Report 13 April 2018

Changing Security Governance: Lessons for External Support

by Sarah Brockmeier, Philipp Rotmann               FES

Can national and regional dialogue supported by external actors spark change toward security sector governance and reform (SSG/R)? Can outside actors effectively support national reform constituencies in advocating for SSG/R? This paper argues that under the right conditions, informal dialogue platforms, organized with a long-term and flexible approach, can support reform ambitions and open up the possibility of addressing national political reform agendas. Where these windows of opportunity then exist, external actors can effectively support national reform constituencies. Based on a cross-cutting evaluation of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) work over the last decade, this paper presents concrete examples of engagement in reform processes in the security sector from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Southern Africa.

Since the late 1990s, security sector governance and reform programs have become essential elements of international and national peacebuilding and stabilization endeavors. Yet, experts in the development and security communities agree that cases of successful SSG/R programs are rare. They acknowledge that one of the biggest challenges is the tendency of donors to support ‘train and equip’ approaches, and thereby the lack of comprehensive political approaches to incrementally make security sectors more accountable, effective, and responsive to the needs of their citizens.

The paper distinguishes between two interrelated approaches to stimulating change in the security sector: supporting regional dialogue, and strengthening national constituencies for change. Based on the experience of FES, this paper develops four ideal-typical contexts that can be used as a guideline for selecting the most realistic possibilities and most promising shape of SSG/R work. The paper finds that regional dialogue work can enable broader open discussions on necessary reforms, even in a climate of “closing spaces.” Regional discussions can generate entry points by including broader issues related to (in)security and safety, building trust and networks among actors from the security sector, politics and civil society.

Such regional work can eventually trigger national-level dialogue and inject ideas into national conversations on SSG/R. Where there are national actors with the capacity and ambition for political change, sustained and long-term support to reform constituencies can enable thorough reform debates on a national level and, in some cases, lead to the eventual formulation of concrete policy proposals for better security sector governance.

Most details on and lessons learned from FES programs presented in this paper are the result of an internal evaluation that the authors conducted for the foundation. By sharing these lessons more widely, FES strives to enrich the debate on second- and third-generation SSG/R approaches and hopes to inform practitioners, experts, and academics concerned with strengthening political assistance to democratic security governance.

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The full report was originally published by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and is available for download.

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