Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nothing for Us Without Us?: the Impact of Popular Participation on Security Sector Reform Progress in Transitional States
by Detzner, Sarah Michelle, Ph.D., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), 2019, 467; 22620101
Abstract (Summary)

This work tackles the problem of how to promote security sector reform (SSR) progress in states transitioning to democracy – and extremely important goal (given SSR’s connection to long-term stability as well as the well-being of ordinary citizens) that is unfortunately attempted much more frequently than it is achieved. The author posits that newly democratic governments will respond to pressure to pursue meaningful SSR when the political rewards for doing (or consequences for failing to act) seem greater than the carrots and sticks offered by those with an interest in avoiding reform. Popular participation in SSR is one promising method for increasing the efficacy of pro-reform domestic pressure.

This dissertation tests the hypothesis that popular participation in reconstructing/reforming the security sector after a regime change from autocracy to democracy is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for achieving significant improvement in security provision and security sector governance. Carefully examining thirteen cases of transition from 1994-2010, this research finds strong support for a modified variant of this hypothesis. These thirteen cases are Burundi, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.

Specifically, as subsequently explained and defined, popular participation was measured through the presence or absence of two sub-components, civil society agency and the post-transition expansion of channels to hold security and justice actors accountable. In every case where both components were present to a significant degree, and the transition took place in the context of significant societal disruption, impressive SSR progress took place.

Interestingly, such progress also took place in two additional cases. First, in Sierra Leone, where an external intervener/security guarantor exerted much of the political leverage (and provided the technical capacity) elsewhere provided by civil society, combined with the aforementioned expansion of accountability channels.

Progress also took place in Liberia, where, this piece will argue, the unusual circumstance of an external security guarantor being present in force for the entire post-transition decade (and, notably, acting to protect and promote a relatively weak civil society) was a key factor leading to SSR progress.

Beyond these findings, however, previous scholarship, existing case studies, and common sense all suggest that if popular participation and security sector reform progress are causally linked, different forms of participation, at different points during post-conflict reconstruction, are likely to produce different effects. Further, if this finding is to be of any practical use, it is critical to have further information regarding:

1.      How exactly popular participation promotes security sector reform progress, and;

2.      What other contextual conditions interact with popular participation to either block or enable progress.

While no one piece of research could fully answer these questions, this work uncovered a number of important patterns. To begin, at the key moment where a state transitions to democracy and leaders become subject to democratic accountability, a fairly substantial level of societal disruption seems to be necessary, both to disrupt the political status quo (especially the unity, strength, and political clout of the security services) to a sufficient degree that serious reform can take place, and, critically, to activate the population sufficiently to, however briefly, exert organized political pressure (through the mechanism of civil society action) to demand reform.

This is best illustrated by examining cases without substantial societal disruption, none of which show significant SSR progress. In Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya, minimal to moderate levels of societal disruption activated pro-SSR civil society forces to a moderate degree. This comparatively minimal pressure was successfully resisted or deflected by an alliance between powerful, entrenched oligarchic cabals and the security services (though the relative power of alliance members varied considerably between cases).

Notably, all three states share a series of traits – a combination of linguistic/ethnic diversity, underdeveloped infrastructure/rough terrain, and limited literacy – that make it relatively difficult for the state to provide internal security services. These shared traits have a number of further effects. Firstly, they reduce the degree to which the central government has historically provided security and justice services. Consequently, the population is less accustomed to expect and demand these services. Further, these shared traits tend to make achieving civil society unity around a common reform agenda more difficult – the different parts of the population are geographically, linguistically, and culturally divided from one another. Additionally they face logistical difficulties trying to bridge these gaps.

Not surprisingly, Kenya, the case with the highest level of cumulative societal disruption of the three and thus the highest level of civil society activation around SSR, saw its reform efforts flounder in large part due to repeated fissures within civil society based on historically-grounded ethnic and regional divisions. This piece argues that Nepal, a case with a higher level of societal disruption than Senegal, Ghana, or Kenya, is properly understood as belonging to this grouping because the extreme divisions within its pro-reform forces (fueled by the afore-mentioned traits) prevented them from forming an effective pro-reform coalition even when highly activated.

Mexico illustrates the impact of yet another condition, the corrosive impact of the drug trade. Also a state with minimal disruption around its transition to democracy, civil society forces, though strong, were not at that point activated and united enough to counter the strong anti- SSR alliance of the security services and the previous ruling cabal. Over time, as crime rose dramatically, civil society exerted increasing political pressure for reform on now-democratically elected rulers. However, by that point, as explored in Chapter 8, these rulers could not respond to such pressure – their control over the rank and file of the security and justice services had been usurped by cartels able to out-bid and out-threaten the government in the competition for loyalty. Further, civil society itself became less able to unify as it was divided and intimidated by drug interests.

The influence of the drug trade, within the sample examined, was able through similar dynamics to overcome even the greater level of civil society activation brought about by higher levels of societal disruption in El Salvador and Guatemala (also explored in Chapter 8). This was exacerbated in Guatemala by a weak and divided civil society (weakened by the same factors as Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, and Nepal), and in El Salvador, though to a lesser degree, by civil society’s inability to exert political pressure independently of a political party with initially similar but ultimately diverging priorities.

