The Importance of Non-Core Actors in SSR

23 July 2018   ·   Stefan Buchmayer, Maxime Poulin

The German government should work with a broad and inclusive definition of SSR/G that encompasses both “core-” and “non-core actors” and places SSR programs in the context of broader political and institutional development. To guide its activities, the German government should employ a “theory of change” and oblige implementing agencies of German public funds to take a multi-stakeholder approach to SSR interventions.

Political transition or state fragility are typical contexts of Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Security Sector Governance (SSG) interventions. Viewed from either a state or human security perspective, concepts, perceptions, and security needs differ significantly. Traditional approaches to SSR/G focus on “core” actors, namely state institutions such as Ministries of Interior/Public Security, National Security, Defense, and Justice, as well as the most common oversight institutions, such as parliaments and ombudspersons.

We make the case for a broader approach: In its new SSR strategy, the German government should work with a more inclusive definition of SSR/G, which also covers non-core actors. To reach good governance objectives in the field of SSR, Germany must situate SSR programs in the context of broader political and institutional development. Engagement beyond “core” actors will allow German SSR interventions to exploit the potential of the whole political and social environment.

A whole of government approach

Rather than to limit their involvement to core security institutions, countries like Germany should engage the broader governance environment. This brings the potential to create policy dynamics that carry positive effects on the security sector even under challenging SSR/G conditions. 

The overall governance climate is an important determinant of success in SSR/G programs –  examples of other fields with a potential direct or indirect bearing on SSR/G include Education, Health, Local Development, Communication, and obviously Planning and Finance. This list is non-exhaustive and may vary according to the context, which underscores the well-known, yet often underestimated importance of a precise contextual analysis of SSR/G interventions. 

Other state institutions and non-governmental actors

In addition to policies in various domains, norm-setting, public information or control bodies may play an equally important role in the success or failure of SSR/G initiatives. One also must not underestimate the role of non-state actors in the establishment of a governance climate favorable to SSR/G interventions, with specialized NGOs and the media of particular relevance. Yet, as with the governmental side, the wider governance context – with specialized non-state actors not directly related to core defense and internal security topics – is equally important for the NGO world.

The necessary framework: Theory of Change

How can the above find application in actual programming? First, a German SSR strategy should include program frameworks that oblige implementing agencies of German public funds to take a multi-stakeholder approach to SSR interventions. This is particularly important given the tendency of core security ministries (Interior, Defense) to monopolize program funds when chosen as partner organizations of (German) foreign assistance. It must be clear from the outset that Germany expects a wider spectrum of governmental and non-governmental actors to have a voice in SSR program design and implementation.

Second, to better structure interventions, a possibility is for SSR/G programs to establish a theory of change – a description of how and why a desired change is expected to materialize, taking into account every actor directly or indirectly linked to an SSR/G issue. Based on an analysis of deficits in and around the security sector, such a theory should identify mid- to long-term objectives and outcomes, and pathways for how to achieve them.  

SSR/G program activities are then derived from these analyses through causality chains, and in many cases, supporting non-core actors is of crucial importance to achieve the pre-defined objectives. Hence, the application of a theory of change can hover over (governance) objectives formulated in a rather general way to address SSR/G concerns in their broader political environment, such as:

  • Increasing public inclusive dialogue on developments related to the security sector;
  • Facilitating access to public information;
  • Improving communication and information-sharing procedures in the administration to manage change and increase oversight in the security sector.

Theory of change in Tunisia after 2011

DCAF’s work in Tunisia provides several examples of how, in the context of a larger political transition, a theory of change informed SSR programming and where non-core actors played important roles:

First, DCAF supports public scrutiny of state institutions, by way of building capacity beyond non-core actors: The Tunisian security sector has traditionally been an exclusively state affair, subservient to the needs of the regime rather than the overall population. In the wake of the political transformation starting in 2011, opening the security sector to public scrutiny was a logical consequence in moving from a state towards a human security perspective.

Public scrutiny in turn creates space for civil society, media, and an institutionalized transitional justice process to have an open discussion, question certain practices and recommend reforms in the security sector. DCAF continues to support this process through capacity building and engagement with civil society, media, and key actors in transitional justice to promote inclusiveness beyond core SSR/G actors in areas of their concern.

Open access to information

Second, DCAF identified open access to information as a crucial goal in promoting a human security perspective. Particularly in political systems with a record of pervasive state control and information management and political cultures with rigid views on information management, the security sector is among the most resistant to change.

After 2011, under Tunisia’s new constitution, a national institution to promote access to information was established. DCAF works to strengthen its capacity in questions of access to security related information and declassification. This program recognizes the institution’s role in increasing transparency and accountability regarding public relevant information in general, and particularly of core SSR/G actors, notably the Ministries of Interior and Defense.

Third, DCAF supported the documentation and processing of torture allegations, by way of improving internal communication and information-sharing. In a completely locally owned process, DCAF supported the Ministry of Health, namely forensic doctors, in the standardization of their reporting to the judiciary, so as to improve the use of evidence in courts. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Justice was supported in exploring better modes of cooperation between the judiciary and legal medicine.

In these examples, those not regularly identified in SSR/G programs played key roles. Tunisia’s torture prevention and investigation is a case in point, where non-core security actors served as key agents of change. Moreover, the example highlights the need for internal, inter-institutional communication – a process perhaps not traditionally thought of as a priority in SSR – where a government aims to meet reform goals under national and international law.

Naher Osten & Nordafrika Security Sector Reform

Stefan Buchmayer

Stefan Buchmayer is Head of Mission, in Tunisia, of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces – DCAF.

Maxime Poulin

Maxime Poulin is Deputy Head of Mission, in Tunisia, of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces – DCAF.