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Q&A: Alternatives Needed to Western-led Peacebuilding

Rousbeh Legatis interviews BJØRN MØLLER of the Danish Institute for International Studies

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2011 (IPS) - “Security Sector Reforms” (SSRs) have become the latest catch phrase in donor discussions on post-conflict peacebuilding around the world.

Bjørn Møller  Credit: Courtesy of Bjørn Møller

Bjørn Møller Credit: Courtesy of Bjørn Møller

But instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach in diverse countries like Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq and Somalia, SSRs should include an “openness towards non-Western approaches”, says security and defence expert Bjørn Møller from the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS).

In an interview with IPS, Møller notes that this means involving local communities as well as dealing with former combatants who earned their living through the gun, destroying remaining arsenals of weapons, and reforming power structures. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What type of security are we are talking about as far as SSRs are concerned? A: Mainly the security of the state – i.e. “national security” – vis-a-vis internal enemies such as insurgents, but also the human security of the inhabitants. The most important part of SSR may be DDR, i.e. the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants, but insuring civil and democratic control of the military and police are also very important.

In the case of negotiated ceasefires and peace agreements, SSR often also includes provision for the co-optation of parts of the rebel forces in reformed national security forces, which also provides some security for the disarming of rebel forces.


Q: How does a lack of security particularly affect people living in poverty? A: The poor people are those who are least able to escape or defend themselves against the consequences of civil wars. The more affluent people can often flee or hire armed protection.

Q: To what extent are SSRs important to build structures of lasting peace, and what can they achieve compared to other peacebuilding instruments? A: The DDR element of SSR is the most important. In the immediate aftermath of a civil war, what matters most after the signing of a peace is to give the former combatants something better to do than fighting. Otherwise they may resort to violent crime, start a new war or join one in a neighbouring country – as we have seen in West Africa where the same fighters have fought in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire.

Q: SSRs became an appealing buzzword in international policy making. Why is this idea so attractive for donor countries? A: It came along with a new emphasis on post-conflict peacebuilding and as an integral part of the latter. It could thus be seen as a means to prevent second rounds of armed conflicts.

Q: You raised key conceptual concerns when SSRs are applied to African countries. Can you explain further? A: The West – which is usually “calling the shots” because it is paying the bill – finds it very hard to think beyond its own experience. It therefore seeks to establish a “state monopoly on the legitimate use of force”, which the German sociologist Max Weber found to be the distinguishing feature of the modern state.

In Europe, establishing such a monopoly took several centuries, and to expect a non-Western country coming out of a civil war to accomplish the same in, at most, a couple of years is quite unrealistic.

Q: Despite the fact, which you have mentioned, that the SSR concept is premised on Western notions and experiences, it is applied to countries in all regions of the world. What are the implications for effective policy making and the affected people? A: First of all, a lot of effort is wasted with, for instance, training of “national” security forces before the confrontation is really over, and a large part of these forces may simply “disappear” shortly after the completion of their training, perhaps because they join the remaining rebels – now better trained and even armed than they were before, as we have seen in, for instance, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secondly, institutions for collective self-protection of villages, tribes or other communities are often dismantled because they do not seem compatible with a state monopoly on the use of force.

Q: What are the challenges to meet? A: This all depends on the concrete circumstances, which differ from setting to setting. There is no “one size fits all” SSR formula. It is also important to have enough time, but the external actors, both states and international organisations, are almost always looking for an exit option – often defined as the completion of a superficial SSR programme and the holding of elections.

Q: Are there policy complements which could improve the concept? How about alternative approaches? A: There is a need for openness towards non-Western approaches to the provision of security. In religiously divided societies, for instance, there may be a need for a more pluralistic legal order, i.e. for a coexistence of secular and religious or Christian and Islamic legal orders. This is hard to reconcile with the Western ideals, but may appear as more legitimate to the local population.

It may also be important to provide scope for local and community-based security forces, simply because they may appear more legitimate. In fact, legitimacy is usually far more important than professional skills, but this is something that cannot be taught.

It is also important to realise that the West is very often mistrusted – and not without reasons – and its values not necessarily shared by the local population. Hence, the more the West does to help, even with the best of intensions, the more it may inadvertently undermine the legitimacy of the post-conflict state and its security forces.

 
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