Search form

Login - Register | FOLLOW US ON

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Why security sector reform is a key priority

Why security sector reform is a key priority

As Cambodia moves forward with plans to demobilize large sections of the armed forces,

Dylan Hendrickson looks at some of the implications and hurdles.

CAMBODIA'S recent return to more stable government has opened a window of opportunity

for donors to come to terms with the vital role that security plays in the development


This is all the more important because Cambodia's political stability is not so much

built on a robust democratic framework that can accommodate debate and change as

it is on the monopoly of power held by one dominant group - the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP).

Underpinning CPP rule today is military power and influence. Military prominence

in Cambodia's public life is a key obstacle to efforts to promote political reforms,

to strengthen government capacity and to address the persisting rural security problem.

Security as a condition for development

Security in all forms - economic, personal and political - needs to be seen as an

essential precondition for sustainable development and poverty alleviation in Cambodia

today. Yet the country's bloated, unregulated and unprofessional security forces

often compound security problems rather than mitigating them. The security sector

also serves as a huge drain on scarce resources - close to 40% of national spending

- which has squeezed out expenditures in the key social development sectors that

are of most concern to international donors.

While security sector reform has a clear role to play in re-establishing security

in rural areas and bringing about a more optimal allocation of resources between

the security and non-security sectors, donors have tended to think of this activity

as somehow separate from more traditional development concerns.

Given the political sensitivity of security sector reforms, few development agencies

even have a mandate to work in this area.

Instead, security sector problems have until recently been seen as belonging to the

domain of military specialists, or have simply been left to Cambodians themselves

to resolve. This is changing, as evidenced by the May 26 conference on demobilisation

which was jointly convened by the World Bank and the Cambodian government in Phnom


The large donor turnout and the wide range of issues debated attested to growing

recognition among donors of the links between demobilisation and more traditional

development activities. While positive, the impression left by the conference was

nonetheless that Cambodia's demobilisation is largely being approached as a managerial

and administrative exercise.

One worrying indication of this is that a number of politically sensitive issues

regarding exactly who will be selected for demobilisation, how they will be chosen

and whether they will be disarmed before receiving benefits, were not addressed.

These issues were, in effect, deemed to be the "government's responsibility",

reflecting the difficulty that the World Bank faces in broaching politically sensitive

issues with the government.

This has resulted in a demobilisation process that is currently very much "top-down".

At the same time, this has worked against a wider consultation among the donors that

will ultimately be called upon to fund and support the demobilisation programme.

The danger is that more attention will be paid to the immediate task of reducing

the size of the army at the expense of efforts to link demobilisation effectively

with the longer-term challenge of restoring political stability in Cambodia.

There has been much concern among donors regarding the initial World Bank estimates

of what would be needed to fund the programme - some US$100 million in total, including

payments of $1,200 per demobilised soldier. Nonetheless, it is clear that money alone

will not be the defining factor in the success of the operation.

The financial issue has distracted attention from the greater challenge facing donors,

which is to think more strategically about how the long-term objectives of demobil-isation

can be achieved and how Cambodia's government can be more effectively supported as

it conducts this complex exercise.

There are three longer-term challenges associated with demobil-isation exercises,

each of which is closely linked to the more traditional development concerns of donors.

The first has to do with discharging soldiers and ensuring that they are effectively

reintegrated back into society.

The second is about redefining the role of the military in society alongside, although

constitutionally and functionally separate from, the forces responsible for civil

law and order.

The third concerns the question of how to channel the resources generated by a reduction

in the size of the security sector - the so-called "peace dividend" - into

more productive uses.

Laying the groundwork for successful reintegration

Reintegration is a long-term task that will necessarily merge with the socio-economic

recovery of Cambodia's rural areas. While this is still far off, there is much that

can be done in the short term to give soldiers the best chance possible of finding

productive employment.

This will not only stimulate the rural economy but, more importantly, will help to

address the rural security problem by enabling farmers to work and travel without

fear of intimidation or unofficial "taxes" being levied on their production.

The benefits of a successful reintegration will thus be greatly magnified across

rural Cambodia, as will the costs if reintegration fails.

The record in other countries shows that reintegration efforts have shown the greatest

promise where they have been community-based and benefited from sustained donor support.

In Cambodia's case, it is still unclear what the best balance will be between an

individual-based and a community-based approach.

The World Bank is currently deciding how to combine a financial pay-off for ex-combatants

with a wide range of other support services to ease their transition into peace-time

society. The challenge is to accurately assess what the exact needs of soldiers are

and how these can best be met in the context of existing government services or donor


There are three particular areas of concern. First, community-based approaches to

reintegration tend to require a much longer-term approach and more sustained cooperation

than donors are generally willing to commit themselves to. In the absence of effective

co-operation between donors there is a danger that reintegration programmes will

be implemented parallel to existing rural development programmes.

