Strengthening democracy, security and civil-military relations through security sector reform

Submitting Institution

University of Bristol

Unit of Assessment

Politics and International Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Political Science
Law and Legal Studies: Law

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Summary of the impact

The research conducted by Professor Timothy Edmunds has had three primary impacts. First, it has played a role in framing policy and setting the operational agenda for security sector reform (SSR) programmes by national governments and international organisations. Second, the research has had a direct influence on the substance of security and defence reforms in parts of the post-communist and western Balkan regions, particularly in relation to the consolidation of democratic control over the security sector. Finally, it has had an impact on the evolution of British defence policy and armed forces since 2007, and on the debate leading up to the introduction of a new Armed Forces Covenant in May 2011. The research addresses change and transformation in military, police and intelligence agencies through the development and evolution of the concept of SSR. In so doing, it examines how security actors can both threaten and facilitate democratisation and human security goals in post-authoritarian and post-conflict societies, and the manner in which these issues can be addressed through international policy. It also `reverse engineers' the questions and lessons of SSR to interrogate wider challenges of defence transformation and civil-military relations in western democracies, and particularly the UK.

Underpinning research

The body of research relating to the impact claimed in this case study refers to 2003 onwards when Edmunds was Lecturer in Politics at the University of Bristol (2003-06), Senior Lecturer (2006-09), Reader (2009-12) and Professor of International Security (2012-present). Security sector reform is now widely employed by development and security actors in a range of contemporary conflict, post-conflict and post-authoritarian environments, from the Balkans to Afghanistan to Sub-Saharan Africa. The research applies intellectual rigour and insights from the civil-military relations field to this area [1] [2] [4] [7] [8] [9]. It is also `reverse engineers' the questions posed by SSR to interrogate wider challenges of defence transformation and civil- military relations in western democracies, and particularly the UK [3] [5] [6] [10].

From civilian control to democratic control: reframing civil-military relations. Edmunds' research was the first to elucidate a clear conceptual distinction between civilian control and democratic control of the armed forces and between `first' and `second generation' civil-military relations (and SSR) [1] [2] [4] [7] [8] [9]: this approach is now widely used amongst practitioners in the field. It argues that democratisation in the security sector is not captured well by notions of `civilian control' of the military, but that a wider conception of democratic governance of the security sector is required. This incorporates not simply formal, institutional and legalistic mechanisms of civilian supremacy over the military and security sector (that is `first generation' SSR) but also the development of capacities in other areas, including the civilian bureaucracy, parliament and civil-society, which enable oversight, transparency and accountability of the security sector to become meaningful (`second generation' SSR). The research thus emphasises the importance of civilian capacities in SSR as much as organisational change in the security sector itself or simple legislative change, noting the importance of effectiveness and efficiency of institutions if oversight and transparency are to function in practice. This work was initially developed with Cottey (Cork) and Forster (Nottingham, King's, Bristol) between 1999-2004 (Edmunds as second author) but mainly in Edmunds' further work at Bristol from 2003 onwards.

From neutral and generic to normative and contextual: redesigning security sector reform. The research also interrogates the empirical practice of security sector reform and civil-military relations through studies of postcommunist Europe and the Western Balkans [1] [2] [4] [7] [8] [9]. Here it emphasises the normative nature of the security sector reform project, in contrast to some policy literature which presents SSR as a neutral, technocratic process of organisational betterment. In so doing, it highlights the ways in which externally derived, often generic, models of reform can be inappropriate to local political, institutional and society circumstances, leading to policy failure. It captures the manner in which local actors can circumvent or co-opt external policy prescription through informal practices and institutions, which exist alongside their formal counterparts. The main research on this issue took place in 2002-09 and is ongoing.

From static and national to transformative and international: a critical approach to military transformation. Finally, the research applies insights from Edmunds' work on SSR [1] [2] [4] [7] [8] [9] to examine how organisational responses to new security challenges in western democracies are shaped through the interplay of international norms and domestic social, political and institutional circumstances. It focuses on the changing role of European armed forces, with an emphasis on the UK case [3] [5] [6] [10]. It argues that the demands of the internationalised military transformation agenda, adopted by European countries including the UK and reflected in ambitious defence policy goals, operational deployments and military procurement objectives, sit increasingly uneasily with domestic political circumstance, institutional interests and economic constraints. In the UK case (work developed initially with Forster with Edmunds as project lead and lead author), it argues that a substantive revision in the underlying assumptions of British defence policy and strategy making has become necessary. It contends that such debates cannot be divorced from the social context in which they take place and has argued for a renewed `military covenant' to underpin British civil-military relations. This research was initiated in 2006 and continues.

References to the research


[1] Edmunds, T. (2004) `Security Sector Reform: Concepts and Implementation' in Philipp Fluri and Miroslav Hadžić (eds), Sourcebook on Security Sector Reform (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces). Sector-Reform. 63 citations.

[2] Edmunds, T. (2007) Security Sector Reform in Transforming Societies: Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007). Can be supplied upon request. 23 citations.

