In many conflict-affected and fragile environments, security actors exacerbate insecurity instead of promoting peace. Whether for personal gain, or on behalf of a predatory regime or nonstate actors, security actors have engaged in criminal behavior or committed human rights abuses with impunity. Evidence suggests that in ill-governed contexts, elites’ manipulation of the state’s justice and security capacities to amass power and wealth contributes to this violence. In those contexts, the systems designed to ensure accountability are often corrupt and serve only as a means of obfuscation. As a result, traditional approaches to improving security sector accountability have limited effectiveness.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, in partnership with USAID's Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, is convening the Curbing Elite Manipulation of Security Sectors Working Group to study how manipulation of the security sector for personal, political or financial gain contributes to violence. Through expert study, research and a public report, the working group seeks to distill the phenomenon sufficiently to identify leverage points where policy and action might effectively address the problem. It will explore how U.S. policy engagements — through development assistance, security sector engagement, diplomacy and other approaches — contribute to or mitigate manipulation that fuels violence and the working group will identify ways for U.S. policies to overcome these dynamics.

This effort builds upon USIP’s Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States — especially on its recommendation to align security sector cooperation with prevention. The task force’s final report outlined the need to mitigate the risk that U.S. security cooperation and assistance will provoke recruitment into extremist organizations, empower repressive governments, fail to improve operational capabilities of fragile state partners, or prove destabilizing overall. The Curbing Elite Manipulation of Security Sectors Working Group seeks to expand our understanding of security challenges in fragile environments by documenting how and why security forces contribute to violence and fragility, and how U.S. policy and programming can contribute to addressing these challenges.

Research has shown that there are several rationales and tactics through which political, commercial and security elites use security forces for private interests. Elites manipulate recruitment, appointments, finances, administration and operations to extract rents and accumulate wealth; to maintain clientelist networks and political coalitions; to prevent internal threats to the regime and repress opposition; or to target insurgency and other asymmetric threats. As systems designed to ensure accountability are weakened or corrupted, security forces contribute to human rights abuse or fuel grievances and extremist ideology.

The Working Group will:

  1. Document how political, economic and/or security elites pursue gains contrary to the public interest through the security sector, and how such practices contribute to violence.
  2. Examine how U.S. assistance and policy engagement may affect dynamics, rationales and tactics of elite manipulation.
  3. Recommend how U.S. officials could use policy and program tools that lie across development, diplomacy and defense to address these dynamics and/or rationales.
  4. Identify the short- and long-term costs and benefits of these policy and program recommendations.

The project will involve four case studies in different regions to examine specific dynamics of elite manipulation and the effects of U.S. policy. It will convene small expert groups to examine these dynamics and develop public recommendations that can assist U.S. policymakers and program managers. This work will be conducted from June 2020 to December 2021 and will culminate in a report to be published in early 2022.

Working Group Co-Chairs

Anne W. Patterson 

Anne W. Patterson

Anne W. Patterson was the assistant secretary for Near Eastern and North African Affairs at the Department of State (2013-2017). She was appointed to the Dow Jones Special Committee in April 2018. She served as ambassador to Egypt (2011-2013), to Pakistan (2007-2010), to Colombia (2000-2003) and to El Salvador (1997-2000). She retired in 2017 with the rank of career ambassador after more than four decades in the Foreign Service.

Ambassador Patterson also served as assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, among other assignments. Ambassador Patterson was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Top Global Thinkers in 2011. She is currently a member of the Advisory Board at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale and was a member of the Commission on National Defense Strategy.

Karl Eikenberry 

Karl Eikenberry

Karl Eikenberry is the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and a former lieutenant general in the U.S. Army. He is a faculty member in Tsinghua University’s Schwarzman College and is a nonresident fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self Determination at Princeton University.

Previously, he was the director of the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative at Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and an affiliate with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies' Center for International Security and Cooperation; Center for Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law; and The Europe Center.

Prior to his arrival at Stanford, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009 until 2011. Before appointment as chief of mission in Kabul, Ambassador Eikenberry had a 35-year career in the United States Army, retiring in April 2009 with the rank of lieutenant general. He held various policy and political-military positions, including deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee; director for strategic planning and policy for U.S. Pacific Command; U.S. security coordinator and chief of the Office of Military Cooperation in Kabul, Afghanistan; assistant Army and later Defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; senior country director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; and deputy director for strategy, plans, and policy on the Army Staff.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, has earned master’s degrees from Harvard University in East Asian studies and Stanford University in political science, and was a national security fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Ambassador Eikenberry earned an interpreter’s certificate in Mandarin Chinese from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office while studying at the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence Chinese Language School in Hong Kong and has an Advanced Degree in Chinese History from Nanjing University in the People’s Republic of China.