Second, it is still very unclear how the problem of land availability will be addressed.

The government has downplayed this problem in the face of widespread evidence that

land availability is limited and that land disputes are already very common in rural

areas today. Given the weaknesses of current legislation, many peasants do not enjoy

secure land tenure and are easily forced off the land. The danger is that there will

be inadequate land for those ex-combatants who choose to become farmers and that

the resettlement of ex-combatants will be carried out to the detriment of other groups

already settled on the land.

Third, disarmament has not been included in the overall project design. It should

be possible to require that every soldier being demobilised turn over at least one

serviceable weapon as a condition of receiving demobilisation benefits. This was

written into the demobilisation plan in Sierra Leone which was prepared with the

technical assistance of the World Bank. There is currently no guarantee that Cambodia's

soldiers will be disarmed before being demobilised or that weapon stockpiles will

be appropriately dealt with. The danger is that ex-combatants will return to rural

areas still armed or that military officials will be tempted to re-export weapons

or place them on local markets as has happened in the past.

At a more general level, these concerns highlight the need for donors to re-think

their approaches to rural development. The security issue is one that few peasants

can address themselves today except by arming themselves. The strengthening of land

tenure regimes might have a greater positive impact in the long-run on rural livelihoods

than, say, interventions which seek to introduce new farming techniques or inputs.

Greater access to land and more secure tenure would also serve as a pull factor,

encouraging ex-combatants to "self-demobilise" and live off the land rather

than their weapons.

Linking demobilisation to security sector reform

An opportunity is currently being missed to use the demobilisation process to encourage

the government to redefine the future role of the security forces in Cambodia and

to restructure the military. Within the international community there has been a

tendency to see Cambodia's security forces as the problem and to couch solutions

in terms of simple measures that would result in a reduction of their numbers and

military expenditure. Yet current realities suggest that the re-establishment of

security is one of the greatest challenges Cambodia faces and this will require more

effective security forces, not simply less soldiers or less security spending.

There are good reasons why a defense review should precede and inform the demobilisation

process. In the absence of a clear idea regarding the composition of a future Cambodian

army, it is hard to decide how many soldiers and officers to discharge. More importantly,

a key objective of the demobilisation should be to get Cambodia's military out of

the civil law and order role that it currently plays. What will remain once several

tens of thousands of soldiers have been discharged in the countryside, many of whom

may still be armed? Thought needs to be given to how the current police forces can

be bolstered and to how the military can be more effectively regulated if it continues

to play an internal policing role.

The Ministry of Defence is currently undertaking a defence review that will answer

some of these questions. While it is currently receiving some international advice

on this issue, this is a complex and long-term process given the difficulty of translating

new formal policies into effective reforms. The first challenge is to draft appropriate

legislation regarding the role of the armed forces and have this passed by Parliament.

Currently the Constitution is very vague on this and there does not exist a Defense


Much more difficult will actually be getting the military to abide by the new constraints

placed on its power. Traditional military assistance and training programmes are

of limited value here unless they incorporate training that covers the role that

the military should play in a democratic society.

There is some indication that Cambodia's military command is coming to terms with

the fact that it will eventually need to take orders from the Ministry of Defence

which itself must be accountable to Parliament. This will itself entail that civilians

are empowered to play a more effective role in both monitoring and managing the security


Generating a concrete peace dividend

The prospect of a peace dividend explains why there is so much interest among donors

in Cambodia's demobilisation process. But the underlying economic logic is deceptively

simple. A peace dividend will not simply result from a cut in the number of military

personnel, or even from a reduction in military spending. The peace dividend should

be seen as the overall benefit that Cambodia will enjoy as the consequence of a successful

demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants. It is naive to think that more

resources will be released for spending in the social sectors unless some of the

fundamental impediments to effective financial management in Cambodia are addressed.

So far, hopes for a genuine peace dividend seem to be based on promises from Hun

Sen that the extra funds will go to the social sectors. Yet it is also clear that

top commanders within the military would like to keep this money so that they can

pay the remaining soldiers and officers higher salaries. This would certainly help

to professionalise the army, but this would go against the stated objectives of the

demobil-isation process. Even if political pressure can be brought on those in the

military to relinquish control over these resources, more fundamental institutional

problems need to be addressed by donors if the peace dividend is to materialise.

The first of these is the problem of unwarranted political interventions in the budgetary

process. The second is the problem of corruption. The third is the difficulty that

the finance administration faces in collecting tax revenue. Collectively these problems

are indicative of the profound institutional weaknesses in the Cambodian government

that will continue to squeeze out development expenditures.

