Security Sector Reform

Conference Paper : SSR and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Armed wing of state-building?

Dr Paul Jackson
School of Government & Society
University of Birmingham
United Kingdom

Prepared for the e-Conference
The Future of Security Sector Reform
4-8th May 2009

This paper directly challenges some of the popular SSR mythology that has grown around the UK’s involvement in Sierra Leone and the subsequent policy developments associated with SSR. It raises questions about the underlying political assumptions of the SSR process and contemporary SSR material, much of which lacks analysis of underlying theories of SSR relating to broader state building and construction of a liberal peace.

Using a case taken from the reconstruction of Sierra Leone this paper outlines some of the key issues emerging after ten years of reconstruction efforts. Sierra Leone is usually over-cited, but given its importance to any orthodoxy that may be said to exist, it is relevant here. Fundamentally, Sierra Leone remains a relatively small state in West Africa and the fact a viable state remains elusive challenges assumptions about time taken in reconstructing socio-political norms and structures, and also questions state-building as a post conflict approach.

This paper will argue that SSR in Sierra Leone was never a developed strategy but came to represent a series of policies that evolved on the ground largely as the result of the interaction of individuals and groups engaged in those early decisions, sometimes against the wishes of Whitehall, but always sharing a ‘direction of travel’. This is an important point in terms of how SSR policy was actually developed and also how approaches come to be seen as being far smoother and well planned with hindsight but also in terms of how policy-makers and academics can learn about social, governance and security processes.

Finally the paper moves on to analyse what lessons can and can’t be drawn from this experience and what the implications are for SSR going forward. It argues that the example of Sierra Leone as a ‘classic’ post conflict situation is enlightening but also damaging in the sense that any future SSR intervention will face radically different circumstances and needs to take into account broader issues of state-building and in particular recognising the deeply political aspects of what is being done when an international agency engages in SSR.

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