Although important, development assistance aimed at reforming the security sectors in Palestine, Lebanon, and Yemen has achieved only limited results. The bulk of such aid has consisted of military training and equipment, which does nothing to ensure that security forces answer to legitimate civilian leaders.

Whether by design or default, the United States and European countries have a narrow focus on counterterrorism in Palestine, Lebanon, and Yemen—all countries with weak and quasi-democratic governments. Without an integrated approach that includes support for democracy and the rule of law, security sector reforms are not sustainable and can reinforce local power struggles.
Five Lessons for the United States and Europe:

  • Emphasize reconciliation: Donors should help build consensus in Palestine, Lebanon, and Yemen.  
  • Don’t condition aid on the exclusion of opposition groups: National governments should take the lead in security sector reform, but domestic opposition groups should not be excluded.
  • All assistance alters the domestic balance of power: Donors need to recognize that security assistance always impacts power balances—it helps one group more than others—and distorts incentives.
  • Rhetoric about the importance of democracy and the rule of law should become reality: The West often talks about the necessity of democratic reforms and developing the rule of law, but most assistance goes to counterterrorism—more assistance should match the rhetoric and support better governance.
  • Security personnel need civilian leadership: Training, equipping, and building operational skills only goes so far if democratic oversight is missing. 

“To enable real reform, the West must adopt a comprehensive approach which treats security reform as only one part of a broader political strategy, and encourage governments and security commanders in Palestine, Lebanon, and Yemen to buy into such a strategy,” says Sayigh. “Pursuing counterterrorism in the absence of the rule of law perpetuates the undemocratic governance of the security sector and undermines state building and post-conflict reconstruction.”