Security sector stabilisation

21 January 2015 17:00 - 18:30 GMT+00
Workshop

​Speakers:

Ben Lovelock: Principal author, UK Stabilisation Unit’s Security Sector Stabilisation Approach

Freddie Carver: Head of Security and Justice Group at the Stabilisation Unit

Description

A core challenge for the security and justice sectors in fragile and conflict-affected states is how to both enhance security and make political progress in contexts where the capability and legitimacy of the political authority is lacking and where the environment is characterised by turbulent politics, persistent political violence and weak organisational and institutional capacity.  

To grapple with this challenge, Dr Ben Lovelock, principal author of the UK Stabilisation Unit’s Security Sector Stabilisation (SSS) approach discussed how SSS seeks to address political power and conflict together, through a tightly coordinated approach to both political and security actors in order to reduce violence, make people safer and create political space for dialogue. He reflected on the topical challenge of connecting technical programming activity with political outcomes as essential in preparing for transition to longer-term security sector reform.

Freddie Carver responded by exploring some of the practical implications of this approach on the ground, and the challenges of making it a reality for the security sector assistance community.

About the speakers:

Dr Ben Lovelock is a former Royal Marines officer whose scholarly interest is the politico-security dimension of contemporary peace and stability operations. He has had wide exposure to conflict environments in the Balkans, Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and as a Senior Security and Justice Adviser with the SU he has undertaken assignments in Afghanistan, Africa and the United Kingdom. 

Freddie Carver is the Head of Security and Justice Group at the Stabilisation Unit, and has spent much of the last decade working as a conflict and governance adviser for DFID and the British Government. He has worked in the Former Soviet Union, Latin America and Asia, but spent most time on Sub-Saharan Africa. In particular he has worked on international engagement in South Sudan and the Horn of Africa since 2003, for both the British Government and Non-Governmental Organisations. Since 2010 his primary focus has been HMG’s Security and Justice programming and policy, particularly in conflict-affected environments.

To read more about the Stabilisation Unit’s Security Sector Stabilisation Approach, visit this page

This was the sixth of seven events in the S&J seminar series, and was timely given the imminent recalibration of the Conflict Pool into the Conflict Stability and Security Fund.

Dr. Lovelock, author of the Stabilisation Unit’s Security Sector Stabilisation (SSS) approach, presented a key finding from interventions across multiple conflict affected regions – that neither military nor political approaches alone will achieve lasting stability in unstable environments.

Such environments are usually characterised by an absence of a stable political settlement and a proliferation of willingness and means for violence. At best, the environments are semi-permissive for internationals, and very often worse than that, with little elite support for the reforms internationals seek to support. Weak institutions and lack of trust in state machinery will usually encourage multiple non-state security and justice providers to fill power vacuums. Security doesn’t wait, we were told: no space is ungoverned, and absences are quickly filled.

So how to keep up with this and fill the voids beneficially? SSS approaches advocate for a two speed approach. The first is designed to quickly open up some political space, and the second simultaneously aims for longer term political processes that can help deliver conflict resolution.

There are three assumptions behind this two speed approach: that the international community, including the UK, will continue to engage directly or through advising other organisations in stabilisation contexts; that efforts will be made to forge a guiding political settlement (even if contested) with the governing authority (possibly interim) at the international, national, or even potentially sub-national levels; and that political and governance stabilisation will be pursued in parallel, with other stabilisation activities (such as social or economic) being brought in over time.

Together these assumptions recognise that power and politics need to be approached together to meet both human and state security needs. Understanding this ‘political security nexus,’ we heard, was crucial if SSS interventions are to have a chance of success.

It must also be remembered that SSS is a bridging exercise to other longer-term SSR exercises. This transition is not easy. Challenges include managing public security, protecting infrastructure, maintaining a balance between delivering human and state security, and building societal resilience into SSS efforts. Perhaps most problematically, at the same time it is necessary to manage the informal security and justice sectors, as well as plan how to build oversight of statesecurity and justice mechanisms.

Both bottom-up and top-down approaches are needed, but these should respect the primacy of the political process and measure success against that. There are difficult choices to be made to that end. Who to engage with and how? Should we engage at all? What to sequence first? How to really join the eviscerated state and local level mechanisms together? And how to manage and transform the underlying power dynamics and legacies of conflict into something stable and workable? Many of these questions were mulled over during the following discussion.

