Can train and equip alone qualify as SSR?

10/04/2015 @ 08:21
by Thammy Evans

A large number of SSR projects take place under the rubric of train and equip. In 2013, the UN Peace-Building and Security Operations (PBSO) division conducted a Thematic Review of SSR to Peacebuilding and the Role of the UN Peacebuildng Fund. The review found that that 93% of their funding was on train and equip and infrastructure projects, whilst only 7% of funding was spent on governance related SSR activities. There is increasing evidence, that this approach can do more harm than good, by catalysing a detrimental downstream effect, especially in the armed forces. Some of this evidence is listed below - are there others that can be added to this list? How does a train and equip approach without due diligence in governance, accountability, command responsibility, and integrity impact the effectiveness of stabilisation efforts?

[PS - see this call for positive examples of military reform]

19/05/2016 @ 11:54
by Pedro Mendes

A crucial aspect to consider is how potential accountability gaps can be somehow embedded in T&E programmes, as illustrated by the American security assistance to Egypt. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report looking into US Security Assistance to Egypt in the years 2011-2015 (‘U.S. Government Should Strengthen End-Use Monitoring and Human Rights Vetting for Egypt’). As the title of the report indicates, the findings provide an interesting – beyond the sheer budgetary magnitude of things – case to appreciate some of the obvious, and more damaging, features of a T&E programme which is robust in supply and weak in accountability. Moreover, it describes how the accountability gap can result as much from political dynamics on the donor side (ie. between State Department, US Embassy in Cairo and Congress) as from the recipient's resilience to transparency and scrutiny.

The chapter on human rights vetting in the GAO report (pp 35 ss) is particularly revealing, for those who want to spend a few worthy pages on the nuances of what ‘vetting’ is about – and how it can be tricked:

My suggestion for a conversation starter on Capacity vs Accountability is this:

‘The United States has a policy interest in leveraging U.S. assistance to encourage Egypt and other foreign governments to prevent their security forces from committing human rights violations and to hold their forces accountable when violations occur. However, the U.S. government has not consistently vetted all individuals and units in the Egyptian security forces for human rights concerns before providing training, as required by its policies. State [Department] also does not have policies or procedures for vetting specific individuals and units before it provides equipment, even though military equipment constitutes the vast majority of U.S. assistance to Egypt. Without such vetting, the U.S. government risks providing U.S. equipment, in violation of the Leahy laws, to Egyptian security forces that have committed human rights abuses.’

In sum, T&E can get you relatively far in producing a 'safe and secure environment' but this is a long way from human security.

21/04/2015 @ 10:50
by Gordon Hughes

The Question that has been posed is: Can Train and Equip alone qualify as SSR?  A useful start point might be to analyse the question; understand the boundaries; and identify some of the pitfalls that the question leads us towards.

As we move forward with the conceptual development of "SSR" we should acknowledge that we are really discussing issues around both security and justice, and that our continued use of the "R Word" with all its negative connotations is no longer helpful in our Community of Practice.  We ought to recognise that the "T Word - Transformation" is a much more appropriate term to describe the ongoing nature of the security and justice programmes and processes (with hard and soft strands) that we are engaged with.  Security and Justice Sector Transformation (SJST) is also a more holistic and complete description; it is accurate, transparent and much more acceptable to host countries and cooperating partners who are sensitive about the underlying objectives of external actors. Unfortunately, the International Community seems to be locked into this poor language concerning "security reform" - based on historical reports and high level multilateral and bilateral documentation - which inadequately describes this important security and justice endeavour at global, regional and national levels. 

My learned friend and ISSAT colleague, Sami Faltas, recently explained to a group of experienced SJST policymakers and practitioners that SJST is not a "book or policy"; it is not a "tool"; it should be regarded more as a set of lenses or a framework through which we analyse, assess, design and programme interventions in order to transform this core sector/system within a country's institutions and structures.  Therefore, we need to be mindful of the boundaries of the SJST framework which are usually set out in a National Security and Justice Transformation or Development Plan which is based on a national security and justice policy.

Moving from top to bottom - assuming there is a sound national policy/strategy in place with a well articulated National Security and Justice Sector/System Transformation Plan, then a country is in a strong position to develop a National SJST Programme which will have a range of nested projects, including possible train and equip.  These projects all need to be well sequenced along a critical path and coordinated to ensure optimum effectiveness within economic and other broader constraints.

Within this broader national strategic construct a "Train and Equip" project certainly has an important place within a well designed national SJST programme.  With ISSAT advice and assistance we should expect that any SJST project to have been designed based on the "second essential dimension" according to our ISSAT  principles - the Holistic Approach.  Indeed, any Train and Equip project should be "tested" at every stage from concept through to implementation against ISSAT's well established 1 - 2 - 3 approach.

From a military or police perspective there is no point in only attending to the 70% - political/civil oversight, governance, transparency, accountability - and not providing the army and police with the training and tools to do the job.  Yes - training is not just about tactics, weapon handling and logistics; it is also about strategic planning; peace support operations; use of force; human rights; RoL; military law; ethics; and so on.  And, more importantly, training is about making sure that all the joint military forces, navy, airforce and army and the police service are professional and properly equipped to protect the population, defend the state and ensure its territorial integrity.

