Sustainable Peace at its Base: The Reconstruction of the Security Sector

With inclusive training and region specific stratagem, firm security sector reform in a time of political transition or post-war circumstances can be the basis for sustainable peace in a previously volatile state. The security sector plays a central role in every state and is often the most sensitive and influential faction in the government, as it includes not only the entirety of the military forces but also the executive branch of any government. Because of its authoritative significance it is critical for a country in political transition to begin with a stable and functional security force. In order to insure that stable base, a renovation of the previous security force must be completed, if it is outdated or corrupt as it often is. Although this task is daunting, it is achievable and vital to the stability of the transitioning country and to global stability as a whole. The complex project of security sector reform needs a base. The struggle the United Nations and those countries in the midst of security sector reform have faced in the past several decades is in finding a base that is not only fluid enough to be used in every renovating country, but one that is structured enough to be taught. An interpretive model is proposed to stand as this basis for change. This model is taken from the past thirty-years of attempted and successful reform, and the struggles within the United States of America that demonstrate for a global audience the necessary provisions and policies which must be implemented for successful reform. This suggested reform stems from the United States’ own experience of post-war reconstruction following the American Civil War.

El Salvador was an erratic and complicated state in the 1960’s and 70’s, when it broke into a civil war between the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the wildly unpopular government. A series of treaty agreements ended the civil war and shaped the new country into a strong and independent nation. The peace agreement of El Salvador is one of the longest held peace treaties of the late 20th century.[i] The treaty most prominently features a clause in which 70% of the current armed forces were dismissed.[ii] The national guard, as well as many other military forces were dismantled and former FMLN fighters and government supporters were quickly incorporated into the much smaller police force.[iii] Civilian control of much of the police force also strengthened the country’s overall stability by offering new confidence in their protectors. As this is one of the longest held agreements concerning the security sector by the UN, it is the best example there is of how to properly and effectively reform the security sector in countries today. El Salvador’s success may be attributed to a number of factors, the largest of which is the incorporation of former rebels into the security sector. This tactic makes many in the reform process uneasy; the inclusion of people who were recently trying to overthrow the government is a plan of a fearless persuasion. However, the security sector should be a solid system of protection for the people, not the government.

Countries with newly emerging political systems tend to be weak and fumbling. To make stable the entirety of a country we must make stable its roots; the base of a secure and steady country is the comfort of the people.[iv]  As countries in political transition or in post-war circumstances show, the people, even when they are not allowed or supposed to, have the power. The comfort of a people lies at least partly in their trust in the country’s ability to protect them and its willingness to serve them before its superficial political interests. By incorporating people of all creeds, tribes and origins into the armed forces, countries offer a safety net of relation between the people and their protectors. It has been clearly established that often the most unsettling and dangerous forces in a state are the forces that are given direct jurisdiction over a community with which they have no ties.[v] By reforming the security sector in a fashion that incorporates region specific beliefs that can be implemented quickly, a force will emerge that will serve and protect its people.[vi] Just as newly formed reconciliation treaties should mimic the traits that are correlated with the success in countries such as El Salvador, these treaties must also comprehend the treaties that have failed in order to provide the dynamic force for good necessary for change.

The long struggle for peaceful independence in South Sudan seemed to come to an end in 2011 when South Sudan was recognized as a new nation by the United Nations[vii].  However, the peaceful part of their independence was short-lived as a coup was staged in late 2013 and political stability was sabotaged.[viii] The most disconcerting part of the recent turmoil is Vice President Riak Machar Teny’s deep involvement in the coup.[ix] As South Sudan emerged from a period of rebellion and transition, it was unclear how to handle the security sector, as it faced the immediate challenge of demobilizing forces from the long-running civil war which lead to the partition of Sudan.[x] Countries with hands in the recuperation of Sudan attempted to dismantle the military forces of Sudan, however the demobilization was either unsuccessful or incomplete since the founding of South Sudan to the most recent unrest. In addition, the social institutions which might have prevented inter-tribal conflicts had not had time to take root.

Both El Salvador and South Sudan endured years of civil war in which civilian populations were targeted by both military and paramilitary forces, creating complex dynamics between former combatants and the populations either protected or oppressed. States which did not face war, but abrupt and dramatic political transitions, such as the countries of the Arab Spring, may have a slightly less complex challenge, as the security sector was generally unified in state control, rather than being divided into warring factions.[xi] In cases of political transition, the security sector was generally the primary tool of state control, placing the military and police in opposition to the people. Egypt is a prime example of a state in transition where the security sector has not evolved as part of the transition, leading to the collapse of the democratic process and the resurgence of the security state.[xii]

Abraham Lincoln called his vision for post-war peace in the South “Reconstruction” because he saw it as a ground-up rebuilding of social institutions which could bring lasting social stability[xiii]. Lincoln’s assassination ended the possibility of realizing his ultimate vision, but major components survived in the Reconstruction programs that were eventually implemented after the war.[xiv] The conceptual framework, however, is instructive. In places like South Sudan, the security sector needs to be completely reconstructed along with the institutions that support stable and peaceful society. Reconstruction of the security sector, following Abraham Lincoln’s framework calls for demobilization of military forces; transition of combatants into civilian life; local police, respecting local customs; adequate pay for the security sector; civilian oversight; and most importantly, building the trust of the general population.

