The importance of SSR on the predicament of Covid, Coups, Conflict and Climate change

by Viola Csordas · April 27th, 2022.

The Covid-19 pandemic, the renewed rise of coups and authoritarianism, the return of conflict to the European continent and looming security impacts of the climate crisis, have all highlighted the growing need for joint international efforts to safeguard people’s security, human rights and access to justice has become more urgent than ever.

These recent developments, which we will call the 4Cs (Covid-19, Coups, Conflict and Climate Change), have led to a drastic increase in irregular migration, extremism and organized crime, fueled by food insecurity and natural resources’ increased scarcity. The Ukraine war and economic consequences of the pandemic have brought crisis to the European doorstep. To prevent conflict overspill and the destabilization of entire new regions, human security, community resilience and strengthening social cohesion and the social contract should become pivotal to international engagement, not only from a partner countries’ perspective but also for European national and regional security.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Covid-19 has provided a sober reminder that security threats come in various forms. What initially might have been regarded as a medical emergency, soon morphed into a threat to almost all aspects of human security. The impact has been widespread and devastating – and it’s not over. National security has been put under severe stress, with dwindling supplies of essential materials, over-heated economies and restrictions on individuals’ freedoms. More glaringly, the pandemic revealed global inequalities and building resentment when it came to the distribution of much needed vaccines.

The pandemic has also brought to light the potential role of security sector actors for crisis management. In many countries, the military was actively involved in supplementing the over-stretched medical systems in terms of transport, logistics, infrastructure and manpower.

Increase in military coups

The past few years have shown a sharp increase in seizure of power by military coups or defeats. The increased influence of authoritarian regimes threatens Western-inspired liberal democratic models for state-building. The existence of this “alternative” has weakened repercussions, such as diplomatic pressure, restrictions in ODA or sanctions, in the aftermath of a coup, as well as in some instances enabled the seizure of power through practical support in terms of providing military training and equipment, but also through trade relations and foreign investment. Populations throwing their fate in with the strongest provider of security find military regimes and what formerly were considered terrorist groups their best bet for a stable future.

Conflict in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine, through a mix of conventional, nuclear and hybrid threats, very quickly became the most pressing threat to European peace and security. Next to these obvious threats, the ripple effects in terms of competition for scarce resources are yet to be fully understood. Before the war, Ukraine has been one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of wheat and corn; moreover, the energy crisis has an impact on the availability of fertilizer, with experts forecasting diminishing yields. Especially the impact on global food security brings to mind rising food prices and the Arab spring a decade earlier. Mounting food insecurity for populations already at risk of conflict and fragility, coupled with climate change and the economic repercussions of Covid, could well open the door to social unrest, organized crime, terrorism and irregular migration – creating additional pressures on Western societies also recovering economically from two years of lockdowns and putting their national budget towards increased military spending to fend with Ukraine.

Climate change

Last but not least, in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres “climate change is the great challenge of our time”. The international community is struggling to stopping or reversing trends that ultimately threaten the collapse of the earth system.

Two things are clear already: First, no matter how effective the response, climate change and global warming is already happening and unavoidable. Secondly, the resulting resource scarcity in terms of inhabitable and arable land, water and food security are already having and are going to have significant multiplier effects on conflict, irregular migration, terrorism and organized crime.

We are already getting a glimpse, from some countries, of the potential threats and from which no country will be immune. For the security sector, this means that greater resources are being devoted to a widening scope of services, such as patrolling national borders, enforcing environmental legislation and facilitating humanitarian relief. Many of these tasks require manpower, as well as, specific competencies to work closely with communities and civil society actors.

Call for Change

We find ourselves today in an apocalyptic world, characterized by climate catastrophes, widespread organized crime, migration waves and globally active armed extremism. We have learnt, through experience, that exclusive focus on military and defense is a one-way street. To reverse this dynamic, donor-supported stabilization efforts have to pivot drastically and make the shift from enabling partner countries to project military power, towards enabling partner countries to deliver human security, access to justice for all, respect human rights and build resilience to manage future challenges peacefully.

So how do we, as an international community, turn around these dynamics and reverse the vicious cycle of the 4Cs? What type of “new generation” SSG/R programming is needed?

Most international overseas assistance for stabilization still predominantly focuses on military responses to crises. Just to give some examples, the EU’s strategic compass emphasizes military capacity development, Germany is mobilizing immense resources for its Bundeswehr and many partners – sometimes at the expense of resources for civilian or integrated instruments.

Civilian and integrated instruments need to start regaining their significance at a time when they are more necessary than ever. Security sector governance and reform (SSG/R) is a foreign policy instrument which reconciles value-driven approaches with an interest-based Realpolitik. To fully deliver on its potential, international partners supporting SSG/R should focus on the following three dimensions: First, they must safeguard progress in partner state capacity building through focusing on governance and accountability, especially around human resources management. Secondly, they need to reinforce partner states’ societal resilience through integrated crisis management structures. Thirdly, they should optimize synergies across their overseas engagements and along the internal security-external security nexus.

