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Key Findings: Security

Read our key findings on security


Security is a core issue in negotiating peace, but it can be understood as encompassing very different concerns. PeaceRep research has explored the issue of security as relating to armed groups, security sector reform (SSR), military power-sharing, and demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR). However, our research has also focussed on the gendered nature of security, and how security interests with other transition processes such as constitution-building, state-building, and land reform.


Security (overview)

Security in the context of peace negotiations is typically exclusively understood as ‘hard security’. Hard security concerns include movement of troops or armed combatants, ceasefire lines, territorial control, weapons control or processes of demobilisation and disarmament of combatants, and more structural security sector reform (SSR) (such as reforming army, police, and their lines of democratic accountability). Yet, a key element of delivering security involves addressing the physical safety of all non-combatants affected by armed violence, and this requires a much wider process (Pospisil and Bell, 2018:2; Ashe, 2019).

Security is a key concern in negotiating peace, and a central focus of peace negotiations and peace processes. About 85 per cent of all peace agreements from 1990-2016, include stipulations that address issues of physical security (PA-X Peace Agreements Database). The remaining 15 per cent are mainly partial agreements on specific matters to which security provisions are not relevant. Virtually all comprehensive peace agreements deal with security, as do all ceasefire agreements (Pospisil and Bell, 2018:1).

Security-sector reform in peace agreements is a significant part of the statebuilding agenda, throughout all peace processes since 1990. Interestingly, and somewhat counterintuitively, commitments to police reform are more constant and more strongly framed than provisions relating to reform of the armed forces. This could be due to a variety of factors, including disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) processes in which members of non-state armed groups become integrated into the police as part of an attempt to ‘demilitarise and normalise’ the security sector. These DDR provisions often require to be nested in substantial reform of the whole police structure, given that non-military police is often virtually non-existent in countries prior to a peace process (Pospisil, 2018:6).


Security and armed groups

Military power-sharing involves sharing the armed forces between factions to the conflict. This can take the form of a merger of forces or joint command structures. It means those involved in conflict control the military so rule of law and human rights protections are important. While it encourages inclusion of different groups, it can also create an incentive for smaller groups outside the process to assert claims violently (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster and Pospisil, 2018).

Military power-sharing must be understood as one part in a wider ‘security transition’. It needs to be supported with contextual awareness and understanding of the different possible goals of the arrangements. It is important to anticipate whether military power-sharing proposals are likely to result in joint exercise of power in a unified state army or ‘split’ security force with ‘forces within forces’ reporting to a split ‘government of national unity’ or a highly territorially devolved political arrangement (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster and Pospisil, 2018).

Important questions to ask of military power-sharing arrangements include:

  • Whether the provisions are intended as transitional, in which case they will affect the conduct of the transitional arrangements and will need a longer-term security transition plan.
  • Whether they are intended as part of a wider indefinite ‘deal’ focused on inclusion of a previously excluded ethnic group.
  • Whether they are part of a broader process of democratisation of armed forces.
  • Whether they contemplate not just army but also policing functions and the need to re-configure the relationship between the two.
  • The extent to which there is a tradition of functional public institutions and any rule of law capacity in the society.
  • Whether international peacekeeping forces or other forms of international DDR and SSR support mechanism are present.
  • Whether rule of law and reform measures might mitigate the role of elite and powerful leaders maintaining permanent dominance through military power-sharing in the long-term (Bell, Gluckstein, Forster and Pospisil, 2018).

PSRP research on armed groups and governance in conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo revealed that the increasing fragmentation of the security landscape results from the interplay between the growing engagement of lower-level political actors in militarized politics, the volatility of local conflict dynamics, and counterproductive military policies, including military operations. There is a need to devise policies that focus primarily on armed groups themselves and their political-economic support networks, which should be complemented by army reform and measures addressing conflict dynamics (Verweijen and Wakenge, 2015:1; Verweijen, 2016a).

Armed groups in eastern DRC are able to mobilize popular support by evoking two issues of existential importance to local communities—marginalization and security. These issues give meaning to armed groups’ bids for local authority and legitimize their engagement in a wide range of governmental practices normally ascribed to the state, such as taxation and the provision of justice and security (Vlassenroot, Mudinga, and Hoffman, 2016:10).

To promote a demilitarization of public life in eastern DRC, it is essential to address the civilian support networks of armed groups, to deal with more structural causes of militarization, including the conduct of the security forces, the return of refugee populations and disputes over land ownership. These cannot be resolved without a genuine national land reform process, which requires the mobilization of the necessary political will and technical capacity (Vlassenroot, Mudinga, and Hoffman, 2016:11; Mathys, and Vlassenroot, 2016)

To sustainably demilitarize eastern DRC, it is necessary to defuse conflicts related to customary authority, weaken armed groups and their civilian support networks, and improve security management and regulation of local defence forces. It is important to recognize and address the adverse roles sometimes played by politicians, business-people and local authorities in armed mobilization. It is also important to reduce incentives for citizens to solicit armed groups to provide security, dispute resolution and other public services by improving the governance of customary authorities and security services (Verweijen, 2016b).


