Protect and serve or train and equip?

US security assistance and protection of civilians

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent declaration of the “Global War on Terror,” US international security assistance has increased substantially, with billions of dollars going to support security forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other “frontline” states. The United States has also adopted a new approach to security assistance in fragile states, called security sector reform (SSR). In principle, SSR moves security assistance well beyond the traditional “train and equip” approach and takes the physical security of the state’s population and protection of human rights from the sidelines to mid-field.

In practice, however, US-supported SSR efforts often continue to focus primarily on training and equipping military and police forces, especially in connection with counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. This paper looks at the implementation of US-supported SSR programs, and particularly at how they have integrated protection of civilians. The paper identifies current gaps between global standards of good practice—with which US doctrine and principles increasingly conform—on the one hand, and actual US practice in the field on the other. Oxfam believes that protection of civilians must be a cornerstone of US foreign policy, so effective links between SSR and protection must be present in practice as well as in principle. The paper concludes by offering legislative and policy recommendations that can help ensure that US-supported SSR serves as an instrument of protection.

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