Before concluding, Dr. Lovelock made one thing clear – SSS is not SSR. Of course there are similarities, most evidently in that both aim for a sustained political peace centred around a functioning state. However, in theory SSS takes place at an earlier stage and is much more flexible and fluid in its delivery, typified by a deep political understanding of a situation and a two-track approach. It should lead to a transition plan to SSR and other longer term reforms, but this is easier said than done. 

Dr. Lovelock ended with questions pertaining to this challenge. Does HMG have the right deployable, political capabilities? How do we deal with the context specific challenges our embassies might throw up? Do we understand enough about the ‘ripeness’ of the political and peace processes? And should we be transformational in our SSS work or stick to a ‘glide path’?

Freddie Carver then discussed some of the practical implications of implementing SSS in practice, drawing on examples of SSS in a variety of contexts. In the spirit of honesty that has marked the entire S&J series, he conceded that SSS work is inherently political and that the Stabilisation Unit are perhaps not quite set up to do this in practice.

For example in South Sudan, we heard how the threat of violence undermined weak political processes. As a result we need to think about how to curtail such threats better and create more robust and workable political arrangements that stick.

We also need to not dwell on the terminological baggage that comes with ‘security’ and ‘stabilisation’. SSS is about much more than just the security sector, and much more than just stability. It is about trying to overcome weak political settlements and their associated high levels of violence and create the political space and spark for far reaching reforms across multiple sectors.

We also heard that SSS is risky. SSR approaches are full of nice ideas but interventions tend, still, to fall into the easier technical types of reforms. SSS tries not to do that. It involves hard choices, and ultimately trying to pick winners at the political level that can translate settlements into improved peace and stability at the societal level.

Freddie acknowledged that we need to be realistic that ‘these sorts of decisions will most probably include coercive force.’ A failure to provide this in South Sudan meant the ‘stability agenda perhaps wasn’t supported enough.’ Despite top-level political engagement and settlements, the processes were not delivered for long enough or with enough conviction on the ground. Why? Coordination across the international community was lacking. After the settlement, a significant amount of political will dissipated for a number of reasons. Some saw the settlement as the end of the peace process rather than just the start. Some were worried about getting too involved for fear of jeopardising their institutional reputations. Some were just not prepared to engage politically because their analysis was not up to scratch – it was either focused just on Juba, or else it was one-off, rather than iterative in an environment that, in truth, was ever changing.

Lessons have been learnt from these experiences. First, it is clear we need to be working more nimbly and guided by better and more conflict and political analysis. Second, SSS needs to look and plan beyond political settlements, and at the same time consider the validity of programmatic approaches. “What really works in that transition phase?” the audience were asked. “And can we find different ways of engaging for the good of SSS?”

This opened up a lively discussion. The first question was about the analysis deficit. Given the lack of iterative, quality analysis in immediate stabilisation contexts there was a worry that sometimes SSS approaches are guilty of promoting Western political values in societies perhaps not ‘ripe’ for such transformations. Therefore should we be using problem driven iterative approaches (PDIA) to help adapt as we learn? It was acknowledged that the flexibility PDIA offers is certainly attractive and bears some similarities to the kinds of flexibility required in SSS, but equally important is the necessity for strong political leadership on all sides – the sort of leadership that can secure long-term funding, support and the freedom to act most appropriately. Given the non-linear change patterns typical in SSS environments, it was felt practitioners may have to ‘feel their way’ way and ‘test their actions and assumptions’, cognisant that much of SSS is to do with difficult trade-offs. 

One such trade-off is around balancing the inclusivity and workability of a political settlement. To make sure they are not ‘winner takes all’, ait was suggested that SSS requires extremely close coordination with multiple security and political actors.

Another challenge is to balance political actors’ ambition with public legitimacy. In the confusion of SSS environments, knowing who to work with is not easy. Engaging any political group gives them air, and this has repercussions for peace and security, and it is important to find entry points that are conflict sensitive. Again, analysis is key. We also need to understand the levels of political risk that actors are willing to take to keep any settlements and activities within the realm of the possible.

The room then discussed how SSS approaches adapt when a military option is impossible, such as in Libya. ‘Partnerships’ seemed to be the agreed upon answer – it might not be possible to have UK boots on the ground, so the question is then how do you work with third parties to fill that role if it is needed?

This dose of realism was built upon in the next questions. “What to do if the best SSS option is non-democratic governance?” And “when does a partner who might be necessary for SSS become ‘beyond the pale’?” Discussion focused on how sometimes we have to accept the best we can get. We have to ask, is it better than it was? Is it ‘good enough’? Is it on the path to something better and have we opened the political space? Making sure SSS abides by norms, values and rules, not least human rights is imperative, but the complex nature of SSS means that sometimes the SU must strongly consider if and how they engage with less palatable actors. Kosovo was cited as an example of making these tough decisions and being able to shift from SSS to SSR.

