Summary of "Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding"

Summary of

Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

By Hans-Georg Ehrart and Albrecht Schnabel

Summary written by Brett Reeder, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Ehrart, Hans-Georg and Albrecht Schnabel. Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan: United Nations University Press, 2005.

In the introduction of Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Schnabel and Ehrhart say "...this book examines the role of local and external meeting the challenge of sustainable post-conflict security sector reform..." The security sector is constantly defined and re-defined by various contributing authors throughout the book, but one of the most inclusive definitions is provided by Schnabel and Ehrhart in the introduction: "...all those organizations that have the authority to use, or order the use of force, or the threat of force, to protect the state and it's citizens, as well as those civil structures that are responsible for their management and oversight." Reform of this security sector is thought to be necessary to ensure that security forces empower the civilian population, rather than oppress it, as is sometimes the case.

Further, as the title suggests, the books primary concern is security sector reform (SSR) within a context of "post-conflict peacebuilding". Post-conflict implies that "...hostilities among former warring factions have come to an end..." and further that "...a cease-fire or peace agreement is in place and resumption of hostilities is unlikely..." Peacebuilding refers to embracing "...all forms of international assistance to societies devastated by armed conflict, and the overall tasks to be carried out focused on political, social, and economic reconstruction efforts." Thus Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding is primarily concerned with both internal and external efforts at security sector reform (SSR) in countries that have recently experienced a cessation of violence and are in the process of rebuilding their political, economic and social institutions.

To address this issue the book is divided into four parts. Part one addresses the process of, and obstacles to, security sector reform in general; as well as the implications of this reform on the training of intervention forces. Parts two, three, and four apply the concepts established in part one to case studies, with part two focusing on Europe, part three focusing on Latin America and part four focusing on Asia. This summary primarily focuses on the concepts presented in part one under the headings: Security Sector Reform (or Transformation) and Training Military Personnel for Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. It also briefly summarizes the case studies of parts two, three and four under the heading: Contemporary Applications (the Case Study Chapters).

Security Sector Reform (or Transformation)

According to the book there are several key principals upon which effective security sector reform should be based. First and foremost, national security should be framed as efforts " protect and secure the political, economic, social, and cultural rights of the people." This is distinctly different from the "traditional" view of national security as efforts to maintain territorial integrity and national interests. Such a view privileges the state, with out reference to the individuals that comprise the state. Viewing the security sector as an institution protecting individuals (as opposed to the state) helps to ensure the security sector does not become simply an enforcement mechanism for state elites.

Another key principal is that of "civil supremacy", which consists of civil oversight, accountability and transparency. Civil oversight refers to a level of civilian control and influence over the security sector. The security sector must also be accountable to civilians, with legal recourse for abuses of power by security forces. Transparency allows the public to be aware of what the security sector is doing. Additionally the security sector should be "apolitical". This does not mean it should be entirely anti-political; indeed it must be political in the sense that the individuals it comprises understand and approve of democracy and its nuances. Indeed for there to be a civil supremacy the security sector must be political, but this politics should not become partisan. The security sector should serve the state and its civic values, not an individual party within the state.

Moreover, the roles and responsibilities of the various components of the security sector should be explicitly stated in the constitution. This means drawing legal boarders, and separating both tasks and responsibilities. For example, the authors argue that the military should stay out of domestic affairs, while the police should stay out of foreign affairs. Drawing such boundaries helps to prevent abuse of power by providing a "separation of powers".

Also, all SSR efforts must be indigenized, or tailored to the specific social and cultural contexts. This needs to be done on all levels, from the security sector budget (which must reflect the economic reality of the country in question) to the language used in the process (for example, reform has a negative connotation in Africa which tends to prefer the term transformation). Most contemporary SSR theory is heavily euro-centric, which is problematic if no indigenization effort is undertaken. Much can be learned from the SSR theorists, and European/North American efforts at SSR, but specific cultural and social context must be taken into account for reforms to be effective.

Finally, there should be dialog between political authorities and the security sector leadership. This dialog should " predicated on regular and continuous interaction..." and should occur "...within the hierarchy of authority and oversight...". Dialog can increase understanding between the generally quite different perspectives of the civilian and the non-civilian leadership. Understanding is likely to reduce tensions, and improve the capacity of the security sector to protect the citizens.

Unfortunately there are numerous and significant challenges to instituting sustained SSR. In the context of this book, the most obvious of these challenges is an "unfavorable environment". Unfavorable environments are essentially the post-conflict societies that are focus of this book, which tend to have weak political institutions (if they have any at all), an overabundance of weapons, little or no civilian controls on the military or police, and mistrust/economic scarcity often determines political and social relations. This clearly makes any structural or cultural transformation difficult.

