"Civilianizing" the State in the MENA and Asia Pacific Regions

There are numerous past and present cases around the world where security institutions — armed forces, police, intelligence services, militias and paramilitaries — have played important, if not decisive roles in buttressing or undermining the prolongation of authoritarian rule or conflict. 

The political transformations that have taken place in East Asia have involved the reconfiguration of the relationships between the security institutions and the state. Yet, even today, after two decades of democratic development in East Asia, civilian control — of decision-making over public policy, internal security, and national defense — is still not an uncontested norm. 

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, security institutions have long been key pillars of authoritarian rule and agents of conflict. Indeed, one of the most urgent challenges facing post-Arab Spring countries is creating a secure environment (i.e., one that is conducive to development and good governance). Yet, more than three years after the Arab Spring commenced, there has been mixed progress, at best, toward “civilianizing” the state — more commonly referred to as Security Sector Reform (SSR). 

These circumstances beg many questions, including: What is the proper democratic space and role for the security services in post-Arab Spring countries? To what extent can and have the missions of the security apparatuses of MENA countries been re-calibrated? What could members of the international community do or should they refrain from doing in order to strengthen the security capacity of post-Arab Spring countries, consistent with the principles of good governance and rule of law?

The essays featured in this series share insights from past and ongoing processes of "civilianizing" the state in Asia-Pacific countries and examine the steps already taken and still needed in post-Arab Spring MENA countries.

series essays

Mar 05, 2014
The Popular Committees of Abyan, Yemen: A Necessary Evil or an Opportunity for Security Reform? 
Nadwa Al-Dawsari

In early 2011, Yemeni youths took to the street to demand the downfall of the regime and much-needed democratic reforms. This eventually led to the removal of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power later the same year. The political turmoil associated with the uprising has resulted in an alarming deterioration of the security situation throughout the country, most notably the seizure of two major cities in the southern governorate of Abyan by Ansar al-Shariah (AAS), an offshoot of al-Qa`ida. Backed by the Yemeni government, the Popular Committees (PCs), local armed resistance groups, pushed AAS out of major cities in Abyan.

Mar 12, 2014
Libya on the Brink: Insecurity, Localism, and the State Not Back In
Jacques Roumani

The Libyan uprising launched almost three years ago has yet to produce the promised transition to a new post-Qaddafi political order. The moment of unity generated by toppling the tyrant has fragmented due to the fact that, unlike Tunisia or Egypt, no state apparatus existed to take over from the victorious rebels. Transitional authorities under the National Transitional Council (NTC, March 2011-August 2012) were too weak to govern and acquire legitimacy. Their successor 200-member constituent assembly, the General National Congress (GNC) elected in July 2012, has not fared much better due to dysfunctional politics, factional disputes, pervasive distrust, a legacy of institutional destruction, and sporadic resistance by former members and supporters of the toppled regime, as well as historical, regional, and tribal cleavages.

Mar 13, 2014
South Korea’s Immature Professionalism in the Security Sector 
Insoo Kim

It is widely accepted that South Korea has successfully consolidated democracy. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama cited South Korea as an exemplary case of economic growth and democracy in his famous speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009. Two years later, when Egypt underwent a civil uprising that brought to an end the country’s decades-old Mubarak regime, he lauded South Korea’s democracy once again, suggesting that “Egypt could transform itself into a democracy on the model of Indonesia, Chile, or South Korea.” By 2013, however, alleged election fraud in South Korea had damaged the international reputation of its mature democracy. The Democratic Party—the country’s main opposition—publicly called the 2012 presidential election unfair because the National Intelligence Service (NIS) had manipulated public opinion prior to the election, leaving disparaging comments about opposition candidate Moon Jae-in on popular websites.