[3] Edmunds, T. and Forster, A. (2007) Out of Step: The Case for Change in the British Armed Forces (London: Demos). 13,000 Google hits.

[4] Edmunds, T. (2008) `Intelligence Agencies and Democratisation: Continuity and Change in Serbia After Milošević', Europe-Asia Studies, 60: 1. DOI: 10.1080/09668130701760315. Peer reviewed. Listed in REF2.


[5] Edmunds, T. (2010) 'The Defence Dilemma in Britain', International Affairs, 86: 2, March. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2010.00887.x. Peer reviewed. Listed in REF2.


[6] Edmunds, T. (2012), `British Civil-Military Relations and the Problem of Risk', International Affairs, 88: 2, March. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2012.01070.x. Peer reviewed. Listed in REF2.



[7] Edmunds, T. `Serbia 2007: Illiberal Transformation or Protracted Transition', Institute for Advanced Studies, 2007, £2,843.

[8] Edmunds, T. `Security Sector Reform in Serbia-Montenegro and Croatia', University Research Fellowship (UoB), 2005-06, £10,000.

[9] Edmunds, T. and Hadzic, M. 'Security Sector Reform in Serbia', 2005-06, Institute for Advanced Studies Benjamin Meaker fellowship, £6,060.

[10] Edmunds T. (CI), with Dorman, A. (PI) and Dunn, D. (CI), `Reconnecting the academic community to British defence and security policy: the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review', ESRC Seminar Series, October 2013-September 2015, £21,623.

Details of the impact

The research has had impact in three main ways:

First, the research has played a role in framing policy and setting the operational agenda for security sector reform [1] [2] [8]. SSR has come to be an important policy tool used by a variety of international organisations and western nations in conflict, post-conflict and authoritarian environments. It has been particularly prominent in the western Balkans, sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently the countries of the `Arab Spring'. The UK Department for International Development (DfID) and Ministry of Defence (MoD), NATO (including the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF), EU and other national governments all have formal SSR assistance programmes. Increasingly, SSR has gained prominence in US policy too, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also more widely through a new programme of the US Institute for Peace (USIP). The impact of the research is apparent in the policy frameworks used by international and local actors in implementing SSR initiatives in practice, which apply explicitly or implicitly the first and second generation SSR framework developed in the research [1] [2] [8]. The UN Development Programme's 2002 Human Development Report, which first brought SSR issues onto the UN agenda (where they remain) drew on and cited Edmunds' work (pp. 91-92). Currently, the most influential framing documents in this area are the 2007 and 2008 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) DAC (Development Assistance Co-operation Directorate) Handbooks on SSR. These also draw on and cite and Edmunds' work on first and second generation SSR [1] [2] [8], including civilian capacity building in SSR in distinguishing between executive control, parliamentary oversight and civil society oversight and on the balance (and tensions) between effectiveness, oversight and efficiency in the security sector [h]. Since then, the research has informed many major contemporary SSR initiatives, shaping legislative, institutional and organisation reforms in many post-conflict and post-authoritarian societies. It has benefited international SSR practitioners, and contributed to increasing inclusion of SSR capacity building across the globe [h] [j].

The themes developed in the research are apparent in the SSR doctrine of a range of different organisations and actors, including the UN, OECD, EU, NATO's Partnership for Peace and ISAF, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and national governments such as that of the UK [see, for example, j]. These initiatives all employ concepts and formulations developed in Edmunds' work, including first and second generation SSR issues and the normative nature of the reform process [1] [2] [4] [7] [8] [9]. Indeed, most international SSR initiatives now explicitly recognise the importance of securing `local ownership' if they are to be successful, and the need to tailor reform programmes to local context [h, esp. Section 5; j, pp. 3, 11, 13, 19]. Edmunds has advised the USIP (on lessons from postcommunist Europe for SSR in the MENA region, with an impact on USIP SSR training programmes in those countries), the Folke Bernadotte Academy of the Swedish Foreign Ministry (as a member of the SSR working group feeding into the Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee for Swedish government SSR initiatives, including training and capacity-building programmes in Afghanistan, DRC, Liberia and elsewhere), and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (on first and second Generation SSR, providing training programmes and advice for policy makers and practitioners worldwide). Edmunds was invited to be one of two academic instructors for an SSR training course for Afghan parliamentarians, civil-servants, police and armed forces, run by NATO in February 2013. He is author of the `security sector reform' chapter in the Routledge Handbook of Civil- Military Relations (2012), a `primer' aimed at introducing policy makers and practitioners to the key principles of SSR. The research has also formed the main conceptual basis for a major project on internal roles for European Armed Forces for DCAF, which has run from 2010 to date [c]. The impact of the work can be seen in the regulatory frameworks for civil-security sector relations developed in countries undergoing SSR, in legislation governing parliamentary oversight of the military, police and intelligence agencies, and in SSR training programmes which emphasise the engagement of civilian as well as security sector personnel.