Successful demobilization of military forces requires disarmament of forces and a clear demarcation between military and civilian life. In order to keep former combatants from re-arming, jobs can provide both money and new purpose. Jobs programs can be costly, but not as costly as war. In Iraq, the US learned the dangers of having hundreds of thousands of young soldiers quickly demobilized with no jobs, easy access to arms, and a target for their resentment. Local police, which are clearly distinct from the military, can create confidence in the civilian population. However, the police must respect local customs as much as possible, even if they are drawn from different ethnic or regional populations. Adequate pay for the security sector, along with severe penalties for corruption, are essential to reconstruction. Old models of low compensation and high corruption have tainted the security sector in many countries.[xv]

In order to achieve lasting reform in countries with war torn politics and landscapes, it is necessary to take a holistic and fluid approach, adapting to region specific needs, incorporating correlations between religious beliefs and sound security sector practices, and rehabilitating the reputation of the protectors in the region. Second to the adaptation to the specific regions is the adoption of former rebels or terrorist members into civilian life. In order to succeed at creating an obedient and obeyed security force, we must create a clear line between the military and their civilian counterparts. Abandoning or oppressing those who once fought for their perceived freedom will cast those enforcing laws as oppressors. Just as Abraham Lincoln proposed in his holistic approach to creating a country united in purpose in the wake of the Civil War, countries emerging from war and political conflict can draw on proven practices to reconstruct their security sectors into effective institutions promoting peace and stability.

End Notes

[i]  See Ring for insightful paraphrasing of the treaty terms, also see Golden, also a summary of the peace talks.

[ii]  See again Ring for a paraphrasing of the treaty terms.

[iii]  Refer to the FMLN website and historical summary, it offers a perspective of incorporation and its ability to aid the reconstruction of the government.

[iv]  It was a strong belief held by the founding fathers that a government has a duty to protect its people, therefore ensuring the peoples ‘comfort.’ A country that does not offer security to its people will likely fail in that the people will cease to support it, or that the people will be claimed or killed by other states. This would leave it to be said that a country is most successful when its people feel safe and comfortable thus supporting the state for their own well-being.

[v] A multitude of examples of this fact are found in the oppression of occupied states from all eras, such as England in India, Al-Qaeda in the middle east and many more throughout history.

[vi] A timely manner of implication of all reforms best serves the people as they are those who chose and support the security force, by using strategies that better fit the region and the time there will be greater impact on the communities the reforms are applied to.

[vii] See “United Nations recognized South Sudan as the 193ed member state” published on July 14th 2011.

[viii] See Kushkush and Muchler for a profile on recent events in South Sudan.

[ix] Again refer to Kushkush and see also “South Sudan Conflict: UN Says Atrocities on Both Sides,” for a clear report of the events of the most recent unrest in Sudan.

[x] See “SSR Country Snapshot: South Sudan.” for a more complete summary of the Sudan Civil War events.  

[xi] The pattern generally followed in the Arab Spring was a system of uprisings among civilians with little police involvement with the rebellions, meaning the police forces generally were maintained by the state and served as the domestic military force. This position may make reform easier in that, once the rebellion has achieved the powers it sought, the security sector may fall in closer alignment with the people’s desires.

[xii] Following the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the security forces were perceived as supporting the public interest, thus were not a target reform.  That proved to be short-sighted as the security sector staged a coup in 2013, after widespread anti-government protests.

[xiii] What Lincoln himself referred to as the ten percent plan was to allow any Confederate State admittance into the Union once ten percent of the population swore an oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution. Because Lincoln believed that the South had never legally seceded from the Union, his plan for Reconstruction was based on forgiveness. He issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction in 1863 to reinstate the places with full rights and offered help from the Union states and army to assist in the rebuilding of the infrastructure and social structure.

[xiv] Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln following his death, chose to follow a vague outline of Lincoln’s plan however sided with radical opinion in the case of Rebellion punishment as he stated in his Amnesty Proclamation in May of 1865. Although Lincolns plan was mostly abandoned it was upheld eventually as Johnson’s plan proved ineffective and expensive.

[xv] Corruption in any government faction has major negative impacts on the government’s credibility and stability, see Mookherjee for further insight into correlations between police corruption and compensation.


June 14

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