The Impact of Security Force Assistance on State Fragility (SFAssist)

The Impact of Security Force Assistance on State Fragility (SFAssist)
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen visits the Bnaslawa training camp for training Peshmerga fighters, in Erbil, Iraq, 27 October 2015. Photo: Rainer Jensen, EPA/NTB Scanpix
Led by Øystein H. Rolandsen
Jan 2018 - Dec 2023

The SFAssist project aims to advance the understanding of how security force assistance (SFA) affects the coercive capacity of developing states, as well as its impact on peace, human rights, gender, development and democracy.

The project team intends to help create better informed policy-making and public debate, and improved practice by training institutions, on the effects of SFA in regions affected by state fragility. It will contribute to improved decisions on where and when to provide SFA, and how to design programmes with minimal risk of negative consequences.

The provision of SFA is worth billions of dollars each year, and involves providing arms, military training and advice. It has become a key strategy of Western governments to address new security challenges in developing countries, such as violent extremism, migration, and organized crime. Elements of SFA have been recognized for decades as components of development assistance aimed at improving governance in developing countries.

However, the effects of SFA have been subject to little research, and little is known about it's effects. Providers of SFA often intend to professionalize recipient armed forces, making them more disciplined, effective fighters in order to uphold democratic institutions and the rule of law. But some analysts have pointed to SFA as increasing risks that recipients will themselves be involved in corruption, coups, illicit proliferation of donated arms, and violations of human rights. Since training comprises a key element of SFA, the project aims to examine how gender norms are affected by the experience of participating in a training programme.

This three-year project maps global provision of SFA for the first time, and investigates in detail the provision of SFA by Norway and its Western allies (foremost the US, EU, the UK and France) in partner countries located in highly fragile regions (North, West and East Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan). Combining document analysis and highly interactive fieldwork (interviews and focus group discussions) we will use the research team's unique competence in military affairs in developing countries to advance our knowledge within a field of study where policy-relevant knowledge is sorely needed.


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Carrozza, Ilaria & Nicholas Marsh (2022) Great Power Competition and China’s Security Assistance to Africa: Arms, Training, and Influence, Journal of Global Security Studies 7(4): 1–22.
Dwyer, Maggie (2021) Security Force Assistance to The Gambia Following the 2017 Political Transition: A Recipe for Further Fragmentation?, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 15(5): 630–646.
Cimini, Giulia & Ruth Hanau Santini (2021) Applying Principal-Agent Theory to Security Force Assistance: The Atypical Case of Post-2015 Tunisia, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 15(5): 665–681.
Rolandsen, Øystein H.; Maggie Dwyer & William Reno (2021) Security Force Assistance to Fragile States: A Framework of Analysis, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding. DOI: 10.1080/17502977.2021.1988224: 563–579.
Marsh, Nicholas & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2021) Fragmented We Fall: Security Sector Cohesion and the Impact of Foreign Security Force Assistance in Mali, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding. DOI: 10.1080/17502977.2021.1988226: 614–629.
Heinecken, Lindy & Nina Wilén (2019) No Place Like Home? Postdeployment Reintegration Challenges Facing South African Peacekeepers, Armed Forces & Society. DOI: 10.1177/0095327X19894719.
Matisek, Jahara & William Reno (2019) Getting American Security Force Assistance Right: Political Context Matters, Joint Force Quarterly 92: 65–73.
Wilén, Nina (2019) Achieving a gendered transformation of the post-conflict military through security sector reform: unpacking the private–public dynamics, International Feminist Journal of Politics. DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2018.1559749.

