely, progress made in the social, economic, and governance arenas also boosts security by giving people a stake in the peace process and providing them a viable alternative to violence. All of these pieces are interdependent. One cannot happen without the other.