In addition to such internal chaos, external disagreements and misunderstanding often lead to failed attempts at SSR. Because external support is thought to be so important to successful SSR, it is essential that donor countries and the international community coordinate their efforts and agree on at least broad objectives. Such agreement is also important within the country in question. Essentially, conflicting interests and actions (both internal and external) will likely sabotage SSR efforts, if they are not resolved.

But even a secure environment, with all parties in agreement, does not guarantee sustainable SSR. The security sector is part of much larger economic, political, cultural and social systems and cannot be effectively reformed in isolation. If the security sector is reformed, with out regard to the larger cultural and social context, then these larger systems will eventually engulf the security sector and obliterate any transformation that has taken place. Thus, long-term sustainable peace and security begins with SSR, but must eventually extend to larger political, economic, social and cultural transformations.

Training Military Personnel for Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

Since the end of World War II, the primary raison d'etre (reason to exist, or justification for existence) for national militaries has been national defense. However, for many contemporary militaries, tasks often considered secondary (peace keeping, reconstruction, etc) have taken up more time and resources than active defense. Many of these "secondary" tasks fall under the umbrella term of Peace Support Operations (PSO). But as Fernando Isturiz said: "National defense planning is essentially a matter of interest assessment and threat perceptions" and policy, planning and training are guided by these assessments. Thus, since PSO is generally considered "secondary" it is often neglected in military training.

However, some people argue that conventional military training is sufficient to meet PSO needs, and thus no PSO specific training is necessary. Lieutenant-General Kinzer, former UNMIH force commander espouses this view: " belief that combat trained soldiers, given a focused objective, time and resources to prepare, and led by adaptive and mentally agile leaders at all levels, will perform superbly as peacekeepers." Unfortunately this perspective ignores some of the key differences between PSO and conventional military operations. While conventional military training is the basis for PSO training, additional PSO specific training is required because "...the basic PSO concepts of consent of the parties, impartiality and limited use of force do not exist in the conventional warfare training syllabus". As a result, there are at least nine key concepts unique to the PSO context, which should be addressed in peacekeeper training.

First, the necessary attitude of PSO personnel differs from the attitude of convictional forces. While convictional military training often stresses aggressiveness, PSO training must focus on restraint. PSO contexts require that peacekeepers have an acute understanding of the political repercussions of their actions. They need to be aware of the inherent loss of sovereignty involved in peacekeeping, as well as the potentially destabilizing effects of overly aggressive actions. Essentially, PSO personnel must demonstrate resolve, with out unnecessary provocation and this requires an attitude of restraint that should be developed in training.

Second, the use of force is applied differently in PSO contexts. In contrast to conventional training which tends to encourage the "destruction of targets as they appear", in Peace Support Operations there are strict Rules of Engagement (ROE). These ROE determine when, where, against whom and how force can be used. They also determine the progression of force. PSO training involves a strict understanding of the concept of ROE as well as the specific ROE involved in the context in which one is deployed.

Third, the perception of the "enemy" differs in PSO's. In PSO's there is often no clearly defined enemy. The lack of a distinct enemy affects both the direction of efforts and the measurement of success. In PSO efforts success is defined in abstract political objectives. This can affect morale, unless personnel are trained to view success in elusive and blurred political terms.

Fourth, exit strategies differ in PSO contexts. In PSO there is often not an objective determination of the "end state". As a result, PSO requires long term planning regarding both policy and budget issues. There also needs to be constant refinement as to when it is appropriate to leave. This can affect personnel negatively if they are not trained to understand the ambiguous and shifting nature of PSO.

Fifth, the role of civilians in PSO is vastly different than in conventional conflicts. While it is wise for both moral and political reasons to limit civilian deaths in conventional conflicts, the welfare of civilians is the "ultimate operational target" of PSO. Thus rather than simply not harming civilians PSO personnel must be trained to actively aid civilians. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. describes this concept: "...if innocent civilians are starving, left exposed to the elements...their condition will become of intense interest to commanders in the field...Anyone who asserts that this will not become a competing priority with ongoing military operations is unfamiliar with the power and political sophistication of non-governmental organizations and the pressures exerted by the CNN effect." Thus, PSO training must reflect the privileged role of civilians in Peace Support.

