Unity of Effort and Effective Collaboration or Disarray in Practice? – Anthony Thomas


Post conflict peacebuilding, institute and state building is performed by a diverse range of actors, alongside state institutions where strategic objectives and mandates fall under the umbrella of ‘unity of effort,’ integrated with local ownership.  The gap between policy and practice is well documented, and this article will begin with citing the current migration crisis as an exemplar of the strategic and political drive towards an optimistic, constructive and coordinated approach amongst the European states. Furthermore, the article will then study the effectiveness, or otherwise, of cooperation, collaboration and coordination of security sector reform in practice.

Current Position

Cooperation, collaboration and coordination amongst the European entities is fundamental, requiring a multidimensional assignment on the ground to stabilise the situation across Europe, and in order to prevent further humanitarian, psycho-social suffering and tragic loss of life. Resolutions will not be developed without its challenges, implementation likewise. Notably, the Secretary General is urging European leaders to ensure unity, solidarity and responsibility, besides the appropriate assistance to be provided to refugees and migrants, as difficult discussions take place between Europe’s interior ministers on such crisis (The Guardian 2015). In this regard, and the crux of the writers’ argument, will there be solidarity at a strategic and policy level, and how will this be translated into effective action in practice?

The current conflict landscape, coupled with the migration crisis moving across Europe from countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are heart rendering, moreover it is complex phenomenon and multifaceted in nature due to ongoing political, economic and social instability. Furthermore, humanitarian institutions, civilian and political leaders are gravely concerned as the social suffering unfolds daily, which is depicted across a range of social and media channels. The route from war to peace for thousands is overwhelming, with peace a distant dream, or such an aspiration that is difficult and dangerous to achieve. As the Secretary-General commented he is concerned regarding the predicament facing migrants who are fleeing conflict and oppression (Ki Moon 2015: n.p.).


Challenges remain, as the drafting and implementation of such strategies being discussed in Brussels may well be problematic. Reinforcing this perspective, Anderson (2011) asserts that turning strategy into realisation in fragile states is complex and challenging, whereas Sedra (2009) argues that there is a division between policy and practice divide with SSR in a post-conflict area. Studying the root causes of such unprecedented migration flows, Donais (2014) argues that institutional capacities can only be restored if national actors undertake ownership during the post conflict period, whereas Hartzell (2011) argues that reform programmes in a post war setting vary owing to the conflict related conditions. Designing such a strategy for the current migration crisis requires a long term vision, underpinned by what Sedra (2010: 6) describes in terms of SSR as a ‘whole of government coordination,’ that demands a structured framework and the coordination of effort between institutions and sectors.

Coordination, Cooperation, Collaboration in the field?

In theatre, strategies, directives, mission mandates and targets are commonplace. Similarly such words as horizontal cooperation, collaboration, coordination, cross cutting and unity of effort reverberates daily. Whilst interconnection, bi-lateral arrangements and common objectives are crucial in a post conflict society, capacity building and local ownership is at times problematic and a noteworthy issue. Coordination, synchronisation and multi donor meetings are abundant, where renamed fora are frequent, underwritten at times by the phrase ‘bottom up approach’ locally owned and driven.

An exemplar of a multi-agency meeting recently was summarised in terms of alignment and coordination with counterparts and donor partners; using a common approach to identify overlaps or collaboration opportunities early on; besides common policy approaches and the need to identify any programming overlaps/conflicts, an outcome many years following post conflict reconstruction and the commencement of many development programmes. Enthusiasm, professionalism and the desire to drive projects and state institutions are evident, however, occasionally subjective agendas and the want to reinvent the wheel is unmistakeable where ‘mission creep’ can ensue. Developing these arguments further, Chetail (2009: 13) asserts, ‘the major operational difficulty lies in coordinating a multitude of civilian and military actors whose areas of expertise are extremely diverse,’ while Hanggi (2009) argues that there most SSR programmes are instigated and financed by multilateral and donor organisations, who impose their knowledge and expertise, and where local resistance is evident, they will use political leverage to progress. Underscoring these observations Oosterveld and Galand (2012) claim:

Another important reason why donors often remain and want to remain in the driver’s seat is because they are usually involved with serious financial commitments often constituting the bulk of the spending allocated for reform initiatives (2012: 201).

Moreover, de Coning (2014: n.p.) argues that a number of actors can interfere too much, where such behaviour or style of engagement becomes intrusion, adding to the fragility of the state.

What needs to be done and why?

Thus, all actors involved in building security and justice in post-conflict environments need to appreciate that SSR programmes or similar reform programmes are complex and multifaceted, requiring all-encompassing engagement, and mindful of duplication of effort. Whilst institutional procedures may be diverse, the World Bank (2006) assert:

Improvement in project selectivity and prioritization would help to limit overburdening of government capacity and enable better absorption of resources (2006: 11).