On the other end of the spectrum are cases of extreme societal disruption – Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burundi. In these cases, extended war left the pre-war autocratic coalitions shattered, creating political space for potential reform. However, while the conflict left the population politically activated, it also increased division and mutual distrust between different parts of civil society that had fallen on different sides of the conflict. In Burundi, armed groups more interested in the division of spoils than in SSR were able to exploit these divisions and bolster their own influence by channeling civil society involvement in negotiations entirely through ethnically-based political parties. The moment of opportunity having been lost, the new government, strong enough to resist or divert external pressure for any reform it found truly threatening, was then eventually able to return to the pre-war pattern of using the security services to suppress civil society and dissent more generally.

In Liberia, by contrast, external interveners with a huge amount of leverage (in the form of troops and monetary aid) over negotiating parties helped enable the meaningful participation of relatively weak civil society actors. Further, post-negotiations, these interveners essentially rebuilt a number of key security institutions directly. Whether new institutions rebuilt without much local input would have been effective in the post-transition period is highly questionable, but also, for the time range examined, impossible to determine – interveners stayed in sufficient strength to act as a security guarantor for fifteen years post-transition.

In Sierra Leone, external interveners (with a clear leader, the UK) also possessed a huge amount of leverage. In contrast with Liberia and Burundi, interveners (present as a security guarantor for the critical post-transition years, though not the entire period examined) and the new government acknowledged the persistent weakness of the central state. They compensated by investing in expanding security and justice accountability structures at the local level, which allowed a weak and divided civil society (and citizens more directly) to exert pressure for reform locally in a way not yet possible nationally, but that was designed to feed into a national reform process.

The remaining cases experienced substantial but not society-fracturing levels of disruption, but without impact of the drug trade or the traits that made security provision and united civil society mobilization so difficult elsewhere. These are Indonesia, Peru, and South Africa. All three enjoyed high levels of SSR progress, though South Africa’s gains were more dramatic than Peru’s, which were in turn more dramatic than Indonesia’s. In both Peru and Indonesia, the same disruptions that led to democratic transition broke the alliance between ruling autocrats and the security services, and further divided both groups internally. In this context, pro-reform civil society forces (activated but not highly polarized by the mentioned, less-violent disruption) were able to exert pressure for reform long enough that new governments instituted a series of changes that significantly strengthened the judicial system (leveraging external pressure) and also introduced mechanisms through which individuals and groups at the local level could more effectively demand accountability from security and justice providers. While anti-reform forces eventually regrouped, these changes proved hard to reverse.

In South Africa, civil society had, at the point of transition, more independent power and capacity than in any other case. Thus, tied to though not co-opted by, a major party to formal negotiations (the African National Congress) it was able to institute, as in Sierra Leone, Peru, and Indonesia, both fairly standard SSR provisions but also to create a consultative structure that would feed lower-level popular input into the SSR process on an on-gong basis, establishing the norm that accepting such input was both possible and politically desirable.

These narratives, many of which hinge on civil society pressure, naturally raise the question of how this pressure is exerted. In summary, the general finding is that civil society is most effective when, during the negotiation (if any) and immediate post transition period:

1)     It is able to perform widespread advocacy and public communication, especially when it is able to introduce onto either the (literal or figurative) agenda security and justice issues that are important to significant numbers of ordinary citizens, but are generally not high priorities for major political actors;

2)     Multiple groups are able to unify behind a specific and detailed SSR agenda, which is particularly effective when;

3)     Civil society has greater technical capacity than the government or negotiating parties and is thus able to gain some control over the reform agenda by offering needed advice;

4)     Groups are able to exploit international pressure (usually for business-friendly judicial reform or human rights treaty signings) to get the new government to change the structure of the judicial system in ways that lessen executive control, and to commit to various regional and international human rights agreements; and

5)     Civil society successfully persuades the government to quickly create new institutions or legislate new powers to existing ones such that ordinary people have channels through which to hold local security and justice personnel directly accountable, or through which they can report abuses without fear of retaliation and some hope of redress. If done in the immediate wake of a transition, these new structures acquire their own political weight and are difficult to subsequently abolish or defang (as demonstrated in South Africa, Peru, Ghana, and Indonesia), whereas transition-era promises to eventually delegate control over aspects of security and justice to lower levels of government are almost never actually realized (as demonstrated in Guatemala, Kenya, and Nepal).

As demonstrated in Chapter 4, in the vast majority of cases, most reform progress in both security provision and security governance is made in the first five years post-transition. However, in cases of significant progress, in the five to ten years post-transition, civil society:

1)     Sustains and further develops its technical capacity regarding security and justice issues, (notably, even in cases that did not make significant progress, civil society groups often manage to maintain some influence on government activity through this role even when otherwise repressed);

2)     Continues and expands its advocacy and public communication function – especially expansion and increased sophistication of press coverage regarding security and justice issues;

3)     Remains, if not united behind a shared SSR agenda (transition-era coalitions break down in every case) at least no more polarized than in the pre-transition era, and;

4)     Successfully leverages Simmons' three mechanisms (using a prior documented commitment to change the national agenda, litigation to raise the cost of noncompliance, and popular mobilization based on commitment specifics) to hold the government to its transition-era commitments. This pressure from below is particularly successful when combined with international (and especially regional) pressure from outside the state, in a number of forms, as described through Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink’s spiral model of compliance.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chayes, Antonia
Commitee: de Waal, Alex, Haxhi, Ilir, Burgess, Katrina, Babbitt, Eileen
School: Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University)
Department: Diplomacy, History, and Politics
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 82/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: International Relations, Peace Studies, Military studies
Keywords: Judicial reform, Military reform, Police reform, Rule of Law, Security sector reform, Transition
Publication Number: 22620101
ISBN: 9798662586369
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