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Public-Private Partnerships and National Security

In the field of international development, Public-Private Partnerships, also known as PPPs, as well as in other fields are increasingly becoming the norm. While this type of cross-sector cooperation may have been rare in the past it is becoming a standard approach to addressing any number of development challenges from education, health and infrastructure to security sector reform. PPPs are generally defined as cooperation between government and private enterprises, involving civil society organizations and consultancies that work towards common objectives, usually on a contractual basis.

PPP will never replace traditional methods of delivering aid to developing countries, but represent a growing and adaptable instrument for delivering assistance in a more effective way. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development took an early lead in PPPs and currently has over 1,500, with more than 3,000 distinct implementation partners. 

Another example is the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which spent over € 48.3 million on 54 PPPs in 2011, mainly in the health, sanitation and food security sectors. Canada has also employed the PPP model to deliver its aid programs overseas, and has increasingly used this approach to implement security sector reform programs around the world.

The reasons this dramatic shift has taken place are many, including governments which want to leverage or supplement their limited resources, or because they seek skills, experience and technology which do not exist in the public sector. This is increasingly why PPPs are found in all types of justice and police reform programs, even extending to initiatives which strengthen intelligence services and counter-terrorism efforts abroad as a means of protecting domestic populations.

A growing concern around the world is the impact of foreign conflicts on domestic security, particularly the impact of returning fighters on potential radicalization within diaspora communities. Governments not only acknowledge the value of PPPs in countering these threats, but understand the importance of civil society, the private sector and communities themselves to support these efforts. The research has also shown that it is increasingly difficult for police agencies to develop meaningful terrorist profiles or ‘checklists’ that identify extremists or individuals at risk of radicalization before they act.

Instead governments and police agencies have begun to focus their efforts on identifying individuals that might signal the process of radicalization or violent intent. For obvious reasons, the role of the community is central to this approach, and it is members of the community itself that are the most likely to identify individuals at risk, and the threat they pose, before the community is affected. This is why the principles of community policing are so crucial to this effort, and it is through police officers working directly in the community, building relationships that gain the community’s support, that emphasize that both the police and the community itself is ultimately responsible for ensuring safety and stability.

This was certainly the case in my work in Northern Ireland, where so many of the policing reforms focused on strengthening community policing principles, and using these approaches to counter the traditional narrative that the police existed solely to reinforce the state’s authority, usually in a robust manner. This is also the case in a project I’m currently working on it East Africa, where once again it is the community itself that is at the root of counter-terrorism efforts. In this instance it is the community itself that has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of interest in extremism and radicalization, and which through its own efforts at tracking suspicious individuals or groups has worked to ensure its own safety and security.

This does not mean that communities don’t need to be helped in these efforts however, and the increasingly diverse group of stakeholders that help to keep our communities safe still needs to be empowered and supported to ensure effective and timely awareness, prevention and response. Although police agencies will continue to play a central role in responding to a threat once it has been identified, governments are developing more specific community-oriented approaches and tools to help counter-terrorism efforts, many of which emphasize the role of private enterprise to support community safety.

The role of the private sector is not only one of helping the government implement programs in development to supplement national security efforts, but also one of providing some of the tools and means necessary for both the community and the police to act more effectively. Technology is obviously a big part of this, and there are currently many technology-based solutions that can be tailored to support and focus the efforts of communities and the police.

The best examples include information gathering software, increasingly developed for application on smart phones, and linked to central data bases that in turn support powerful analytical programs, as well as facial recognition applications that instantaneously link to and query numerous law enforcement databases. All of these technologies can help both communities and the police build a richer and more accurate picture of individuals at potential risk, as well as suggest the most effective means of identifying them before they become radicalized or commit acts of violence, and thereby helping to keep all of our communities safer.

Mark Reber is a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with 20 years professional experience in policing and security sector reform.

Prior to leaving the RCMP Mark was seconded to several policing oversight agencies, including five years as Chief of Staff to the Oversight Commissioner for Policing Reform in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and eighteen months as a Senior Inspector with the Garda Síochána Inspectorate in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. His subsequent professional efforts were focused on leading policing reform assessments in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central America, continuing to strengthen civilian oversight in Northern Ireland, providing expert advice on police complaints and internal discipline systems in Palestine, and providing anti-corruption capacity building in southern Africa.

Mark holds a Diploma in Management from the University of Ulster, a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Politics from the University of Toronto and in International Relations from Carleton University.