Consequently, all providers of technical assistance and those concerned with political development should ensure coherence at the strategic and operational level, and not collaborative competition through power dynamics or power relationships. Needless to say there is no one solution or formula to restore security, embed the rule of law or to achieve institutional and social transformation. Success is difficult to define, however, to minimise misunderstanding in practice, state building requires the commitment and political will from the national institutions and the requirement for them to be in the driving seat, embracing and directing the strategies. This claim is further corroborated by Panarelli (2010) who maintains that local involvement is necessary to incorporate issues and priorities.


Anderson, L. R. (2011) ‘Security Sector Reform and the Dilemmas of Liberal Peacebuilding’, Danish Institute for International Studies Working Paper 2011:31, Denmark, http://www.diis.dk/files/media/publications/import/extra/security_sector_reform_and_the_dilemmas_of_liberal_peacebuilding_1.pdf, (accessed 22nd September 2015).

Chetail, V. ( 2009) Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

de Coning, C. (2014) Can the New Deal for Fragile States Live Up To its Promise to Significantly Shift Agency to the Local?, http://g4dpblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/can-new-deal-for-fragile-states-live-up.html, (accessed 23rd September 2015).

Donais, T. (2014) ‘National Ownership and post-conflict peace building: From principle to practice’. Policy Brief No 43.The Centre for International Governance Innovation. https://www.cigionline.org/sites/default/files/cigi_pb_43.pdf, (accessed 23rd September 2015)

Oosterveld, W. and Galand, R. (2012) ‘Justice Reform, Security Sector Reform and Local Ownership.’ Hague Journal on the Rule of Law 4 (1): 194 -209.

Hänggi, H. (2009) ‘Security Sector Reform’, in Chetail V Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hartzell, C.A. (2011) ‘Missed Opportunities: The Impact of DDR and SSR in Afghanistan’. United States Institute of Peace, http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR270-Missed_Opportunities_0.pdf

Ki Moon, B, (2015) Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation facing refugees and migrants in Europe, http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=8994, (accessed 23rd September 2015).

Panarelli, L. (2010) ‘Local Ownership of Security Sector Reform’, United States Institute of Peace, http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/PB11%20Local%20Ownership%20of%20Security%20Sector%20Reform.pdf

Sedra, M. (2009) e – Conference Report: The Future of Security Sector Reform, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, https://www.cigionline.org/publications/2009/7/future-security-sector-reform,  (accessed 23rd September 2015).

Sedra, M. (2010) Security Sector Reform 101; Understanding the Concept, Charting Trends and Identifying Challenges, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, Ontario, https://www.cigionline.org/sites/default/files/ssr_101_final_april_27.pdf

The Guardian (2015) Refugee crisis: EU ministers to discuss binding quotas – as it happened, http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/sep/22/refugee-crisis-eu-ministers-to-discuss-binding-quotas-live-updates#block-56015073e4b0ae9eeb187f31, (accessed 23rd September 2015).

World Bank (2006) Progress on Strengthening Collaboration With United Nations Partners in Post-Conflict Countries, International Development Association Operations Policy and Country Services Fragile States Unit, http://www.worldbank.org/ida/papers/IDA14_Replenishment/Mid-Term/IDANETPC.pdf, (accessed 23rd September 2015).


Cooperation, collaboration and coordination are key elements in reconstruction and redevelopment in post conflict settings. Units, agencies and organisations, who have a common interests and goals, should work together in harmony to make their efforts more compatible, effective and efficient, besides implementing a shared vision of security. Furthermore, partnership working allows those to share their skills, knowledge and experience, where decision making is based on a collaborative approach. Such efforts require a structured and accountable mechanism to fulfil the overarching strategic policy, as security in fragile or post conflict state is a prerequisite for social, economic development, human rights and long term peace.

The issues of cooperation, collaboration and coordination are addressed on a regular basis, and will continue in the future. Lessons learned, doctrines, policies and academic articles have covered this topic and attempts made to ensure shoulder to shoulder, and the cooperative implementation of common programmes and cross cutting initiatives. However, and as highlighted previously, post conflict involves a vast amount of partners, regional bodies, donors, civilian and military agencies have different procedures, cultures, languages, mandates and agendas, which is without personal views. Subsequently bridging and bringing together individual institutions is far from simple, and will not be without its challenges in the future. Hence why local / state ownership is a central principle in SSR programmes. The drive and political commitment is required from the beleaguered state and their principal national entities, with the readiness to engage and politically govern, otherwise programmes become weak, unsustainable and lost on the ground, where institutional development in the areas of security and justice fade.

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