However Kosovo is just one success story in an otherwise far from perfect record of SSS interventions. Some work has been done by Alex de Waal about security and political market places, trying to understand what deals are being done that we could learn from. Participants also discussed whether the dearth of success stories is because SSR and SSS are harder than other reform processes.

Ultimately, SSS recognises that there are moments of serious political shift that require high levels of flexibility in order to move from glide paths to transformative actions. Identifying these moments is difficult, and acting on them harder still. But it is at those moments that moving from short-term stability to medium and long-term peace and development is possible. It is a long game. We need to ensure that SSS and SSR retain their core purpose of speaking truth to power and keep options open. Most of all, SSS needs to make sure it stays politically smart and guided by up to date and robust conflict and political analysis.

Security Sector Stabilisation

This was the sixth of seven events in the S&J seminar series, and was timely given the imminent recalibration of the Conflict Pool into the Conflict Stability and Security Fund.

Dr. Lovelock, author of the Stabilisation Unit’s Security Sector Stabilisation (SSS) approach, presented a key finding from interventions across multiple conflict affected regions – that neither military nor political approaches alone will achieve lasting stability in unstable environments.

Such environments are usually characterised by an absence of a stable political settlement and a proliferation of willingness and means for violence. At best, the environments are semi-permissive for internationals, and very often worse than that, with little elite support for the reforms internationals seek to support. Weak institutions and lack of trust in state machinery will usually encourage multiple non-state security and justice providers to fill power vacuums. Security doesn’t wait, we were told: no space is ungoverned, and absences are quickly filled.

So how to keep up with this and fill the voids beneficially? SSS approaches advocate for a two speed approach. The first is designed to quickly open up some political space, and the second simultaneously aims for longer term political processes that can help deliver conflict resolution.

There are three assumptions behind this two speed approach: that the international community, including the UK, will continue to engage directly or through advising other organisations in stabilisation contexts; that efforts will be made to forge a guiding political settlement (even if contested) with the governing authority (possibly interim) at the international, national, or even potentially sub-national levels; and that political and governance stabilisation will be pursued in parallel, with other stabilisation activities (such as social or economic) being brought in over time.

Together these assumptions recognise that power and politics need to be approached together to meet both human and state security needs. Understanding this ‘political security nexus,’ we heard, was crucial if SSS interventions are to have a chance of success.

It must also be remembered that SSS is a bridging exercise to other longer-term SSR exercises. This transition is not easy. Challenges include managing public security, protecting infrastructure, maintaining a balance between delivering human and state security, and building societal resilience into SSS efforts. Perhaps most problematically, at the same time it is necessary to manage the informal security and justice sectors, as well as plan how to build oversight of statesecurity and justice mechanisms.

Both bottom-up and top-down approaches are needed, but these should respect the primacy of the political process and measure success against that. There are difficult choices to be made to that end. Who to engage with and how? Should we engage at all? What to sequence first? How to really join the eviscerated state and local level mechanisms together? And how to manage and transform the underlying power dynamics and legacies of conflict into something stable and workable? Many of these questions were mulled over during the following discussion.

Before concluding, Dr. Lovelock made one thing clear – SSS is not SSR. Of course there are similarities, most evidently in that both aim for a sustained political peace centred around a functioning state. However, in theory SSS takes place at an earlier stage and is much more flexible and fluid in its delivery, typified by a deep political understanding of a situation and a two-track approach. It should lead to a transition plan to SSR and other longer term reforms, but this is easier said than done. 

Dr. Lovelock ended with questions pertaining to this challenge. Does HMG have the right deployable, political capabilities? How do we deal with the context specific challenges our embassies might throw up? Do we understand enough about the ‘ripeness’ of the political and peace processes? And should we be transformational in our SSS work or stick to a ‘glide path’?

Freddie Carver then discussed some of the practical implications of implementing SSS in practice, drawing on examples of SSS in a variety of contexts. In the spirit of honesty that has marked the entire S&J series, he conceded that SSS work is inherently political and that the Stabilisation Unit are perhaps not quite set up to do this in practice.

For example in South Sudan, we heard how the threat of violence undermined weak political processes. As a result we need to think about how to curtail such threats better and create more robust and workable political arrangements that stick.