Security and gender

Security is a highly gendered concept. Violence during armed conflict often affects women and men differently. Security provisions in peace agreements tend to focus on security in relation to armed actors that are primarily men, and often fail to take into account women’s experiences of insecurity during conflict, and the security needs they expect and require the peace process to deliver. It is therefore important to highlight the particular security challenges for women at all stages of peace negotiations and peace processes (Pospisil and Bell, 2018:1).

Security is particularly important for women to address in peace negotiations because it affects all aspects of their lives. Unless and until physical security can be guaranteed, other forms of security are very difficult to achieve, as are any broader gender equality outcomes or other improvements to women’s lives. Women also bring insight and knowledge about the insecurities faced by women, which are useful to addressing practical issues of security more generally (Pospisil and Bell, 2018:1).

Language around security is an important tool in seeking to influence peace talks. Reframing security issues and tensions in creative ways can be a successful strategy for inclusion of women and gender-sensitive approaches, as well as helpful to the talks process as a whole in reshaping polarised debates to make it easier for the parties to find compromise (Pospisil and Bell, 2018:12).

To be effective in having their demands heard and to influence a peace process, it is important for women to develop:

  • a women-centred articulation of security needs;
  • ideas about how these could be prioritized and delivered over time;
  • an understanding of how the parties to the conflict will approach their security needs, and where there will be synergies and tensions with civilian and gender priorities;
  • an identification of avenues of influence (the talks, the international supporters of the talks, wider civic engagement);
  • practical strategies of engagement across multiple forums and actors (Pospisil and Bell, 2018:2).

The level of insecurity experienced by sexual and gender minorities is impacted directly by both ethno-nationalism and overt political conflict. Inclusive approaches to conflict transformation will include analysis and practices which seek to affect the security of multiple identity groups, including Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGB&T) communities (Ashe, 2019:1).

Framing LGB&T security within a universal human rights agenda underscores LGB&T people’s fundamental right to security. However, human rights approaches can underplay the relationship between LGB&T insecurities and the legacies of conflict. Contextualising LGB&T insecurities within a conflict framework can inform analytical and policy approaches to reimagining what the human right to security means in transitioning societies (Ashe, 2019:1).

Statist interpretations of security limit understandings of the sources of insecurity in conflict-affected states. LGB&T articulations of insecurity should guide both policy and practice in transitional societies; advocacy groups should have access to policymakers and a broad range of LGB&T groups should be appropriately resourced to address all aspects of their constituencies’ security needs during peacebuilding (Ashe, 2019:1).

LGB&T insecurity cannot be addressed solely through policy and legal change. Civil society organisations can play a role in preserving forms of LGB&T insecurity during conflict; consequently, they can play a central role in reducing forms of LGB&T insecurity during the conflict transformational period (Ashe, 2019:1).

Policing reform in transitional societies must fully address LGB&T security. If historically low-levels of confidence and trust between sexual and gender minorities pertain, and the police are a key institution for reform, re-building trust with a range of constituencies, including LGB&T constituencies must be addressed through institutional change and monitoring (Ashe, 2019:2).


Security and constitution-building

Security sector reform, democratization and constitutional reform are intrinsically linked. The constitution-building process can therefore provide a critical forum for negotiations over changes in the relationship between civilian and security sector institutions (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:6).

Analyse the context: The parameters of the potential interactions between constitutional reform and security sector reform will to a great extent be determined by context. Key considerations will include the state of the security sector at the moment of transition, the leverage of security sector agencies in negotiations, the critical interests of security sector leaders, including economic interests, criminal accountability and normative values, and how security sector agencies are represented in political negotiations (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:6).

Separate civilian ministries staffed by professional bureaucrats and led by a cabinet minister should be established for each security sector agency, to ensure political responsibility, direction and accountability for the actions of the security sector, while at the same time to serve as an institutional buffer that protects the security services from partisan abuse (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:6).

In addition, consideration should be given to constitutionalizing the oversight powers of parliament – for example, through mandatory reporting – and to the establishment of independent oversight bodies, such as a National Police Service Commission. The composition of such bodies should be inclusive of civil society representatives and broadly representative of the population (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:6).

The constitutional and legal framework must clearly distinguish the different roles and institutional architecture associated with different security agencies. For example, the military should be responsible for national defence and the police should be responsible for law and order (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:6).

National Security Councils can be critical bodies for coordinating security, sharing intelligence and enabling whole-of-government responses to threats, but their composition should include a civilian majority to maintain democratic accountability. Careful thought should be given to balancing the need for confidentiality with the establishment of adequate procedures for oversight (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:6).

Most constitutions provide for states of emergencies, during which security sector agencies may be given expanded roles beyond their usual mandates, and with less oversight. These provisions should be drafted clearly and with sufficient detail to avoid ambiguity and should include maintaining an oversight role for the legislature throughout the emergency (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:7).

Where possible, establishing principles and parameters in the constitution can be a powerful first step in strengthening the chances of extensive security sector reform, while the details can, and often should, be left to legislation (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:7).

Militaries in non-democratic regimes may often have significant economic interests (e.g. commercial activity, salaries, patronage networks), which they seek to protect during the transition. Constitutional reform may jeopardize these interests. Careful thought should be given to the impact of constitutional reform on these economic interests from the very outset (Bisarya and Choudhry, 2020:7).