The World Bank has itself noted in its most recent review of Cambodia's public expenditure

that these institutional weaknesses are significantly compounded by the tendency

of donors to by-pass the public administration and to adopt a piece-meal and uncoordinated

approach to institution-building. Few donors have confidence in the capacity of the

public administration or have been willing to make the long-term commitment necessary

to bring about viable improvements in the way it functions.

The need for more donor coherence

In the absence of a long-term approach, there is a danger that the essential demobilisation

problem will be framed narrowly by donors in ways that allow them to draw upon their

own areas of comparative advantage. The World Bank itself can draw on its extensive

experience of organising and executing demobilisations in Africa and can rely on

the tremendous clout it enjoys - along with its sister organisation, the IMF - when

it comes to encouraging hesitant governments to embark on the path of reform.

In line with the emphasis of the international financial institutions on promoting

macro-economic stability, pressure has been placed on the Cambodian government to

strengthen its "aggregate fiscal discipline" in other words, to bring government

spending in line with available revenue. One way to achieve this is to reduce the

size of Cambodia's bloated public sector - hence the interest in demobil-isation.

However, there is always the danger that the goals of economic stabilisation will

conflict with peace-related objectives. If demobilisation is to serve as a catalyst

for the broader challenge of restoring security and promoting development, it is

important to "buy in" both the Cambodian and international actors whose

support will be necessary to the exercise to succeed. The lack of representation

at the 26 May conference by key actors from the Ministry of Defence and the Parliamentary

Commission on Military Affairs - not to mention the regional military command that

will be most affected by this process

suggest that some of the key lessons of recent Cambodian history have been overlooked.

The failings of Cambodia's civil service reform programme are illustrative here.

The World Bank and the UNDP put downsizing at the center of the problems of administrative

capacity and devised an extremely complex package of reforms to implement this.

Not simply did the government lack the capacity to carry these out, but more importantly,

downsizing went against the one of the key factors that underpinned the stability

of the post-1993 CPP-FUNCINPEC-KPLNF coalition government. This was the agreement

that large numbers of functionaries from both FUNCINPEC and the KPLNF would be integrated

into the civil service.

A key milestone in the build-up of tensions that led to the final collapse of Cambodia's

post-1993 coalition government occurred in 1996 when Prince Ranariddh lashed out

at the CPP's monopoly of power at the FUNCINPEC Party Congress. This was only one

of a number of factors that led to the collapse of the coalition including the general

breakdown in communication between the two premiers. But there are certain parallels

between the pre-1997 period and the current one that should not be overlooked.

The ranks of the RCAF have been swelled in the past several years by defecting Khmer

Rouge soldiers and by the return of the forces loyal to Prince Ranariddh that had

broken away from the RCAF after July 1997. There is also indication that units affiliated

with all of the parties have been padded with "non-soldiers" - often, the

relations of unit commanders - in anticipation of the potentially huge pay-off that

will come with demobilisation. The process of selection can thus be expected to be

highly sensitive and to place some strain on political and military relations between

the various parties.

Because demobilisation is an inherently political process, it makes sense from the

very start to anticipate potential obstacles.

The idea is not simply to place pressure on the government to come clean on how it

is going to deal with the sensitive issues regarding selection, for clearly these

are complex issues that will require negotiation and compromise. But unless the government

demonstrates some commitment to addressing some of these more sensitive issues in

a transparent manner, there is a danger that the donor support crucial for the success

of the demobilisation will not be forthcoming.

At the same time, it is also important that the project design more effectively incorporate

the concerns of the donors who are being asked to support the process - including

NGOs, bilateral donors and the UN agencies. The international community has been

asked to contribute substantial sums of money into a trust fund. This has the advantage

of allowing the process to be centralised and implemented in a manner that is more

in harmony with the needs and goals of the government. Yet the danger is that some

donors may opt out of this approach due to concerns about the way the process is

being organised.

Dylan Hendrickson worked as an aide to FUNCINPEC from 1991-93 and is currently

a research fellow at the Centre for Defence Studies, King's College, London.



Please, login or register to post a comment

Latest Video

Turkish Embassy calls for closure of Zaman schools

With an attempted coup against the government of President Recep Erdogan quashed only days ago and more than 7,000 alleged conspirators now under arrest, the Turkish ambassador to Cambodia yesterday pressed the govern

CNRP lawmakers beaten

Two opposition lawmakers, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea were beaten unconscious during protests in Phnom Penh, as over a thousand protesters descended upon the National Assembly.

Student authors discuss "The Cambodian Economy"

Student authors discuss "The Cambodian Economy"

Students at Phnom Penh's Liger Learning Center have written and published a new book, "The Cambodian Economy".