Train, build and equip, a sustainable approach?

by Alwin van den Boogaard · October 13, 2016.

Often insecurity is explained as the result of lack of capacity which is easily translated into enhancing capacity through the supply of equipment, building infrastructure and the delivery of training. Train, build and equip can easily be accounted for: the amount of equipment delivered, the amount of people trained, the amount of barracks built and can easily be organized as training, infrastructure and equipment, which are essential parts and activities of all security organizations worldwide. But is this train and equip approach in line with the objective of achieving a sustainable SSR process, which was defined as: a nationally owned and inclusive process, taking into account of the principles of good governance, while discussing, deciding upon, trying to guarantee and evaluate the security needs of the citizens and the state in a continuous and autonomous way? Can train, build and equip be executed as easily as often assumed? In this blog I would like to highlight some of the issues which are easily overlooked or underestimated while taking a train, build and equip approach.

Train, build and equip is not the same as capacity building.

It is beyond doubt that train, build and equip can be part of enhancing the capacity of a security organization. But capacity of an organization is more than training, infrastructure and equipment. The capacity of an organization is decided by the quality of its conceptual framework, its associated strategic vision, its structure, its culture and of course its human and material resources[1]. These components influence each other in a positive or negative way. Reinforcing one of the components does not necessarily lead to a capacity enhancement.

A security sector contains a multitude of organizations which are tasked to cooperate and which are linked: the output of one organization directly leads to input for another. Enhancement of capacity of one organization will not immediately improve the functioning of the entire sector as the capacity of the entire security sector also depends on the level of cooperation and coordination between the security organizations, between the security organizations and other stakeholders such as oversight mechanisms, civil society etc.

What are the needs?

Defining the real shortages in training, infrastructure and equipment asks for a profound understanding of an organization and the context in which the organization is working. Analyzing this is a process in itself and cannot be done in an effective and efficient way overnight. Certainly in post-conflict or fragile states, trying to determine the actual training or material needs is a challenging endeavor, if possible at all.

Parts of training are culture related: of course the more technical a training is the less culture will be a factor (e.g. enhancing marksmanship) but the more the human component needs to be reinforced the more culture becomes important (e.g. enhancing leadership). So cultural awareness plays a role.

Technical and operational sustainability.

Equipment and training should fit within procedures and doctrine in order to be operationally sustainable. Equipment and training need follow-up in order to stay functional: equipment and infrastructure need maintenance and spare parts, training needs to be repeated or to be introduced in the case of a change of personnel. All this will consume part of the budget. Often there is already a budgetary constraint certainly within fragile or post-conflict states. Maintenance of equipment and infrastructure ask for a change of culture as maintenance is a kind of investment. Investments are known to be the first victims in the case of budgetary constraints. Maintenance also means professional daily management; a type of management which is not always common.

The delivery of equipment should be coordinated amongst international partners in order to prevent a mismatch or worse in order to prevent a logistical nightmare. After delivery the equipment should be managed in a transparent and accountable way in order to prevent theft or misuse. Accountability means responsibility and integrity and here the delivery of equipment provides an opening to the heart of SSR: good governance. This implies that also in these kinds of activities the message of good governance can and should be included.

Operational sustainability of training can be achieved if the training is delivered through the “Train the Trainer” concept. In this way the recipient organization can continue or rehearse the training after the international support has come to an end. The Train the Trainer approach also provides the necessary trainers for the initial training and career courses. Train the trainer does not mean only reinforcing or introducing technical skills it also means reinforcing the training skills, providing means so the training by the new trainers can be performed (training material, means of transport) and at the end the training should be included in the regular training program.

Train and equip can easily become political.

Although it is regularly overlooked, train and certainly equip touches easily upon the political dimension. Enhancing one security organization within the sector can easily lead to reinforcing the position of a political leader or damaging the position of another. This can also happen if one reinforces the capacity of a part of a security organization as not all parts of a security organization are of equal political importance. This asks for understanding of the power relationships within the broader context.

Train and equip and change of attitude.

Delivery of equipment might trigger a change in the tactical or technical approach within a security organization. It will not lead to profound behavioral changes. For example: delivery of computers only will not lead to a more transparent system of communication within a ministry it will merely improve the readability of the messages.

In general training only develops a particular aspect of human capacity through a particular method. Training might support a process of change if not only the technical side of the training but also the ethical side of a technical skill belongs to the training.

So train, build and equip is not recommended?

No this blog is not meant to be written in order to convince the reader that train, build and equip is not recommendable. The blog was written in order to clarify that mere train, build and equip is not a quick win which will lead to enhancement of capacities and certainly not in a sustainable way. Enhancing capacities is part of SSR but only if the project is part of a broader approach which includes reinforcing oversight, accountability and responsibility and as long as the security of state and its citizens is served in a balanced and respectful way.

[1]Capacity building in practice, Jan Ubels, Earthscan, 2010.