A Developmental Approach to Building Sustainable Security-Sector Capacity in Africa
Sep 13, 2018
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U.S. security sector assistance (SSA) has a mixed record in Africa:
Many of the practices associated with SSA in peacekeeping contexts might be adopted in other environments.
The United States has sought to combat security threats in Africa — whether terrorism or, in a previous era, communism — principally by providing security sector assistance (SSA) to partner governments on the continent. Proponents of such assistance claim that it is a cost-effective tool for advancing U.S. interests on the continent while being welcomed by the African partners. By strengthening partners' security capabilities, the United States can help partners deter challenges by militants and degrade and ultimately defeat those challengers that do arise. Moreover, by professionalizing and socializing partner security personnel, the United States can stabilize governments through improved civil–military relations and human-rights practices. Critics, on the other hand, contend that SSA has been at best ineffective, leading to brief but unsustainable improvements in security, or at worst detrimental in undercutting precisely the goals the United States has tried to achieve by inflaming inter-communal tensions, undermining civil–military relations, or contributing to human-rights abuses.
RAND Corporation analysts have conducted research to evaluate these contending claims and recommend improvements in SSA practices. This research brief summarizes the results of two RAND studies: one sponsored by the Office of African Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and one sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Together, these studies suggest that U.S.-provided SSA in Africa has largely failed to achieve its goals. For most of the past quarter-century, SSA has been highly inefficient, achieving no aggregate reduction in insurgencies or terrorism in the countries that received the SSA. During the Cold War, it appears to have even been counterproductive, increasing the incidence of conflict in recipient countries. But there is also evidence that, under the right conditions, SSA can reduce violence and human-rights abuses.
Ideally, SSA allocations and practices would be guided by rigorous evaluations that would help to determine the conditions under which SSA is more or less effective. To date, nearly all evaluations of SSA's impact in Africa have been qualitative. Numerous case studies, after-action reports, lessons-learned exercises, and other efforts have yielded important insights. They have not, however, established a rigorous basis for determining overall trends.
Cross-national statistical analyses can look past individual success stories or dramatic failures to provide a broader perspective. These analyses have their own limitations — in particular, the limited data available on SSA allocations over large numbers of countries and extended periods of time. Statistical analyses are best seen as one tool for evaluation, to be used in conjunction with in-depth qualitative analyses of specific cases and, when feasible, more-rigorous quantitative tools, such as randomized control trials. But even with their limitations, the recent statistical analyses conducted by the RAND authors offer a revealing overview of SSA's effectiveness.
The OSD-sponsored RAND team assembled data on U.S. SSA allocations after 1945 to all countries in Africa since their independence. The team also assembled data on approximately two dozen contextual factors that might influence the effectiveness of SSA, such as the level of development of partner nations, their governance institutions, histories of violence, and civilian and military assistance from other countries. Finally, the team collected data on three types of violence that the United States has sought to reduce:
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The team then used statistical analyses to determine whether the recipients of SSA experienced declines in any of these forms of violence in the years after SSA was delivered. Ultimately, the researchers found that the effects of SSA vary greatly depending on the context.
During the Cold War, U.S. SSA appears to have had counterproductive effects: It was associated with an increase in the incidence of civil wars and insurgencies in the countries in which it was delivered. There are at least two possible reasons for this outcome. First, because the United States emphasized international alignment over domestic stability as the primary goal of its assistance policies, it might have implemented SSA in ways that exacerbated conflict. The United States was actually more likely to collaborate with authoritarian and corrupt governments than with better-governed ones, so long as they were not allies of the Soviet Union. Doing so might have prompted backlash among populations that were excluded from government. Second, at times, the Soviet Union countered U.S. assistance by providing aid to armed opposition movements, touching off proxy wars.
This finding is important not only for historical reasons: If international competition for influence in Africa again intensifies, the United States might again be tempted to deemphasize governance issues when it allocates SSA. The authors' analyses suggest that such an approach could provoke higher levels of conflict on the continent.
The authors identified no robust statistical relationships between aggregate SSA and the incidence of political violence across all of Africa in the post–Cold War era. There are several possible explanations for this result:
If durable improvements in security typically occur only when the United States makes long-term commitments to a partner, constructs a comprehensive political–military strategy, invests in building security governance institutions, and provides personnel on the ground over long periods of time to offer advice and oversee implementation, it is little surprise that SSA, for much of its history, has had such a discouraging record in Africa.
Unfortunately, limitations in the data the United States has collected on its SSA expenditures prevented the authors from conducting program-specific evaluations. Some categories of SSA — especially relatively inexpensive ones and recent ones — might be successful, while other categories might be problematic. Despite these data limitations, the lack of an aggregate effect of SSA is an important finding. Whatever "success stories" might exist are relatively modest in their impacts on political violence, obscured by much larger amounts of inefficient spending or offset by counterproductive outcomes in other cases. Otherwise, the RAND authors' analyses should have detected some overall relationship between SSA and the incidence of political violence.
