Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Liberia: security sector reform and the international drug trade

Today's Liberia post started when Gulliver emailed me about this: "The National Guard will add Liberia to its State Partnership Program this year (2009), bringing the number of African nations taking part in the program to eight."

What's so interesting about this you ask? Well, first of all the US funded the recruiting, training, and vetting of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The UN Secretary General, in his report dated 10 August 2009, provides the following update on how that's going:
Development of the new 2,000-strong Armed Forces of Liberia continued to make progress. The first battalion started the United States Army Training and Evaluation Programme, which it will complete in September, while the second battalion will complete the programme in December. At that time, the United States contractors currently training and equipping the force will hand over to the Ministry of Defence, which will assume responsibility for training and standing up the new army. The United States has indicated that it plans to assign as many as 60 United States serving military personnel to continue mentoring the Armed Forces of Liberia, beginning in January 2010.

So it looks like we'll continue to work with the AFL as it builds capacity, an officer corps, etc. To get back to the role of of National Guard units, the article (from the snazzy AFRICOM website) explains:
Dankyan [the Liberia Desk Officer at AFRICOM] evaluated their military exercises to ensure a standard level of proficiency. After finding them ready, he started the process of matching them with a state that meets their needs.

These needs can be very specific. Some countries are recovering from war and request states with high engineering quotients to help rebuild essential structures. Some need help in planning for natural and manmade disasters, and still others want experience in farming...

For Liberia, a coastal state, the ideal partner would have expertise in ports and agriculture, he said. Dankyan said he has yet to choose a state partner because so many have volunteered to work with Liberia.
Let's hope that happens because as far as I know, we haven't done much to build Liberia's capacity to manage its borders. In particular, I don't think we've provided much support to build Liberia's Coast Guard (we're talking four 32 ft and four 28 ft crafts and 350 personnel). This is important because, as the BBC reports, Liberia (or rather the region as a whole) has become a trading platform for drugs moving from South America to western Europe. It's also important because the Liberian conflict was largely funded by trading diamonds, timber, rubber...and other commodities. Finally, it's important because beyond deterring and reducing illegal activity, effective border and customs management serves as the basis for reliable government revenue.

A wider question though: in countries like Liberia, with porous borders, resources, and limited capacity to manage borders, how do you fix that problem over the long run?

1 comment:

  1. 1. I think it's pretty cool that the major they've got working the Liberia desk at AFRICOM was actually born in Liberia.

    2. The SPP is a great program for planners, because it's one of the few mechanisms we have for the Army to actual gain some sort of detailed, granular knowledge about the capabilities of partner nations. When you consider that "building partner capacity/capabilities" is one of the fundamental mandates of the military under our current national security and defense strategies, it's vital to understand where a country is at before we can figure out what resources to apply to get them where we would like to go.

    3. Having said that, there's no formalized mechanism for the NGB guys who spend time in-country with HN security forces to institutionalize their knowledge for the Army's use. This is something that needs to change.

    4. On your last, it certainly requires a more broad, whole-of-government approach and a coherent plan to build capacity. Of course, before any of that even matters, you probably need development, a certain level of literacy, and a government that's willing and able to create revenue for itself. That stuff ain't a DoD mission, and right now the USG doesn't really have the resources to make a difference on that kind of stuff in any but the most vital countries (or those in which we've just fought wars, and our influence there is questionable).

    So I guess the answer to your last is "eh, it's hard." Or something even more pessimistic, like, "you can't."