It was just ten years ago that I made my speech on security sector reform at the Centre for Defence Studies in King’s College, London. It feels much longer. They were much more hopeful times.The Cold War was over. The international system had been thrown into disarray by the ending of forty years of division between theAid must cease to be an instrument of cold war policy propping up kleptocratic dictators. West and Communist world, which had shaped every division and conflict in the world. The confusion resulting from this lack of structure had resulted in total failure in Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. But new hope was emerging. With no great conflict dividing the world, there was an increasing possibility that reducing poverty and creating a more equitable world order might become the focus of international policy.
But if this new beginning was to be achieved, we needed to re-examine all the instruments of policy. Aid must cease to be an instrument of cold war policy propping up kleptocratic dictators such as Mobutu because he was firmly pro-Western. Arms sales, and export credits and military assistance programmes needed re-examination. And the propaganda, that stressed the provision of aid as an act of charity for the poor and hopeless also needed reconsideration. If we meant to seize the historical opportunity we needed to re-examine all the old assumptions and develop policy focussed on helping end conflict and building competent state institutions that would encourage economic growth and human development in the poorest countries. This was a big challenge to the OECD countries’ thinking on foreign policy, aid, trade environment, international institutions and military co-operation. But it was an exciting challenge with enormous possibilities for the advance of human civilisation. It would also increase the possibility of global agreement and co-operation in dealing with mounting environmental threats facing humanity.
But, of course, all big historical opportunities are held back by old thinking in the bureaucracies and intellectual and political elites. The first consequence of the end of the Cold War, in Africa, had been a large reduction of aid spending and an outbreak of internal conflict as the great powers retreated from supporting and constraining their surrogates. Thus by 1999, twenty of the poorest countries were either involved in conflict or recently emerged from conflict.
My whole approach to security sector reform was to link the security and development agenda. I was working closely with the DfID officials in the Conflict and Humanitarian Sector of the department. Traditionally development workers had wanted no relationship with the military. But we had come to understand that one of the principal obstacles to progress in development was the existence of bloated, repressive, undemocratic and poorly structured security services in many developing countries. We recognised that all countries have legitimate security needs and that a security sector that was well tasked and managed served the interests of all. We were also well aware from participative poverty assessment, which gives the poor the chance to voice their own concerns, that safety and security both at home and in the wider society was one of their major priorities. In addition, in many countries, a bloated security sector soaked up resources that could be better used elsewhere. Resources spent on excessive procurement and perks for the military meant the denial of basic services to the poor. Beyond this, in many developing countries elements in the security sector were a source of insecurity and human rights’ abuse. This could lead to the militarization of society and mean that tensions tended to be resolved through violence. And of course repressive security sectors can often trigger violent resistance. There were particular problems in post conflict societies such as Sierra Leone where the army and police were broken and large numbers of ex-soldiers, without employment, marooned in demobilisation camps threatened the possibility of a return to violence. It was easy to conceptualise the problem. Turning this understanding into a shift of policy across the UK government and the international system was going to be more difficult.
Our first challenge was Sierra Leone. I had outlined in the 1999 speech how badly the international Traditionally development workers had wanted no relationship with the military. But we had come to understand that one of the principal obstacles to progress in development was the existence of bloated, repressive, undemocratic and poorly structured security services in many developing countries.. system had failed to prevent Sierra Leone by its failure to prevent a return to violence. We were therefore focused on carrying forward DDR, trying to disarm and find employment for former fighters and helping restore government systems despite a flawed peace agreement which for example put Foday Sankoh in charge of mineral extraction. The weakness of the initial peace agreement led to UN peacekeepers being taken hostage in large numbers and UK forces being deployed to evacuate the Europeans. Given the relatively good outcome in Sierra Leone, in terms of stability but not yet in human development, it is worth reminding all who are interested in security sector reform that UK policy was initially written on the back of an envelope. I was elsewhere in Africa desperately ringing Tony Blair to say that if the UK troops evacuated the Europeans and left, Freetown would fall again and the UK be shamed. Because his father had worked in Sierra Leone and the first African he had met had been Sierra Leonean, Tony was particularly sympathetic. And thus the soldiers stayed without a clear mandate. Then eleven of them were taken hostage and special forces deployed to rescue them. In the course of the rescue, significant numbers of rebels were killed and one UK soldier lost his life. Thus the UK became committed and the Prime Minister and the army became persuaded that we must stand firm with Sierra Leone.