Book Chapter

Wilén, Nina (2021) Justifying Interventions: The Case of ECOWAS in Liberia, in Simon, Hendrik; & Lothar Brock, eds, The Justification of War and International Order: from Past to Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press (339–354).
Wilén, Nina (2019) Romanticising the locals and the externals? Identifying challenges to a gendered SSR, in Nicolas Lemay-Hébert, ed., Handbook on Intervention and Statebuilding. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar (314–322).
Aning, Kwesi & Ernest Lartey (2019) Constitutional reform and security sector reform in Ghana, in Barany, Zoltan; Sumit Bisarya; Sujit Choudhry; & Richard Stacey, eds, Security sector reform in Constitutional transitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press (139–162).
Dwyer, Maggie (2019) The Military in African Politics, in Nic Cheeseman, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Reno, William (2019) The Dilemmas of Security Assistance to a Failed State: Lessons from Somalia’, in Clack, Timothy; & Robert Johnson, eds, Before Military Intervention: Upstream Stabilisation in Theory and Practice. Berlin: Springer (55–77).

Edited Volume

Holmes-Eber, Paula; & Kjetil Enstad, eds, (2020) Warriors or Peacekeepers? Building Military Cultural Competence. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Non-refereed Journal Article

Marsh, Nicholas (2019) Preventing Diversion: A Challenge for Arms Trade Treaty States Parties, History of Global Arms Transfer 8: 55–66.
Marsh, Nicholas (2018) The Availability Puzzle: Considering the Relationship between Arms and Violence Taking Place within States, The Journal of Research Institute for the History of Global Arms Transfer 6(2): 3–21.

Popular Article

Aning, Kwesi & Ilana Axelrod (2021) Tackling extremism bolstered by foreign, domestic assistance, Graphic Online, 26 August.
Carrozza, Ilaria (2020) Training Armed Forces in Africa: No Such Thing as a New Cold War, Corriere dell'Italianità, 12 November.

Conference Paper

Marsh, Nicholas & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2019) The impact of foreign security force assistance on security and governance in Mali, presented at 8th European Conference on African Studies, Edinburgh, 11–14 June.
Marsh, Nicholas & Marie Sandnes (2019) Institutional Amnesia? A Long-Term Perspective on Remote Warfare, presented at Conceptualizing Remote Warfare: The Past, Present and Future, University of Kent, 28 February – 1 March.
Marsh, Nicholas (2018) Relationships between Arms Availability and Violence, presented at Relationships between Arms Availability and Violence, Meiji University, Tokyo, 28 March.
Marsh, Nicholas & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2018) The impact of foreign security force assistance on security and governance in Mali, presented at Workshop on Security Force Assistance in Fragile States, Peace Research Institute Oslo, 5–7 December.

PRIO Policy Brief

Marsh, Nicholas (2020) Exporting Coercive Power: Regulations and Best Practices for Security Force Assistance, PRIO Policy Brief, 3. Oslo: PRIO.

PRIO Paper

Marsh, Nicholas; Øystein H. Rolandsen; Julian Karssen & Marie Sandnes (2020) Compounding Fragmentation: Security Force Assistance to Fragile States in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

Report - Other

Dehaene, Pierre; & Nina Wilén (2020) Challenges with Security Force Assistance in Niger: Understanding Local Context and Aligning InterestsBrussels: Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations.

Report - External Series

Wilén, Nina (2019) Belgian Special Forces in the Sahel: A Minimalist Footprint with a Maximalist Output?, Africa Policy Briefs, 26. Brussels: Egmont Royal Institute of International Relations.
Baranouski, Elise; Verity Coyle; Anna Crowe; Shannon Dick; Ishtiaq Khan; Nicholas Marsh; Jillian Rafferty; Anna Stavrianakis; Rachel Stohl; & Katherine Young (2019) ATT Monitor Report 2019, ATT Monitor. Control Arms.
Wilén, Nina (2018) Improving Peacekeeping Performance- Dilemmas and Goals, Africa Policy Briefs, 21. Brussels: Egmont Royal Institute of International Relations.
Dick, Shannon; Bruno Hellendorf; Ishtiaq Khan; Nicholas Marsh; Robert Muggah; Robert Perkins; Rachel Stohl; Nathan Thompson; Katherine Aguirre Tobón; Pieter Wezeman; Siemon Wezeman; & Katherine Young (2018) ATT Monitor Report 2018, ATT Monitor Annual Repot. ATT Monitor.


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