- Shifting Norms: Development Policy and the Role of Security Sector Reform in Advancing Human Security
Security Sector Reform (SSR) is a technical model guides practitioners’ efforts to transform states’ security services into institutions which can face challenges “in a manner that is consistent with democratic norms, and sound principles of governance and the rule of law.”1 Given that SSR is a highly specialized development model, it is not surprising that it has received virtually no attention from academics. One of this article’s purposes is to address this gap.
There are at least two reasons why international relations scholars ought to care about SSR. First, SSR was a seminal part of the West’s strategy to combat terrorism and provide development assistance. Between 2005 and 2012, the Organization of Economic and Co-operation and Development-Development Assistance Committee (OECDDAC) committed over $3 billion to SSR projects.2 The United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), OECD, and virtually every western donor state, including the United States, officially endorsed the SSR model.3 As Andrew Rathmel observed, SSR was the “central plank” in the coalitions’ stabilization and reconstruction efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.4 The international community explicitly [End Page 147] followed the SSR model as they played the role of midwife to the birth of South Sudan.5 Consequently, SSR’s successes and failures have had tremendous implications for the world’s security. To be clear though, the SSR model is hardly beyond reproach. Civil wars in South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq have cast considerable doubt on the future utility of the SSR model. Rather, the point being made here is that SSR represented a radical break in the western development and security communities approach to nation-state building and post conflict reconstruction. Setting aside the future of SSR, the Western Development Community’s (WDC) adoption of SSR at the turn of the twenty first century was an issue of high policy importance.
Second, SSR represents much more than just another development model. SSR is a novel approach to development insofar as it adopts a holistic strategy. It is the result of a fundamental change in how donors and international development actors engage the security sectors of weak states. As reviewed below, a normative shift from a state-centric to a human-centric conception of security occurred in the 1990s. Commitment to this new norm, however, would mean little unless the norm was somehow mapped onto critical actors’ approaches to development. SSR provided the diagram. Perceived success of SSR in Sierra Leone in the 2000s amplified the growing recognition that the traditional train and equip development model was inefficient and inconsistent with a holistic approach to security. Seeking to capitalise on perceived successes in Sierra Leone, organisations such as the OECD, EU, and the UN formalised the SSR model because it came to be seen as a viable strategy to advance the human-security norm in developing countries. Non-governmental organizations and [End Page 148] think tanks committed to the human security norm produced a considerable number of working and policy papers that helped craft, formalize, and disseminate SSR programs.
Put differently, the SSR model was adopted because it advanced an ideational outlook. As such, SSR is an articulation of the way central actors in international relations understood what constitutes an appropriate relationship between a government and its citizens. However, the rise of SSR was not simply a story of western political advisers teaching governments how to think about their security. Questions about a state’s security involve fundamental issues about material capabilities and the ability to maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In the precarious world in which post-conflict governments reside and most SSR takes place, security remains the paramount issue. SSR requires governments to place the security and well-being of their citizens on par with the need to maintain the territorial security of their state. Often these reforms recommend that that the government dramatically downsize the military and demobilise the same security services that ushered a regime to power. Not surprisingly, governments receiving SSR assistance can come to see themselves as targets of western...