The setting up of the Africa Conflict Pool and Global Conflict Prevention Pool was also decided ad hoc. The Treasury floated, to all departments, in the course of a spending review, the idea that the Treasury would provide £25 million to encourage interdepartmental cooperation if departments would commit matching funds. By this time, I had become more sympathetic to the desire of the MI6 to work with DfID. It is worth remembering that before the declaration of the war on terror, the budgets of intelligence agencies and the military had been slashed. They were desperate for a new role. To this end ‘C’, as he is called, the Head of MI6 had called on me more than once to try to persuade me that we should work with them in Africa. I was not persuaded until a more junior agent explained to me that whenever he travelled in Africa, Presidents were keen to meet him. He explained that throughout Africa, Presidents were anxious to keep a firm grip on their military and anxious to develop networks of competent spies and informants so that they would know what was going on. My initial distaste for the idea of potentially spying on governments with which we were working was transformed by this discussion. DfID therefore proposed to the Treasury that we establish an African Conflict Prevention fund that would encourage the FCO, MoD, security agencies and DfID to work together. We proposed that DfID should take the Chair and the focus should be on preventing and resolving conflict in Africa. The Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office was furious that his officials had not thought of this. They therefore put enormous effort into launching a global conflict prevention fund with the FCO in the Chair. In my time, the Africa pool led to increasingly shared thinking and effort. The global fund supported a series of one-off projects scattered through the world.
In the case of Kosovo and East Timor, there was a much closer working relationship between the military and DfID in our funding of quick impact projects in Bosnia and in Kosovo, working together to build camps for fleeing refugees that were as soon as possible handed over to UNHCR. In the case of Uganda, we were troubled by the level of military expenditure and evidence of corruption in defence procurement, in a country which was highly For DfID our security sector reform thinking was entirely shaped by our development aspirations.aided, but also had a good track record in reducing poverty. We were also troubled by the failure of the government to bring to an end the attacks of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north and therefore the failure to spread development to Northern Uganda. Cuts in aid allocations were a less effective remedy to these problems than a shared commitment to security sector reform. Similarly, in Rwanda there was a need for a strong military because of the threat from the genocide in Eastern DRC, but we were keen to include defence spending in our shared efforts to improve public sector financial management and public procurement.
Thus for DfID our security sector reform thinking was entirely shaped by our development aspirations. But then came the attack on the Twin Towers and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. DfID had been engaged in Afghanistan in previous years in supporting efforts to ensure that everyone had food in the many years of drought that preceded the November 2001 Nato operation. The military action was initially limited, the resistance faded away and the UN led a national consultation to establish a new system of government. We in DfID were very keen to support the building of government capacity and advised strongly that there should be a major commitment to disarming the warlords and training a new Afghan army. We also advised that the only way to tackle the drug problem was to offer a better life to those who turned to alternative livelihoods. However, the focus of US policy was to catch Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Short cuts were taken and war lords incorporated in the government. The approach of Nato policy in Afghanistan was flawed from the beginning. The lessons we had learned on post conflict security sector reform were put to one side. We will never know if Afghanistan would be in a better position now if a more committed effort to building state capacity and security sector reform had been attempted from the start. But the situation is now very difficult, and reform driven by Nato policy in the midst of a growing armed insurgency, is a completely different challenge to that which gave rise to our initial thinking on security sector reform.
Following this, the invasion of Iraq and the declaration of the ‘War on Terror’ infected the debate on security sector reform with deep ulterior motives. The way for the US to begin to withdraw from Iraq depended on building up the Iraqi armed forces. A similar case is being made about the conditions necessary to make withdrawal from Afghanistan possible. The proposed numbers for the armed forces are completely unaffordable for the Afghan economy. Similarly the armed forces in Pakistan consume half of the government budget. Here we have bloated military spending and terrible problems of corruption as a consequence of Western policy. This is a far cry from our original thinking on security sector reform.
This collection of papers provides a rich and challenging account of the current discussion of security sector reform. I am afraid that even in the development context, the concept has become more of a fashionable tick box endeavour than part of a long term partnership to help build developmental states. But the discussion remains very important and this collection provides a rich feast for further reflection.