U.S. efforts to improve security, human rights, and accountability in repressive states have a better chance of success when states are already trying to convert to democracy and are on the way to setting up a solid justice system. But even then, good intentions don’t always work, according to a study by the RAND Corporation’s National Security Research Division.
RAND considered four cases within the last 15 years in which the United States provided internal security assistance to repressive regimes across the world: El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The security forces in these places were not accountable to the public, their practices were not transparent, and they did not share America’s political ideals.
The results of U.S. assistance to Uzbekistan since September 11, 2001, were judged disappointing in that accountability, transparency, and human rights have not improved significantly. Uzbek officials have since become increasingly autocratic and repressive, and some of the country’s counterterrorism units are blamed for harassing and persecuting the political opposition, the researchers found.
“The United States should end, reduce, or significantly restructure assistance in areas where it has not achieved positive results,” the report said in reference to both the Uzbek case and proffered aid at large.
Efforts by the United States to upgrade accountability and human rights in Pakistan have been largely fruitless as well. The Pakistani army has participated in home demolition, seizure of businesses, and forfeiture of properties and assets. The American assistance effort has focused on securing the regime of President Pervez Musharraf as an important step in the war on terror, neglecting efforts to improve effectiveness and accountability, the report states.
In Afghanistan, the police forces have improved their accountability and human rights practices “from a low baseline” in 2001 with assistance from the United States, RAND said. Insurgent groups, such as the Taliban and warlord militias, are now alone in perpetrating any serious human rights abuses in the country, according to the report. The drawback is that Afghanistan’s internal security forces do not appear to have improved their behavior, while political violence has increased.
RAND recommended three modes of action: Bring past human rights abusers to justice; remove warlords, regional commanders, and organized criminal groups from power; and seek greater reform of the Afghan justice system.
While highlighting the failures of these U.S. foreign policy efforts, the RAND analysts said they disagree with those who argue that the United States should abstain from offering internal security assistance to repressive nations. “Post-conflict environments, such as those in Afghanistan and El Salvador, can provide an important ‘window of opportunity’ for the United States and other international actors to exert pressure and encourage change,” the report said.
Case in point: the American assistance to El Salvador after the 1992 Chapultepec Accords improved the accountability and human rights practices of the police, RAND noted. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. military were key to the dissolution of the three military-controlled Salvadorean security forces that were tainted by human rights abuses. The National Civilian Police which, took their place, boasted a doctrine that stressed human rights and civilian leadership.
RAND detailed the key factors that make some intervention efforts more successful than others. At the top of the list was the design and duration of any assistance. The report noted that it can take years to train, equip, and mentor local security forces, change their culture, and build infrastructure. In addition, it takes considerable time for new generations to come to power who are taught the lessons of transparency and accountability. “Early withdrawal of aid generally assures failure,” the RAND analysts wrote.
A functioning justice system is another crucial component to ensuring security, accountability, and human rights, the think-tank said. Any improvement in policing is undermined by fallible sentencing, an incompetent judiciary, and inhumane prison conditions. On the flip side, a weak justice system increases the prevalence of organized crime and extremist groups, leading to “a spiral of political assassinations, extrajudicial killings, and petty crime,” the report said.
Local government support is a third factor influencing the success or failure of external assistance. Committed leadership in the host state—particularly Ministry of Interior officials—can improve the impact of police reform efforts.
“When there is no political will for reform, U.S. police training programs have had little or no success,” said RAND.
To ensure better use of limited foreign aid resources, the U.S. should do a better job of vetting countries before giving them aid. The think-tank was not optimistic about rapid progress on this front. “Confusion regarding the legal requirements and specific program situations remains, and this is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.”