My conclusion is that the question is deliberately, and perhaps provocatively, misleading insofar as it fails to locate train and equip within a broader SJST framework. Perhaps a more focussed question might enquire as to what should be the planning principles and key activities within a Train and Equip project, and how it should be harmonised with a broader national SJST plan.

Best Regards to All,


20/04/2015 @ 17:02
by Thammy Evans

Dear Sami, Kurt, Ben and Alwin,

Thank you all for your comments and additional resources. To answer your comments together (where I think we are all more or less in vehement agreement):

I was reminded at the weekend of five principles of organisational development, namely

  1. Build/maintain political will for change
  2. Lay down legal/regulatory framework for change
  3. Support inter-organisational development
  4. Support internal organisational development
  5. Provide training

(I believe the author for these is Andrew Rathmell - maybe Andrew will wade into this conversation and confirm)The author's main point is that these principles can either all be done at the same time, or from 1 to 5, but are not a successful recipe for reform if conducted in reverse! This answers Alwin's point that train and equip can have a useful role as an entry point, but only if part of a longer term strategy. That train and equip does not change norms and values, is part of the problem (as admitted by Gen. Ham in Mali), although technically, training can be about anything, including values and standards. Many train and equip programmes do not involve issues of accountability, even over the skills under training or over the equipment being gifted. As donor nations, we would not allow this at home, but seem content to ignore it in our programmes abroad. Thanks Ben for your reference to SSS, a most useful piece of writing. It will be interesting now to see how donor nations will start to operationalise UNSCR 2151 on national ownership in SSR, and what affect this will have on inclusivity. As you mention Ben, train and equip can inadvertently exacerbate existing tensions leading to a politico-security deadlock. Rachel Goldwyn's paper on Making the Case for Conflict Sensitivity in Security and Justice Reform Programming makes the arguments for this well.I look forward to further comments and resources.

16/04/2015 @ 12:39
by Alwin van den Boogaard

I agree on the necessity to reinforce accountability and integrity, no doubt about it. However some links between train and equip and accountability I would like to point out:

- the financial comparison of budget spent is just 1 of the indicators and is perhaps one of the weakest as train/ equip and infrastructure are far more expensive projects than project which reinforce accountability, so the financial figures, although completely out of balance (93 % towards 7 %), should be used in a careful manner,

- train and equip can and should always incorporate accountability issues: equipment delivery should be accompanied by reinforcing control and accountability; in fact accountability should be part of every project,

- train and equip will not change the norms and values of an organisation, but train and equip can be an entry point towards reinforcing accountability: to my opinion one needs a firm base as a partner before one can start discussing the heavier issues like legal framework, like parliamentary oversight, reinforcing position, voice and control by civil society and train and equip can provide this firm base as a partner,

- this leads to the remark that SSR programs should cover a long period: in this way train and equip can provide you with the in depth knowledge of the context; one could say that the train and equip period is part of the necessary inception period; it takes a lot of time before one understands the context and before one is known to be a credible partner,

- the real discussion on SSR is 75% about accountability, oversight, position of the civil society, transparency etc. however there should always be a certain part in the program which deals with train and equip as the needs of the security sector are huge and in order to have a balanced position as a partner, in which the train and equip projects continue to facilitate the accountability projects,

- the last remark: if a SSR program chooses this approach the program should be willing to accept, besides the necessary length of time, the fact that during the execution of the program the subjects will be more difficult to deal with as gradually SSR enters the heart of the security sector.

13/04/2015 @ 22:45
by Ben Lovelock

I agree with the points already made. Perhaps I can underline the centrality of the political dimension.  Much depends on the specific context. However, assuming we are talking about ‘stabilisation’ environments the use of a Security System Reform / Security Sector Reform approach may not be apposite. These approaches rely on a largely stable political situation where the host nation can lead the reforms, usually with external assistance, and, critically, can take the knocks in the security and political sectors that serious reform will generate. But often this is not where we are in stabilisation so we need a different approach. Here I suggest that the central focus needs to be on the nexus between the political and security sectors and must recognise that each is critically dependent on the other. Political actions impact security and security actions impact political outcomes. Each can seriously unbalance or positively influence the other. So political-security actions need to be coherent and closely coordinated (and will be iterative).  Here adopting a purely ‘train and equip’ approach, even with a smattering of security sector governance thrown in, surely cannot be enough – in fact it risks inflaming an already fragile situation.  The effort needs to be on supporting the political process towards settlement and managing both the security and political challenges that emerge along the way so that the political train does not get derailed. Not easy and effecting politico-security coordination is key.

I have shared similar thoughts with the UN Peace Operations Panel Secretariat (as no doubt have others) and we will see whether such ideas are taken up in that forum.  These ideas build on an approach adopted by the UK and the UK Stabilisation Unit’s publication on this topic, for which I was principal author, may be a useful addition to Thammy’s list of publications.  See:

 Stabilisation Unit (March 2014) Stabilisation Issues Note:  Security Sector Stabilisationavailable at