We also need to not dwell on the terminological baggage that comes with ‘security’ and ‘stabilisation’. SSS is about much more than just the security sector, and much more than just stability. It is about trying to overcome weak political settlements and their associated high levels of violence and create the political space and spark for far reaching reforms across multiple sectors.

We also heard that SSS is risky. SSR approaches are full of nice ideas but interventions tend, still, to fall into the easier technical types of reforms. SSS tries not to do that. It involves hard choices, and ultimately trying to pick winners at the political level that can translate settlements into improved peace and stability at the societal level.

Freddie acknowledged that we need to be realistic that ‘these sorts of decisions will most probably include coercive force.’ A failure to provide this in South Sudan meant the ‘stability agenda perhaps wasn’t supported enough.’ Despite top-level political engagement and settlements, the processes were not delivered for long enough or with enough conviction on the ground. Why? Coordination across the international community was lacking. After the settlement, a significant amount of political will dissipated for a number of reasons. Some saw the settlement as the end of the peace process rather than just the start. Some were worried about getting too involved for fear of jeopardising their institutional reputations. Some were just not prepared to engage politically because their analysis was not up to scratch – it was either focused just on Juba, or else it was one-off, rather than iterative in an environment that, in truth, was ever changing.

Lessons have been learnt from these experiences. First, it is clear we need to be working more nimbly and guided by better and more conflict and political analysis. Second, SSS needs to look and plan beyond political settlements, and at the same time consider the validity of programmatic approaches. “What really works in that transition phase?” the audience were asked. “And can we find different ways of engaging for the good of SSS?”

This opened up a lively discussion. The first question was about the analysis deficit. Given the lack of iterative, quality analysis in immediate stabilisation contexts there was a worry that sometimes SSS approaches are guilty of promoting Western political values in societies perhaps not ‘ripe’ for such transformations. Therefore should we be using problem driven iterative approaches (PDIA) to help adapt as we learn? It was acknowledged that the flexibility PDIA offers is certainly attractive and bears some similarities to the kinds of flexibility required in SSS, but equally important is the necessity for strong political leadership on all sides – the sort of leadership that can secure long-term funding, support and the freedom to act most appropriately. Given the non-linear change patterns typical in SSS environments, it was felt practitioners may have to ‘feel their way’ way and ‘test their actions and assumptions’, cognisant that much of SSS is to do with difficult trade-offs. 

One such trade-off is around balancing the inclusivity and workability of a political settlement. To make sure they are not ‘winner takes all’, ait was suggested that SSS requires extremely close coordination with multiple security and political actors.

Another challenge is to balance political actors’ ambition with public legitimacy. In the confusion of SSS environments, knowing who to work with is not easy. Engaging any political group gives them air, and this has repercussions for peace and security, and it is important to find entry points that are conflict sensitive. Again, analysis is key. We also need to understand the levels of political risk that actors are willing to take to keep any settlements and activities within the realm of the possible.

The room then discussed how SSS approaches adapt when a military option is impossible, such as in Libya. ‘Partnerships’ seemed to be the agreed upon answer – it might not be possible to have UK boots on the ground, so the question is then how do you work with third parties to fill that role if it is needed?

This dose of realism was built upon in the next questions. “What to do if the best SSS option is non-democratic governance?” And “when does a partner who might be necessary for SSS become ‘beyond the pale’?” Discussion focused on how sometimes we have to accept the best we can get. We have to ask, is it better than it was? Is it ‘good enough’? Is it on the path to something better and have we opened the political space? Making sure SSS abides by norms, values and rules, not least human rights is imperative, but the complex nature of SSS means that sometimes the SU must strongly consider if and how they engage with less palatable actors. Kosovo was cited as an example of making these tough decisions and being able to shift from SSS to SSR.

However Kosovo is just one success story in an otherwise far from perfect record of SSS interventions. Some work has been done by Alex de Waal about security and political market places, trying to understand what deals are being done that we could learn from. Participants also discussed whether the dearth of success stories is because SSR and SSS are harder than other reform processes.

Ultimately, SSS recognises that there are moments of serious political shift that require high levels of flexibility in order to move from glide paths to transformative actions. Identifying these moments is difficult, and acting on them harder still. But it is at those moments that moving from short-term stability to medium and long-term peace and development is possible. It is a long game. We need to ensure that SSS and SSR retain their core purpose of speaking truth to power and keep options open. Most of all, SSS needs to make sure it stays politically smart and guided by up to date and robust conflict and political analysis.