Post-Conflict Security: The Goals and Dilemmas of Police-Building

By Durch, William J. | Harvard International Review, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Post-Conflict Security: The Goals and Dilemmas of Police-Building


Durch, William J., Harvard International Review


This year, the World Bank's World Development Report (WDR 2011) focused on criminal violence as a factor that creates or sustains state fragility, drains resources, and undermines legitimate governance. No low-income fragile or conflict-affected state, as defined by the Bank, has met any Millennium Development Goal. On average, poverty rates were about 20 percent higher in countries with protracted criminal or political violence than in those without. The chief sources of violence arose from combinations of corruption, injustice, and exclusion that reduced job opportunities or distributed them selectively. Indeed, joblessness was by far the most prominent reason that youth responded to recruiters for criminal gangs or insurgent groups. The report's recommended priorities for international action to support fragile states were therefore citizen security, justice, and jobs. Unfortunately, the Bank itself does not directly act to promote security and justice; the report's recommended focus on job creation would be novel for an institution historically more oriented to macro-economic measures. Thus, the task of restoring security, justice, and jobs will fall to other agents, among them the United Nations.

At present, six states host large, multifunctional, UN peace operations designed to implement peace agreements and support governments under stress. Among the peacekeeping components, UN Police (UNPOL) has the greatest impact on citizen security through their own operations and rebuilding of local police capacities. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) depends on countries it defines as "police contributing" to fill UNPOL ranks, which currently fall 30 percent short of levels authorized by the Security Council. The expertise needed to build a well-rounded police force with competent officers, essential infrastructure, professional management, and adequate equipment is in especially short supply. States that barely meet their own needs are reluctant to part with their experts even for the six to 12 months of a UN rotation.

Also, they are reimbursed not for sending such specialists, but for deploying police in unit sets. These "formed police units'' (FPUs) now account for nearly half of UNPOL deployments. If properly trained and equipped, such units can manage crowds or guard installations, but typically lack the skills or experience to support local police development. They also often arrive in the field without proper training or gear.

Given these limitations, it is clear why DPKO is inclined to hand over capacity-building duties to other agents of long-term development as soon as a state stabilizes; however, no one knows how to reliably predict when stability will endure. …

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