The 'Technocracy Trap' of State-Building How to Improve the Effectiveness and Legitimacy of Security and Justice Sector Reforms

06 October 2016   ·   SFB700

On 14 September 2016, 60 experts from civil society, academia, international organisations and German ministries gathered at the German Federal Foreign Office to discuss Germanys engagement in supporting justice and security sector reforms (JSSR).

The workshop aimed at providing input for the new governmental guidelines on crisis engagement and peacebuilding, to be adopted in the spring of 2017. Participants broke out in working groups to brainstorm on: (1) how to link JSSR support and political engagement; (2) how to link engagement with state and non-state actors; and (3) how to find a 'line of best fit' for supporting effective and legitimate security and justice institutions.

In the subsequent fishbowl discussion, findings were discussed with representatives from the Federal Ministry of Defence, the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. Participants appreciated the guidelines process as an opportunity for the German government to enhance its approach to supporting JSSR, drawing on lessons identified and international good practices of JSSR support.

For the new guidelines on crisis engagement and peacebuilding, the following key recommendations were expressed in the course of the workshop:

JSSR support at the planning stage

  1. Strengthen the German 'whole of government' approach: The guidelines should establish a coordination mechanism between the ministries that ensures a more coherent approach to JSSR support within the German government. This coordination mechanism should encompass linkages to other policy fields and routine consultations with other actors engaged in JSSR support (such as multilateral organisations, civil society, implementing partners). It should focus less on the input side (what can each organisation/agency contribute) than on the linkages between different local needs and a joint analysis of the local situation among German actors. Such an analysis needs to look beyond the formal structures of state institutions to identify real power dynamics and providers of security and insecurity. If Germany intends to make JSSR a priority, it needs to provide longer-term ('8-10 years'), reliable and sustainable programming.
  2. Put human security at the center: People-centered measures that focus on the security of individuals are still scarce in the German JSSR portfolio. Strengthening support to constructive state-society relations in security and justice provision could be an angle to better reflect aspects of human security and legitimacy in a way that complements the currently dominant goal of stabilisation and strengthening state security institutions, and which could harness Germany’s own lessons in providing human security at home while maintaining relevance to the local context. This would necessarily entail bringing in experience from Germany’s Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice.
  3. Embed German JSSR support in international norms and approaches: The German government should draw on international experience and principles of JSSR programming in order to enhance international policy coherence and also to avoid having to start developing its own approaches from scratch.
  4. Avoid making JSSR a catch-all concept: JSSR is not a label that should encompass every intervention that pertains, directly or indirectly, to the security and justice sector. For instance, measures that so far have not had a significant governance reform component should not be labelled as JSSR in the guidelines, unless this aspect is strengthened. Otherwise, their relation to JSSR should be clarified.
  5. Look for domestic political commitments: Internationally-supported JSSR requires: (1) a political climate in the partner state that is conducive to reform; (2) concrete incentives for actors at high political levels to embark on a transformative process; and (3) a window of opportunity for external engagement. In the absence of these conditions, technical projects will not result in meaningful and sustainable JSSR. However, at the onset of an intervention, measures can be undertaken to initiate and sustain a political dialogue with the partner state, to stimulate inclusive visions for reform with a long term prospect in cooperation with civil society and to monitor changes (even within the same government/regime) for windows of opportunity to open. Key conditions for this kind of engagement are the ability and willingness to maintain a sustained dialogue at high levels, for implementing personnel to be present on the ground over the long term and for activities to support individual, locally legitimate (rather than necessarily 'internationally literate') 'change agents' over the long term. If and when a major political window of opportunity exists, such as in the 'golden hour' after the signing of peace agreements, donor countries such as Germany need to be ready to deploy high-level political influence up to heads of government to achieve impact.
  6. Make objectives and modalities of German support clear: Prior to initiating JSSR measures, achievable objectives, underlying theories of change and strategies for ending external support should be agreed upon. In order to reflect visions and needs expressed by the partner state, the guidelines should elaborate on how to operationalise the 'national ownership' concept in practice. The guidelines should also clarify reasons and criteria for engaging bilaterally.

JSSR support at the implementation stage

  1. Enhance knowledge creation, sharing and management: JSSR operations are highly complex and politically risky measures that will not achieve their aims in the absence of a thorough understanding of the context and a solid risk management strategy to hedge against the occurrence of unintended adverse effects of international assistance. Therefore, tapping into networks of expertise and drawing on analytical capacities outside the governmental structures should become an integral part of German JSSR programming. Knowledge sharing and knowledge management strategies should be put in place to ensure that the necessary knowledge about the political contexts and risks of JSSR assistance feeds into strategic and programming decisions.
  2. Increase diplomatic backstopping: Political dialogue with partner states is a necessary condition for the successful implementation of JSSR programmes. Embassies are well-positioned to engage with key political actors and add leverage to reform initiatives. To this end, embassies should have a more prominent role in German JSSR support. This should be reflected in standardised coordination and reporting procedures with the concerned ministry departments in Berlin.
  3. Engage with the diversity of security actors: German support to JSSR should focus more on working with domestic partners who provide security (locally) in an inclusive and effective way. In many cases, these will be non-state, informal or customary security institutions. Such innovative engagements require in-depth assessments of domestic political power relations, in order to account for risks and unintended consequences.
Security Sector Reform Politikkohärenz Entwicklungszusammenarbeit Zivilgesellschaft English Veranstaltung


The Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 700 conducts research on how effective and legitimate governance can be sustained in areas of limited statehood.