Cover: Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform?

Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform?

U.S. Internal Security Assistance to Repressive and Transitioning Regimes

Published Nov 7, 2006

by Seth G. Jones, Olga Oliker, Peter Chalk, C. Christine Fair, Rollie Lal, James Dobbins


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The United States has provided assistance to the security forces of a number of repressive states that do not share its political ideals. This practice raises several questions, the answers to which have significant policy implications: Has U.S. assistance improved the effectiveness of internal security forces in countering security threats? Has it improved the accountability and human rights records of these forces? What is the relationship between improving security and improving accountability and human rights? This study addresses these questions by examining the results of U.S. assistance to four states: El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

U.S. assistance to El Salvador improved the accountability and human rights practices of the Salvadoran police but not their effectiveness as violent crime rates soared. In Uzbekistan, programs focused on counterproliferation, export control, and specific investigatory techniques were effective. But autocracy and repression by Uzbek officials, including security forces, have increased in recent years. Assistance to Afghanistan has somewhat improved the accountability and human rights practices of Afghan security forces. The vast majority of serious human rights abuses in the country are now committed by insurgent groups and warlords. In Pakistan, the U.S. government has not paid significant attention to the implications of its security assistance for the improvement of accountability and human rights, in large part because these goals have not been a focus of that assistance.

Overall, these analyses suggest that efforts to improve the effectiveness, human rights, and accountability of internal security forces are more likely to be successful when states are transitioning from repressive to democratic systems. In addition, several factors are critical for success: the duration of assistance, viability of the justice system, and support and buy-in from the local government (including key ministries).

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Open Society Institute and was conducted under the auspices of the International Security and Defense Policy Center within the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD). NSRD conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Intelligence Community, allied foreign governments, and foundations.

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