Second, the research has had a direct influence on the substance of security and defence reforms in parts of the post-communist and western Balkan regions. The framework developed in Edmunds 2004, 2007 and 2008 [1] [2] [4] continues to inform the substance of defence reviews in many of these countries and in Serbia particularly [f]. This is especially the case in terms of the way in which these documents have drawn (either implicitly or explicitly) on the first and second generation framework in distinguishing between civilian and democratic control of armed forces, and structured their discussions and arrangements for civil-military relations on this basis. The research has benefited Ministries of Defence, armed forces and security sector reform practitioners in postcommunist Europe and the Western Balkans. It has contributed to strengthened democratic control of the armed forces in these countries, including the engagement of civil society actors in arrangements for oversight and civil-military relations. It has also helped shape the frameworks used to define expected outcomes and evaluate such reforms as they have taken place [a]. The impact of the research has been explicitly recognised by defence policy makers in the region [a] and has led to Edmunds' appointment to the Advisory Board of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, a local expert group with a direct role in drafting and reviewing Serbian defence and security legislation.

Finally, the research has had a significant impact on the evolution of British defence policy and armed forces since 2006. On publication, Edmunds and Forster 2007 [3], which applied lessons from Edmunds' research on SSR to the UK defence reform process, received widespread attention and analysis in all major UK newspapers and media outlets and led to questions in both Houses of Parliament. It is widely viewed as providing the first systematic analysis of the structural tensions within British defence and civil-military relations and has been called `the single most important think tank publication on defence' [i]. The arguments of the paper — particularly with regard to the discrepancy between ambitious policy goals and procurement objectives and the practical constraints of operations and defence planning, as well as the changing relationship of soldier to the armed forces and military covenant; all of which are manifestations of the `local ownership' critique developed in [1] [2] [4] [7] [8] [9] — set the agenda for a subsequent proliferation of academic and policy work in this area [g]. Edmunds 2010 [5] — drafts of which were circulated in policy-making circles in Whitehall — developed these themes and coalesced the argument in terms which were closely reflected in the government's defence green paper of 2010 [e, pp. 12-16] and subsequently in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of the same year. This was the first document of its type for many years to take seriously the gap between defence policy commitments and available resources, reflecting one of the key finding of Edmunds' research. The research at [3] called for a wholesale review of the UK defence establishment and MoD, a call that was finally recognised in the Levene Report on Defence Reform of 2011. The formalisation of an armed forces covenant was adopted in the Conservative Party's 2010 General Election manifesto and passed into legislation in 2011, with direct impact on the level of support offered to armed forces personnel and their families [d].

Edmunds 2012 [6] has been included on the UK Chief of the Defence Staff's `Recommended Reading List' [b], indicating the purchase of the research amongst strategic planners at the highest level of the MoD and armed forces. The research [3] [5] [6] has been included on the curriculum for the Advanced Command and Staff Course MA programme at the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), the most important UK educational programme for military officers preparing for senior command. Edmunds is a member of working groups that are shaping aspects of UK and NATO defence transformation [10]. These include the UK MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) working group on strategic futures, which is developing new strategic planning methodologies to be used in the forthcoming UK National Security Strategy and SDSR of 2015; and a NATO working group on developing common professional military education standards across the Alliance (having been nominated to join the group by the Director of the UK Defence Academy and the Commandant of the Joint Services Command and Staff College). In September 2013, he was elected to the national executive of the Council of Military Education Committees of the UK (COMEC) the primary contact point between UK universities and the MoD.

Sources to corroborate the impact

[a] Factual statement, Parliamentary Ombudsperson for the Republic of Serbia Parliament (2013). Corroborates impact in Serbia.

[b] Chief of the Defence Staff (2013), Recommended Reading List: Defence Organisation, UK Defence Academy, Corroborates impact on UK senior military personnel.

[c] Schnabel, A. and Krupanski, M (2012), `Mapping Evolving Internal Roles for Armed Forces', Security Sector Reform Paper 7 (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces), Corroborates impact on SSR processes.

[d] UK MoD (2011), The Armed Forces Covenant (London: MoD), Corroborates impact on the MoD, services personnel and their families.

[e] UK MoD (2010), Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review (Norwich: The Stationary Office), Corroborates impact on UK strategy.

[f] Republic of Serbia MoD (2010), White Paper on Defence of the Republic of Serbia (Belgrade: Ministry of Defence), Library/Publications/Detail/?lng=en&id=156804. Corroborates impact in Serbia.

[g] Taylor, C. and Waldman, T. (2008) `British Defence Policy since 1997', Research Paper 08/57 27 (London: House of Commons). Corroborates impact on UK defence.

[h] OECD (2008), OECD DAC Handbook on Security Sector Reform (SSR): Supporting Security and Justice, OECD 2008, Corroborates impact in OECD SSR.

[i] Dorman, A. and Dunn, D. (2008), `The Strange Death of British Defence Policy', British International Studies Association Conference. Corroborates impact on UK defence thinking.

[j] UN (2008), `Securing Peace and Development: The Role of the United Nations in Supporting Security Sector Reform', Report of the Secretary General (New York: United Nations), 23 Jan., Corroborates impact on UN-supported SSR.