Mar 18, 2014
Obstacles to Civilian Control of the Security Sector in Thailand 
Paul Chambers

Over 30 military coups and coup attempts have taken place in Thailand since 1932, when absolute monarchy was overthrown, the latest of which was in 2006. Clearly, achieving democratic civilian control over Thai security forces remains a daunting challenge. When we talk about Thai security forces, we are referring to the country’s army, navy, air force, police, and paramilitaries. The army is much larger than the other services, although the police force is also quite sizeable. Soldiers and police have tended to obey elected civilian authorities due to partisan connections or simply because the appearance of compliance is convenient. But in actuality the security forces are generally insulated from the sanction of elected governments.

Mar 28, 2014
Democratization and Building a Democratic Army: Lessons from South Korea 
Jongseok Woo
Democratization in a country is not just about electing new leaders through free, fair, and competitive elections; it entails a much more comprehensive political overhaul, including deposing ruling elites from the previous autocratic regime, building workable democratic institutions with a new constitution, reaping support from pro-democracy civil society groups, and managing national security and order. Possibly the most significant factor in the success or failure of a state’s democratic transition and subsequent consolidation is establishing a firm and democratic control over the armed forces. Without depoliticizing the once-politically dominant military and making top military officials politically neutral and subordinated under democratically elected leaders, the post-democratization political process of a nation is destined to be highly unstable and most likely will derail from the route to democratic consolidation.

Apr 03, 2014
Challenges to State Building after the Fall of Qaddafi 
Hanspeter Mattes

The fall of the Qaddafi regime and the loss of the state monopoly on violence gave way to a duopoly of power in Libya whereby rudimentary “national” forces—under the control of the National Transitional Council (NTC) from March 2011 to August 2012—were established in competition with the non-state “Revolutionary Brigades,” which had borne the brunt of the military struggle against Qaddafi’s forces. Since then, the Revolutionary Brigades have sought to assert themselves in the political arena.

Apr 08, 2014
Maliki and the Security Sector in Iraq
Burak Bilgehan Özpek

It would be unfair to argue that democracy fails to provide stability in divided societies or that democracy cannot work in Iraq. Instead, the term “democracy” should be redefined to take free market principles into consideration. As the Iraq case shows, any political group, party, or figure can manipulate the democratic system if the state apparatus controls the distribution of economic resources. If, as in the case of Iraq, a political arrangement, constitution, or power-sharing formula results in a specific group gaining control of the distribution of economic resources, this imbalance will be reflected in the composition of the security forces as well as in their mission and activities, and it will likely result in the emergence of (armed) actors in opposition to them.

Apr 16, 2014
Civilianization of Politics in Turkey
Nil S. Satana

From the standpoint of Turkish civil-military experts, the concern has never been whether Turkey should civilianize but rather what civilianization would lead to when it was finally achieved. Following the 2013 Gezi protests and the government’s harsh response to the protestors, Turkey’s success in the civilianization of its politics is quickly snowballing into uncertainty.

May 14, 2014
Closing the Channels of the Military's Economic Influence in Turkey
Steven A. Cook

After a decade of working to subordinate Turkey’s military establishment so that it cannot influence the trajectory of Turkish politics, closing the channels of the military’s economic influence has been part of this process. Despite early expectations, the AKP has not forged a more democratic and liberal Turkey, but there is no denying the critical importance of its successful effort to institutionalize civilian control of the armed forces.

May 09, 2014
Security Sector Reform in the Philippines 
Allan A. delos ReyesMaria Anna Rowena Luz G. Layador
The Philippines is often described as having one of the most vibrant civil societies in Asia. In the last three decades, the country has been home to two mass mobilizations that led to regime change. These mobilizations and other robust civil society initiatives have been attributed to “both political and social [movements] that were nurtured by politicized sectors of society for almost half a century.”

May 12, 2014
The Egyptian Military’s Economic Channels of Influence
Mahmoud Jaraba

Egypt’s new constitution grants the country’s generals greater autonomy and an increased formal political role. The draft authorizes military trials for civilians (Article 204) and ensures that the military’s budget be beyond civilian scrutiny. The most significant change is that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will have the final say in choosing or dismissing the defense minister for two presidential terms (Article 234).