His military awards include the Defense Distinguished and Superior Service Medals, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Ranger Tab, Combat and Expert Infantryman badges, and master parachutist wings. He has received the Department of State Distinguished, Superior, and Meritorious Honor Awards, Director of Central Intelligence Award, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award. He is also the recipient of the George F. Kennan Award for Distinguished Public Service and Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal. Ambassador Eikenberry has been awarded an honorary doctorate from North Carolina State University, Ball State University, and the University of San Francisco.

His foreign and international decorations include the Canadian Meritorious Service Cross, French Legion of Honor, Afghanistan’s Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan and Akbar Khan Medals, and the NATO Meritorious Service Medal.

Ambassador Eikenberry is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-directs the Academy’s project on civil wars, violence, and international responses, and serves on the Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies. He is a board member for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, American Councils for International Education, Asia Society of Northern California, and National Committee on American Foreign Policy; is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Diplomacy; and was previously the president of the Foreign Area Officers Association and a board member of The Asia Foundation.

His articles and essays on U.S. and international security issues have appeared in Foreign AffairsThe Washington QuarterlyThe American InterestAmerican Foreign Policy InterestsLawfareThe New York TimesThe Washington PostForeign PolicySurvivalDædalus, and The Financial Times.

Dawn M. Liberi 

Dawn M. Liberi

Dawn M. Liberi is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who served as U.S. ambassador to Burundi from 2012 to 2016. Ambassador Liberi started her career in Africa, where she served in five posts with USAID over a span of twenty years, focusing on key development issues. Serving as the USAID mission director in Nigeria (2002-2005), she managed a $100 million program of assistance and brokered a $20 million public-private sector alliance to fund community development activities. As USAID mission director in Uganda (1998-2002), Ambassador Liberi managed one of the largest HIV/AIDS and micro-enterprise programs in sub-Saharan Africa, helping to significantly reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence and assisting Uganda to develop high value exports.

Other USAID assignments include: associate assistant administrator in the Global Bureau, Population, Health and Nutrition Office (1994-1998); USAID deputy mission director in Ghana (1992-1994); and USAID population, health and nutrition officer in Senegal and Niger (1981-1987).

Starting in 2005, Ambassador Liberi focused on stabilization and civilian-military integration. As USAID mission director in Iraq (2005-2006) she managed a $5.2 billion program of governance and economic development activities. As USAID executive civil-military counselor, she served as senior development advisor to the commander of U.S. Central Command (2007-2008).

From 2009 to 2011, Ambassador Liberi was the coordinator for the Interagency Provincial Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, responsible for managing over 400 civilian positions outside Kabul and implementing governance and economic activities. She also served as the senior civilian representative for the Combined Joint Task-Force 82 at Bagram Airfield Afghanistan, where she was the civilian equivalent of the commanding general, responsible for coordination of over 20,000 civilian and military staff. In 2012 Ambassador Liberi served as the senior assistance coordinator at U.S. Embassy/Tripoli.

Ambassador Liberi holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College and master’s in public health from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a distinguished graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University, where she focused on national security issues. Ambassador Liberi is the recipient of two Distinguished Honor Awards and several Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards. She was awarded the U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Award, as well as the Medaille D’Or (Gold Medal) by the French Government, and the Army Iron Cross by the Polish Government, for her work in Afghanistan. Ambassador Liberi speaks fluent French, is an avid African art collector and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Diplomacy.

William B. Taylor

William B. Taylor

William B. Taylor is the vice president for strategic stability and security at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Last year, he served as chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. During the Arab Spring, he oversaw U.S. assistance and support to Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.

He also served as the U.S. government's representative to the Mideast Quartet, which facilitated the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. He served in Baghdad as the first director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office from 2004 to 2005, and in Kabul as coordinator of international and U.S. assistance to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003. Ambassador Taylor was also coordinator of U.S. assistance to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. He earlier served on the staff of Senator Bill Bradley.

He is a graduate of West Point and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and served as an infantry platoon leader and combat company commander in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and Germany.

USIP Executive Secretariat

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