A Comprehensive Understanding of Security Sector Governance Makes for More Effective Reform

21. April 2020   ·   Viola Csordas, Camilla Arvastson

Germany has shown an increasing interest in and support for security sector reform (SSR) in recent years. It should use its leadership role in the EU’s civilian Common Security and Defense Policy, the fields of Disaster Risk Reduction, and mediation to include them into its programming, thereby promoting a comprehensive approach to security sector governance.

Civilian instruments for crisis prevention and peace building have always been high on Germany’s international agenda. In recent years, Germany has increasingly taken on a more proactive role on international peace and security issues, while maintaining its focus on civilian instruments. This has also led to a growing effort regarding security sector reform (SSR) and to an increasing international recognition of Germany as a key proponent of SSR.

Germany Has Increased Efforts on a Strategic and an Institutional Level

One of the first steps towards a more active role for Germany was the establishment of the Federal Foreign Office Directorate‑General S for Humanitarian Assistance, Crisis Prevention Stabilization, and Post‑Conflict Reconstruction in March 2015. Since then, the Federal Government’s budget for crisis prevention has seen a growth from € 250 million in 2016 to more than € 400 million in 2020. In 2016, the Enable and Enhance Initiative (E2I) was established as a flexible security assistance tool, jointly managed by the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Office. This mechanism has nearly doubled its funding since 2016, from € 100 million to € 195 million in 2020. Additionally, the long-standing military equipment assistance program, AH-P, was complemented with the police training and equipment assistance program, AAH-P, in 2017.

These institutional and funding developments were accompanied by policy-level strategic articulations of Germany’s vision and approach for peace and stability in the international arena, including the 2016  White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr as well as the 2017 Guidelines on Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace. In this context, SSR was re-emphasized as an important tool to improve human security, being interpreted to broadly include transitional justice, mediation, disaster response, and Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR).

The most recent example of Germany’s increased efforts regarding SSR is the publication of the  Interministerial Strategy to Support Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the Context of Crisis Prevention, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding, passed in the autumn of 2019, which adopts a holistic approach to SSR by addressing emerging security challenges and identifying opportunities for increased engagement and synergies, such as conflict mediation and  disaster risk reduction.

Germany also uses its multilateral engagements for strengthening its support to SSR. The 2020-21 United Nations Security Council membership, for instance, provides a platform for Germany’s support to conflict prevention, disarmament, and addressing climate change.  Similarly, Germany is among the biggest supporters of the civilian arm of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) at the EU level. The upcoming German EU presidency during the second half of 2020 could also provide an opportunity to strengthen the European conflict prevention approach.

Germany Should Promote a Comprehensive Approach to SSR

Looking ahead, the international community has long been struggling to operationalize the security-development nexus into meaningful programming. The international community’s practice of SSR could benefit from the German approach that includes areas previously perceived to be limited to crisis prevention or peacekeeping, into a wider understanding of SSR.  

Yet, conceptionally SSR remains in its own niche area. This leads to missed opportunities and less comprehensive reforms, ultimately putting the sustainability of change at risk: the majority of areas in civilian crisis management, as for example identified by the EU Civilian Training Group, are directly related to broader governance and reform of the security sector, spanning from short-term capacity building to long-term institution building. For example, reforms of the public sector can greatly benefit from working with the wider SSR community to sufficiently take into account considerations specific to Ministries of Defense and Interior’s requirements. Similarly, constitutional and legal reform must be sequenced with the development of national security architectures and be conscious of ongoing SSR processes. Anti-corruption measures maximize their impact when including security sectors, who often engage in predatory behaviors and operate outside of public scrutiny. Conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes that steer away from including reforms of security sector governance risk not being able to contribute to sustainable change.

In this light, there are three concrete policy areas, in which Germany has been playing a leading role, that would lend themselves particularly well to a stronger integration with SSR as a multifaceted instrument: disaster risk reduction (DRR), conflict resolution, and civilian CSDP. Going beyond a narrow definition of what constitutes SSR, these are areas where operational capacity building of security and justice provision through the reform of the security sector  could contribute to the holistic objectives of creating resilient and adaptive societies while simultaneously supporting governance reform.

Drawing on Germany’s Leading Role on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)

As one of the main drivers of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Germany has long acknowledged the role of climate change and natural hazards as a real threat to peace and security.

Since 2014, Germany has advocated to strengthen the link between climate change and security, and encouraged the UN Security Council to address climate change as a security risk. There is an emerging recognition that linking DRR to SSR, conceptually and programmatically, is important: The security sector plays a crucial role in managing and implementing disaster risk reduction and preparedness frameworks. It is also tasked with providing a high level of logistical capacity to carry out activities in the event of an emergency. Natural hazards and climate change have serious impacts on fragile states: already weak systems have to cope with external threats, which can potentially lead to violence or conflict. Strengthening security agencies’ capacities for an effective, efficient, and accountable delivery of disaster relief and civil protection has therefore the potential to significantly increase the legitimacy of state institutions.

Put Germany’s Experience With Transitional Justice and Mediation to Good Use

In the German SSR strategy, the link between SSR, mediation, and transitional justice is clearly articulated. The strategy recognizes the harm of violence, the importance of prosecuting war crimes in accordance with the rule of law, and the consequences of possible unlawful actions committed by security forces against the population. Drawing from its own historical experience in dealing with the past, as well as the importance of transitional justice to build long-lasting and sustainable peace, Germany could better reflect these commitments in SSR programming. It could use its increased recognition as a mediation actor in the same way.

Many SSR processes have difficulties to produce sustainable results because political aspects have not been taken into account openly. Using conflict resolution tools such as transitional justice, mediation, negotiation, and dialogue when engaging in SSR processes, provides a vital moment to constructively tackle the underlying political and economic root causes of violence such as power dynamics and past abuses, beyond the purely technical and legal aspects of SSR.

Using the Center of Excellence to Promote a Comprehensive Approach to SSR 

The Civilian CSDP agenda is at the heart of the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy, and Germany holds a key position to move forward with the implementation of the 2018 “Civilian CSDP Compact”. Therefore, it has initiated a European Center of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management (CoE), which opened its doors this year in Berlin. The CoE provides a unique venue for Germany to provide leadership to push for innovative ways of mainstreaming SSR into various areas of civilian crisis management and acknowledge SSR’s utility across the security-development nexus. This means first and foremost acknowledging that to a large part, civilian CSDP is about security sector reform. 

To conclude, Germany should capitalize on policy areas in which it already plays a leading role, such as DRR, mediation, and civilian CSDP, and integrate them with SSR. This will further strengthen SSR as a cross-cutting peacebuilding and stabilization tool and provide Germany with an opportunity to create synergies and strengthen human security through comprehensive and sustainable reforms. 


This Blogpost was originally published by DCAF-ISSAT. @issat_dcaf

Security Sector Reform Politikkohärenz CSDP

Viola Csordas

Viola Csordas is a Security Sector Reform Officer at the Geneva Center for Security Sector Governance (DCAF). @ViolaCsordas

Camilla Arvastson

Camilla Arvastson is a Project Assistant at the Geneva Center for Security Sector Governance (DCAF). @camilla_arv