Security Sector Reform, Political Transition, and Sustainable Peace

Transitioning to peace and democratic governance raises challenging questions about how to handle security forces. What do you do with a police force that has been trained to serve a repressive government and protect the status quo? What do you do with an army that has been fighting in a civil war? What do you do with rebel forces that may know how to fight but know very little about civilian life?

One expert has characterized security sector reform (SSR) as changing a soldier or policeman from someone that a child would flee in fear to someone that the child would seek for protection. While it is important to consolidate the state’s monopoly of force, so that armed groups do not menace the population, it is also critical to transform the security institutions that protect the state and its citizens into professional, effective, legitimate, apolitical, and accountable actors. Because many security agencies were used as instruments of repression or were active in armed conflicts, transformation of the security forces will also help societies in transition from war to peace and new democratic governments build credibility among their populations.  But, training of operational security forces must also go hand-in-hand with institutional development.

Security sector reform can help fix dysfunctional security sectors in countries emerging from years of internal warfare or authoritarian rule by helping armed forces and police embrace a new mission of meeting the human security needs of their populations.  This requires restraints on the use of power by security institutions such as the police and the military so that they no longer act with impunity. Principles of good governance—transparency, accountability, civilian oversight—must also apply to security forces.  In addition to reform of the defense, justice and interior ministries, security reform should include the involvement of all non-state actors in society.  It is also important to emphasize that reform of the security sector must be a process that is done with (rather than done to) local authorities and requires input from civil society.  By implementing such reforms, new governments can demonstrate their commitment to providing security and protecting basic freedoms and citizens’ rights.  These are the goals of the ongoing efforts at security sector reform in North Africa and were important foundations for the democratic changes created in much of Latin America over the past two decades.

How does security sector reform contribute to sustainable peace?

In your analysis, discuss the following in 1500 words:

  • Your argument for how best to reform the security sector within societies in transition.
  • Provide support for your argument by briefly analyzing two cases from the past 30 years of countries in transition from war to peace or from authoritarian to democratic governance.
  • Discuss the impact of successful reform of the security forces on sustained peace and/or the absence of such reform on the prospects for political change and sustainable peace.
  • Discuss whether the successful transformation of the security forces in post-war societies will differ from achieving security reform in societies in political transition.
  • Drawing upon your two case studies, identify challenges to security sector reform and conditions that allow it to take place successfully.
  • Conclude your essay by putting forth your ideas on the key elements necessary for successful reform of the security sector.