Sixth, key decision making is located at different levels of the hierarchy in PSO. This is due to the relative scarcity of PSO personnel in large geographic areas (in comparison to conventional conflicts). As a result, lower level or "junior" leaders must take on more responsibility and are required to make more decisions. Thus, PSO training must address decision making at lower levels of the hierarchy than conventional training does.

Seventh, the command and control structure of PSO in unique. While certain conventional operations involve multiple nations (NATO in the first Iraq war for example) PSO operations are virtually always multinational. This raises problems of cultural difference. PSO personnel must be aware of cultural differences and be able to bridge these differences effectively. They must also be able to condense sometimes conflicting interests and world views into coherent and common objectives. Thus, cultural differences and ways to reach multi-cultural understanding should be addressed in training.

Eighth, PSO's are generally subject to media scrutiny much more than conventional conflicts. In conventional conflicts the media's freedom of movement is often restricted due to secrecy needs, but this is not usually the case in PSO. The actions of PSO personnel will likely have major political consequences back home when recorded and scrutinized by the media. Thus, personnel must be trained to be aware of the media and the consequences of its coverage.

Finally, the use of technology differs in PSO. Technology is becoming ever more prevalent in conventional conflicts, but this is not the case in PSO. Technology does not replace face-to-face interaction essential to Peace Support Operations. Thus, training needs to reflect the low tech, high manpower nature of PSO. This and the other eight unique PSO training needs listed above, are thought to be necessary additions to conventional military training in order to ensure peacekeepers are able to properly handle the unique PSO contexts they find themselves in.

Contemporary Applications (the Case Study Chapters)

Parts two, three and four of the book are essentially collections of case studies from various part of the globe. In part two, chapters five through nine address security sector reform in European case studies. Chapter five highlights the importance of indigenization of SSR, in the context of Macedonia. It does this by showing that ethnic-military relations (as opposed to democracy building and civil-military relations) was the driving force behind SSR in Macedonia. Chapter six addresses the strategic role peace keeping missions can play in national policies, using American intervention in Bosnia as an example. Chapter seven again highlights the need to indigenize SSR by laying out the inherent problems of using NATO countries' models to implement reform in Russia. Chapter eight uses the Georgian example to remind us of the importance of internal conflicts and national security arguing they are prerequisites to sustainable SSR. In chapter nine, we empirically see the need to integrate political issues with SSR in the Northern Ireland context.

In part three, chapters ten through thirteen address SSR in Latin American case studies. Chapter ten highlights the importance of dialog between the civilian authorities and the military elites throughout Latin America, arguing that such dialog is necessary to protect the "young and fragile" democracies of Latin America from post 9-11 American pressure towards strong security structures at the expense of legitimate democracy. Chapter eleven uses Columbia as an example of the need to cease violence before engaging in SSR. Chapter twelve, points out how political elites can prevent SSR using Chile as an example. Chapter thirteen, highlights the need for political cooperation in SSR, using Hati and Guatemala as examples.

In part four, chapters fourteen and fifteen address SSR in Asian case studies. Chapter fourteen, reminds us of the need to reintegrate the former military into SSR using Cambodia as an example. Chapter fifteen again addresses the need to indigenize SSR using Cambodia, East Timor, and Afghanistan as examples. These case studies as well as the nine others listed above provide and empirical base to add both legitimacy and understanding to the concepts presented in part one of the book.


Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding argues that a secure environment is necessary for political, cultural and economic well being. In post-conflict societies such security often needs to be established initially by external militaries. These external militaries should provide security, training, and aid in rebuilding infrastructure when necessary, but can only temporarily remain at the center of security. For a sustainable peace to take hold, a local and newly reformed security sector must take over in a timely manner.

The external forces that aid in this reformation process require specific Peace Support Operations training, due to the distinct differences between the PSO and the conventional warfare contexts. This includes training regarding attitude, the use of force, enemy perception, exit strategies, the role of civilians, key decision making, command and control, media scrutiny, and the role of technology. Properly trained peacekeepers should aid locals in the transformation of their security sector into a collection of institutions which guard the political, economic, social and cultural rights of the citizens. In doing so the intervention force should work with locals to follow the principals of civil supremacy, indigenization, constitutionally defined roles and responsibilities, and dialog between and among the political and military elites.

Such security sector reform is difficult in the unfavorable environments of post-conflict society, but external and local actors can overcome these difficulties with a coordinated effort. Their effort should begin with security sector reform, but must eventually progress into larger political, economic and cultural reforms. Doing so will help to ensure lasting peace in the local context, as well as a more peaceful and democratic global community. Thus it is in the best interest of the international community to help post-conflict societies reform their security sector in the context of a larger peacebuilding process.