The Politics of Post-Conflict Policing

By Donais, Timothy | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, December 2005 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Post-Conflict Policing


Donais, Timothy, Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


This paper explores the political dimensions of policing in post-conflict societies, and makes the case that the reluctance to engage more fully in the politics of post-conflict security provision has been a serious impediment to the success of international police reform efforts in post-conflict societies. Too often, post-conflict police reform has been treated solely as a technical exercise in training and bureaucratic re-organization, rather than as an inherently political process of reorganizing power relations within specific societies. The failure to tackle the politics of post-conflict policing head-on stems in large part from the structure of international policing missions, which are not sufficiently coherent nor coordinated to take on the complex challenges of fundamentally re-orienting the role of local police forces in societies emerging from conflict. Since rule of law questions are increasingly crucial to the success of post-conflict peacebuilding processes, more attention needs to be focused on strengthening international police assistance capacities, and the paper concludes by examining specific policy options and recommendations.

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From Iraq to Afghanistan and from Haiti to Liberia, the ongoing struggle to achieve post-conflict stability underlines the extent to which the distinction between war and peace in contemporary conflict zones is increasingly difficult to sustain. In each case, the 'post-conflict' environment has been characterized by chronic and often extreme levels of public insecurity, even if the post-conflict state itself has been 'secured' through external military intervention. The persistence of high levels of public insecurity not only presents a major obstacle to building sustainable peace in war-torn societies, it also reveals the inadequacies of current mechanisms for the provision of security in states recovering from conflict. Given the often profound implications of ongoing public insecurity for all aspects of the peacebuilding process, it is no exaggeration to suggest that public insecurity currently represents the Achilles' Heel of international peacebuilding efforts.

In states that have collapsed, experienced serious internal strife, or been subject to regime overthrow, so-called 'security gaps' emerge from the absence of authoritative domestic institutions possessing both the legitimacy and capacity to monopolize the use of force within a given territory. This, of course, echoes the classic Weberian definition of the state, and indeed the foremost task of post-conflict peacebuilding is to facilitate the establishment of functioning, legitimate, and sustainable institutions of governance through which social relations can be managed in a non-violent manner. Given the unstable and violent environments from which post-conflict states emerge, the most important post-war institutions are those responsible for security and order, without which neither social nor economic reconstruction is possible. As Annika Hansen (2000) has suggested, "security is the key to a 'new social contract' between the population and its government or society in which the population is willing to surrender the responsibility for its physical safety into government hands" (p. 35). Since the security threats facing most post-conflict states are largely internal rather than external, and since one of the primary goals of international peacekeeping efforts is to isolate, contain, and remove domestic military forces from the political process (eventually re-directing their energies towards external rather than internal security tasks), (1) it therefore follows that a core peacebuilding challenge is the restoration of legitimate and effective policing capacity.

The argument that domestic order and stability is key to sustainable peace is not particularly novel, since Thomas Hobbes argued more than three centuries ago that Leviathan, capable of imposing domestic order, was a prerequisite of civilized society. …

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