The finding that U.S.-provided SSA is not having any net impact on political violence in the post–Cold War era should not be altogether surprising. Previous analyses have found weaknesses in the ability of African partner nations to sustain much of the equipment the United States provides and to disseminate the skills gained in U.S.-sponsored training events through train-the-trainer approaches. Even if African partners could sustain these gains, the partners often appear to have difficulties harnessing the capabilities for effective political–military strategies. In some cases, U.S. partners might divert the capabilities toward corrupt ends or, in other cases, might use the capabilities to try to repress nonstate actors when cooptation would be more appropriate.
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Although SSA has not had any identifiable net effect on political violence across most countries on the continent, SSA has had a significant impact on the incidence of political violence when conducted in conjunction with United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations. Even when they controlled for the favorable direct effects of "blue helmets," the authors found that SSA, when executed in the presence of UN peacekeepers, has statistically significant, additionally favorable effects on a range of outcomes. In fact, under these conditions, SSA decreases the likelihood of all three types of political violence of interest: renewed conflict, terrorist attacks, and government repression (see the figure). Because only a few countries have hosted peacekeeping operations, these findings are based on a small number of cases and so must be treated with some caution. They do, however, provide reason for hope.
A statistical analysis, such as the one the authors conducted, cannot uncover the precise reasons for these favorable effects, but they are entirely consistent with the security sector reform (SSR) literature. The SSR paradigm emphasizes that the capabilities of security forces should be built in conjunction with improvements to security governance. The presence of a UN peacekeeping operation typically provides many of the prerequisites for a successful approach to security governance: regular, intensive contact between international advisers and the partner nation's security personnel; a relatively long-term commitment; close oversight of the performance of security forces; and the integration of train-and-equip efforts into an overall political strategy. One of the criticisms of the SSR paradigm has been the relatively thin base of rigorous empirical support for its prescriptions. The statistical results of the RAND authors' analysis help to fill that gap.
|Civil Wars and Insurgencies||Terrorist Attacks||State Repression|
SOURCE: Stephen Watts, Trevor Johnston, Matthew Lane, Sean Mann, Michael J. McNerney, and Andrew Brooks, Building Security in Africa: An Evaluation of U.S. Security Sector Assistance in Africa from the Cold War to the Present, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, RR-2447-OSD, 2018.
NOTE: A dash indicates no statistically significant change.
One prominent example of this successful type of SSA is the U.S. support of UN peacekeeping efforts in Liberia following the end of that country's civil war in 2003. At the time, U.S. foreign policy was increasingly focused on fighting transnational terrorism, although Liberia was of little or no importance in this effort. Nevertheless, from 2003 to 2010, the United States undertook the task of completely rebuilding the Liberian armed forces and defense ministry in conjunction with the UN peacekeeping mission. U.S. decisions surrounding the size and organization of the new army, as well as the vetting and training of recruits, were driven by conflict-prevention concerns. Recent research suggests that SSA was successful in Liberia precisely because it was conducted in conjunction with a peacekeeping operation.
If durable improvements in security typically occur only when the United States makes long-term commitments to a partner, constructs a comprehensive political–military strategy, invests in building security governance institutions, and provides personnel on the ground over long periods of time to offer advice and oversee implementation, it is little surprise that SSA, for much of its history, has had such a discouraging record in Africa. With some important exceptions, U.S. SSA programs and processes are typically not designed for such a committed approach. Although the U.S. officials whom the authors interviewed were clear about the challenges posed by many African partners, the U.S. officials were also often emphatic about the problems of the United States' own making: "The system," one former senior U.S. official declared, "is designed for failure." Another official echoed this judgment. Because of the U.S. focus on immediate operational objectives, he said, "The whole model is upside-down. We train and equip our partners first, then worry about institution-building."
RAND research suggests that substantial changes are required if SSA is to have the impact the United States hopes. These changes need to be made in strategies, programs, and evaluations, as outlined in the following recommendations.
At the strategic level, the United States needs to be clear about its primary goals, and it needs to have realistic expectations about what can be achieved through SSA. The authors recommend the following changes in strategy:
At the programmatic level, the United States needs to invest in the capabilities necessary to produce durable improvements in its partners' internal security. The authors recommend the following changes in programming:
The U.S. government has taken important steps toward improving its assessment, monitoring, and evaluation (AME) of SSA. Perhaps the single greatest impetus was the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, which mandated that the U.S. Department of Defense improve its AME practices. Even before the 2017 authorization, improvements were visible at both the Department of Defense and the Department of State. These new initiatives represent vital first steps, but considerable work remains to be done. The authors recommend the following changes in AME:
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