Promoting Peace through Security Sector Inclusion

by Matthew Nanes · February 9th, 2022.

Nearly 40% of peace agreements signed between 1975 and 2011 include provisions for power sharing in the police.[i] Similarly, policies addressing civil strife or police misconduct in non-war settings often focus on including minorities or other marginalized groups in the police.[ii]

Inclusion – whether based on membership in formerly warring parties, or in terms of identity like ethnicity or gender – is important for security.[iii] In order to design policies that fully harness the benefits of inclusion, researchers and practitioners have to consider not just whether inclusion matters, but how it affects outcomes we care about. For instance, some studies find that contact with members of an outgroup may promote trust and tolerance towards the group,[iv] while others find that officers prioritize serving members of their own group, potentially harming relations with outgroups.[v] Personal relationships between citizens and police officers make some citizens more willing to contact police, but cause backlash among unconnected citizens.[vi] Differences in context often cause inclusion to affect different people in different ways. By better understanding the nuances linking inclusion in the police with security, we can design reforms and policies that target the specific challenges facing a community.

My research in Iraq, which I present in my book Policing for Peace, takes on this challenge by asking whether and how inclusion in the police affects security in the shadow of extreme violent conflict. The study finds that inclusive policing sends an important signal to civilians about the government’s intentions and future prospects for security.[vii] When a person sees that their group is integrated in the police, they interpret that the government is willing to empower the group and is committed to its security. This signal shifts citizens’ behaviours in a conflict setting, impacting prospects for peace.

Following the 2003 invasion and regime change, Iraq’s security sector came to be dominated by the Shia majority. At times, police units were coopted by Shia partisans and operated as a sectarian militia rather than a government security force.[viii] Absent effective security from the government, minority Sunni communities organized their own militias, contributing to the ‘Balkanization’ of Iraq.

Due primarily to international pressure, the Government began integrating Sunnis into the police around 2011. This process resulted in a patchwork of sectarian demographics in the police, leading to variation in citizens’ exposure to police officers of different groups. This exposure has powerful effects on attitudes and experiences. For example, I find that Sunni Iraqis exposed to integrated police are less likely to say they would consider using violence against the Government.[ix]

This effect stems from a change in people’s expectations about the government. Iraqis interpret the inclusion of Sunnis in the police as a signal that the government is serious about protecting their group and ending mistreatment. Interestingly, this sense of security is strongest not when Sunnis are policed only by Sunnis, but when policing is truly integrated. Residents of Baghdad report feeling safest when they perceive that the police in their neighborhood are mixed between Sunnis and Shias.

What can we learn from these patterns? Inclusion is a means to an end. People want security and dignity. Inclusive policing is a path towards providing these outcomes, not a goal in and of itself. Paying lip service to inclusion while continuing to repress or discriminate on the basis of group identity is unlikely to have the desired effects. Security sector reform should be part of a basket of programs that sends a consistent signal that the state is dedicated to the safety of all civilians. To that end, Iraqis do not seem to inherently prefer being policed by their own group. Instead, they see inclusion as a method of ensuring security by empowering minorities.

Conversely, including minorities in the police but isolating them in ethnic enclaves makes it easier for the state to withhold weapons, equipment, and information from those officers, weakening the signal of security that their inclusion sends. On the other hand, fully integrating members of a marginalized group into mixed units that serve all citizens sends a clear message of inclusion, deemphasizes the role of group identity in security provision, and opens the door.

[i] Ansorg, Nadine, Felix Haass, and Julia Strasheim 2016, “Police reforms in peace agreements, 1975–2011: Introducing the PRPA dataset.” Journal of Peace Research 53(4): 597-607.

[ii] Kennedy, Brandy, Adam Butz, Matthew Nanes, and Nazita Lajevardi 2017, Race and Representative Bureaucracy in American Policing. Palgrave Macmillan; Nanes, Matthew 2020, “Policing in Divided Societies: Officer Inclusion, Citizen Cooperation, and Crime Prevention.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 37(5): 580-604.

[iii] Blair, Robert, Sabrina Karim, Michael Gilligan, and Kyle Beardsley forthcoming, “Policing Ethnicity: Lab-in-the-Field Evidence on Discrimination, Cooperation, and Ethnic Balance in the Liberian National Police.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science; Karim, Sabrina 2020, “Relational state building in areas of limited statehood: Experimental evidence on the attitudes of the police.” American Political Science Review 114(2): 536-551; Jassal, Nirvikar 2020, “Gender, Law Enforcement, and Access to Justice: Evidence from All-Women Police Stations in India.” American Political Science Review 114(4):1035-1054.

[iv] Karim, Sabrina 2020. “Relational state building in areas of limited statehood: Experimental evidence on the attitudes of the police.” American Political Science Review 114(2): 536-551.

[v] Meier, Kenneth John 1975. “Representative bureaucracy: An empirical analysis.” American Political Science Review 69(2): 526-542.

[vi] Haim, Dotan, Matthew Nanes, and Michael Davidson 2021, “Family Matters: The Double-Edged Sword of Police-Community Connections.” Journal of Politics 83(4): 1529-1544

[vii] Nanes, Matthew 2021, Policing for Peace: Institutions, Expectations, and Security in Divided Societies. Cambridge University Press.

[viii] Perito, Robert 2011, “The Iraq Federal Police.” United States Institute of Peace Special Report No. 291.

[ix] Nanes 2021

Photo credit: Levi Meir Clancy, Unsplash

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