Governance and Accountability should no longer be a luxury

The Ukraine war has contributed to the reinvigoration of public opinion support to military capacity building through the delivery of heavy weapons and training. Through various instruments such as the European Peace Facility (EPF) or the German Enhance and Enable Initiative (E2I), governments are approving millions of euros worth of equipment. Yet, little attention is being paid to structural reforms around the governance and management of security sectors. Beyond Ukraine, many countries’ security sectors are often lacking the leadership capacities and management structures to effectively and accountably manage over the long-term whatever capacities are being built in the short-term. This poses a range of problems. The lack of knowledge, budget and asset management prevents regular maintenance, rendering expensive equipment quickly unusable. Untransparent human resources processes around recruitment, performance management and deployment lead to inefficient utilization of available resources and open the door to corruption and nepotism. Ultimately, this erodes morale, performance, as well as professional standards and accountability – diminishing the delivery of national and human security.

The integrated approach gives donors a variety of instruments at their disposal to tackle these shortfalls this. Currently, the future role of civilian CSDP is being discussed on the road to the Compact 2.0 – institutional reforms of security sector agencies as well as civil administration being at the heart of civilian CSDP’s Feira priorities. Additionally, technical assistance agencies have significant expertise with public sector reform and good governance, ranging from bilateral aid agencies to UNDP and the World Bank’s Good Governance Practice.

To protect long-term benefits from train and equip approaches, international partners need to reinforce governance and management reforms, use the full range of instruments across the integrated approach and development actors need to overcome their resistance to engage with security institutions.

Build institutional and community resilience

Security sector assets and capabilities should be at the service of communities, preparing them to better deal with future shocks, including natural disasters, changing weather patterns, as well as hybrid threats. Investment should be made in the structures, coordination mechanisms and capabilities that make societies resilient and allow rapid and whole-of-society responses against pandemics, conflict or disaster threats.

Militaries in the vast majority of countries already are mandated to provide crisis support domestically in case of emergency. Police, especially at the community level, are often the only state presence in remote areas and typically serve as first responders. Most national disaster risk reduction platforms include representatives from the Ministries of Defense and Interior. Yet, several obstacles hinder the military and police from implementing these mandates, including lack of clarity on chains of command, incompatible equipment and inadequate joint trainings and exercises. In many cases, the security dimensions of crises and disasters are not yet clear enough to prompt security actors into threat assessments and adequate action, in particular when financial and human resources are scarce.

Military and police, especially at the community level, need to be enabled to fully play their roles to support existing civilian and civil society disaster risk reduction (DRR) and civil protection capacities. International partners, need to increase their support to building national capacities for dealing with multidimensional risk and structures for integrated crisis preparedness and management. Ongoing security cooperation in the areas of preparedness and crisis management needs to be further strengthened and prioritized.

The internal-external security nexus

In an interdependent world, bad harvests due to weather or war in one country can affect many others through a spiral of rising food prices, famine, social unrest, migration, crime and terrorism. Ultimately, many root causes and enabling factors of criminal phenomena have a strong transborder connection.

Whilst stabilization instruments are still dominated by a foreign policy rationale, weapons and financial flows from organized crime, extremism and irregular migration and human trafficking limit the space for stabilization, building resilience and delivering human security.

The lack of integrating internal security stakeholders and their objectives into how these foreign policy instruments are being used comes with a range of problematic consequences. Given the transboundary linkages of organized crime and terrorism, it is a missed opportunity for domestic security to not shape and chose missions and programs strategically to address root causes of crime. Moreover, the gap makes the possible benefits less obvious for e. g. police institutions, such as systematically harvesting information for critical situational awareness, drawing on international networks of secondees or matching their mission-acquired skills to challenges at home.

In order to confront the impact of the 4 Cs described above, international partners need to explicitly seek and maximize synergies between internal and external security rationales. Instead of being seen as an implementer, internal security actors need to be given a place in strategic decisions on stabilization instruments. This also means that they need to recognize the utility of the instrument for domestic security, and how to maximize its utility.

Towards a value-driven Realpolitik

A predominant focus on military and defense cannot deliver what is needed to face the 4 Cs. Also, a disconnected framework between military missions, police missions and civilian missions is not delivering the hoped-for impact. Donor support to stabilization engagements needs to better invest in military capabilities to deliver human security, beyond national defense focused train and equip.

For SSG/R programming, value-driven Realpolitik should entail three things: strengthening governance and management structures to safeguard investments and gains in capacity building; making crisis management and preparedness a programming priority; and integrating internal as well as external security rationales into stabilization efforts. 

Photo credit: William Murphy

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