May 14, 2014
Civilianizing the State: Reflections on the Egyptian Conundrum
Philippe Droz-Vincent

The military, though it has been the most powerful and influential actor during Egypt’s transition since 2011, is not the great deus ex machina of the Egyptian system. Rather, it is an actor that, since the fall of Mubarak, has managed to maintain some organizational coherence and legitimacy and has served as the convener for various and changing forces that are the crux of a new ruling coalition. Consequently, civilianizing the Egyptian state will require that security sector reforms be embedded in a broader set of political reforms.

Jul 29, 2015
The Military Muzzling of Thailand and the Quandary of Demilitarization
Paul Chambers
Over a year has passed since the latest military coup in Thailand. On May 22, 2014, then-Army Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha led a putsch against civilian Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The coup followed six months of demonstrations against Yingluck and her brother, fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The protests, centered in Bangkok, were reportedly protected by military elements.

Nov 19, 2015
Egypt’s Military Business: The Need for Change
Zeinab Abul-Magd
The Egyptian state today faces one acute crisis after the other. To be fair, the Egyptian military cannot be held responsible for creating these crises. However, it is unlikely that Egypt will be able to resolve them unless and until the armed forces divests itself of the power and the privileges associated with the immense economic power and privileges it has accumulated.

Jan 21, 2016
The State and Security in Asia
Mark Beeson
While there are a surprisingly large number of regionally-based political initiatives of one sort or another, some with a specific mandate to address security issues, East Asia’s potential to act collectively is a function of the countries that compose it. The willingness of the members act in concert is constrained by some very specific, historically contingent factors that continue to cast a long shadow over contemporary events. Trying to make sense of why it has proved so difficult to resolve or even talk about some of the region’s most enduring security problems involves looking at the general trajectory of historical development that has made East Asia a region like no other.

Jan 28, 2016 
Myanmar: The Transition from Social Control to Social Contract 
Jonathan Bogais

This essay demonstrates that the new Myanmar leadership’s intent to enter into a social contract with its citizens requires an analysis of the mechanisms of social control, which is the evolution of the means of power rather than its nature. The essay examines how the model of totalitarian normality has functioned in practice in Myanmar for over five decades marked by ongoing ethnic conflicts, sectarian violence and ruthless repression of civil society. By closely observing the normalization process lying ahead, the essay explores the complexity of the change process to civilianize Myanmar.

Jan 16, 2016

Feb 23, 2016
Explaining the Military's Ruling Ambition in Egypt and Thailand
Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge
The military took advantage of political crisis to remove civilian governments in Egypt in 2013 and Thailand in 2014. This essay discusses three important features of the Egyptian and Thai political systems that have fostered the military's ruling ambition in both cases.

Jan 25, 2017
Big News! Conscription in the Gulf
Zoltan Barany
The introduction of the draft in Gulf monarchies — after decades of sovereign statehood — presents an interesting puzzle. What are the reasons behind the newly implemented conscription? What broader implications does this phenomenon have for the Gulf? This essay addresses these questions.

Jun 06, 2017
Updating Algeria's Military Doctrine
Francis Ghilès and Akram Kharief
Algeria today possesses a number of assets that endow it with the potential to be a regional power and to serve as an anchor of stability. After Algerian security forces succeeded in crushing the decade-long Islamist insurgency and in the context of rising regional instability, American and European officials came to regard Algeria as being a potentially valuable security partner in the Maghreb and the Sahel. However, as this essay shows, Algeria’s military doctrine must be updated for this partnership to truly flourish — and for Algeria itself to thrive.

Jun 27, 2017
The Influence of North African Militaries in Foreign Policy-Making
Zoltan Barany
This essay looks at five North African states, arguing that the armed forces — for a variety of often case-specific reasons — are actually not as politically powerful and thus influential in foreign policy-making as one might expect. It first discusses the political strength of the military establishments of five North African states — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt — and then investigates the difference, if any, that the recent Arab upheavals have made in their involvement in foreign policy-making.



Resources on Security Sector Reform (SSR)

Essential Reading:

A Beginner’s Guide to Security Sector Reform (2007)


Select Bibliography:

Ashour, Omar. From Bad Cop to Good Cop: The Challenge of Security Sector Reform in Egypt. Brookings Doha Center—Stanford Arab Transitions Paper Series (November 2012).

Brumberg, Daniel. “The Politics of Security Sector Reform in Egypt,” USIP Special Report 138 (2012).

Burt, Geoff and Mark Sedra. Security Sector Transformation in North Africa and the Middle East eDialogue Summary Report (August 2011).

Bastick, Megan and Tobie Whitman. A Women’s Guide to Security Sector Reform. The Institute for Inclusive Security (2013).

Bastick, Megan and Kristin Valasek. Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) (2008).

Bastick, Megan. Integrating Gender in Post-Conflict Security Sector Reform. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF) (2006).

Berghof Conflict Research. Security Sector Reform: Potentials and Challenges for Conflict Transformation (2004).

Clingendael Institute, Enhancing Democratic Governance of the Security Sector: An Institutional Assessment Framework (2003).

Clingendael Institute. Towards a Whole-of-Government Approach to Security System Reform (2008).

Cooper, Neil and Michael Pugh. Security Sector Transformation in Post-Conflict Societies CSDG Working Paper No. 5, King’s College (2002).

Danish Institute for International Studies. Security Sector Reform in Fragile States (2006).

Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). Development Donors and the Concept of Security Sector Reform (2003).

Hänggi, H. and A. Bryden. Reform and Reconstruction of the Security Sector Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) (2004).

Hänggi, H. and A. Bryden. Security Governance in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) (2005).

Hanon, Querine. “The Prospects for Security Sector Reform in Tunisia: A Year After the Revolution,” Strategic Studies Institute (2012).

Hendrickson, Dylan and Andrzej Karkoszka. The Challenges of Security Sector Reform SIPRI Yearbook, Ch. 4 (2002).

Hendrickson, Dylan. A Review of Security-Sector Reform Working Paper No. 1, Centre for Defence Studies, London (September 1999).

International Peace Academy. In Good Company? The Role of Business in Security Sector Reform (2005).

Knight, Mark. Security Sector Reform, Democracy, and the Social Contract: From Implicit to Explicit Journal of Security Sector Management (February 2009).



Meharg, Sarah and Aleisha Arnusch. Security Sector Reform: A Case Study Approach to Transition and Peacebuilding Strategic Studies Institute (January 2010).

OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC). Security System Reform: What Have We Learned? (2010).

OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC). Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice (2007).

Piotukh, Volha and Peter Wilson. Security Sector Evolution: Understanding and Influencing How Security Sectors Change Libra Advisory Group (2009).

Scnabel, A. and H. Ehrhardt. Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2006). 

Sedra, Mark. Ed. The Future of Security Sector Reform (Ontario, CA: The Centre for International Governance Innovation, 2010).

UK Department for International Development (DFID), Security Sector Reform Policy Brief (2003).

UK Department for International Development (DFID), Understanding and Supporting Security Sector Reform.

UN Development Programme, Justice and Security Sector Reform (2002).

UN Secretary-General Report on Securing Peace and Development: the Role of the United Nations in Supporting Security Sector Reform – United Nations General Assembly (A/62/659-S/2008/39) (2008).

US Agency for International Development, US Department of Defense, US Department of State joint paper (3DSSR paper), Security Sector Reform.

Wulf, Herbert. Security Sector Reform in Developing and Transitional Countries Berghaf Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management (July 2004).

Wulf, Herbert. Security-Sector Reform in Developing Countries: An Analysis of the International Debate (Bonn: GTZ, 2000).

Yasutomi, Atsushi and Jan Carmans. Security Sector Reform in Post-Conflict States: Challenges of Local Ownership.