Civil society is widely acknowledged as an important ingredient of democracy and a bulwark against authoritarianism.
Protecting democracy—and the constitutional order and the framework of values that underpin it—is a matter of national security to all democratic nations. An active, vibrant and strong civil society is thereby part of what makes democratic nations more secure. This link is even more pertinent in the era of hybrid threats, which are complex, ambiguous and unpredictable. In the current security environment, states and societies must be resilient to multiple stresses and shocks in order to be able to endure hardship and remain functional under duress. National resilience is currently one of the most popular concepts in national security policymaking, and civil society has rightfully emerged as its pivotal component.
Ukraine is a perfect case study of the role that civil society plays in national resilience and, thus, security. A target of Russia’s multifaceted aggression since early 2014—and of Moscow’s corrosive influence strategy and “active measures” well before that—it overcame the initial shock partly thanks to the rapid and effective self-mobilisation of civil society. Ukraine is now an incubator and a laboratory for innovative ideas and practices that give substance to a whole-of-society approach to security and defence, whereby members of society from all walks of life assume responsibility for and contribute to the nation’s security alongside and in conjunction with the state authorities. However, institutionalising this approach and making the best use of it in bolstering national resilience is running into difficulties due to political, structural, societal and other factors at play in present-day Ukraine. In particular, cooperation and synergy between the state authorities and civil society are hampered by a variety of shortcomings and obstacles. At the same time, the ongoing security sector and governance reforms offer a window of opportunity to promote such synergy and bring national resilience to a new level.
Between 2016 and 2018, ICDS conducted a development cooperation project on Ukraine’s civil society and national security, “Resilient Ukraine”. Its research strand, which combined extensive desk and field research (in-depth interviews, focus groups, sociological surveys, social media monitoring and workshops), sought to understand the evolution, current state of play and future prospects of civil society’s involvement in Ukraine’s national security. Although we did examine developments at the national level, we particularly focused on the regions regarded as most exposed to Russia’s aggression and vulnerable to hybrid threats—in Ukraine’s east and south-east, including in the vicinity of the so-called “line of contact”. This provided an opportunity to understand regional and local layers of security. These layers are often overlooked in the nation’s capital, Kyiv, which often feels somewhat distant—geographically and mentally—from what is happening closer to what is still a war zone.
The key operating concept in this research was national resilience, defined as the ability of a nation to recover, adapt, function and positively develop while under intense negative influence or crisis. It is regarded as a multi-dimensional concept, mirroring the notion of comprehensive security—encompassing dimensions ranging from political, societal and cognitive aspects to economic, cyber and physical security (e.g. critical infrastructure protection). It requires, among other things, coherence and synergy between its stakeholders, especially the state and civil society. Our hypothesis was that there are gaps between the state and civil society in Ukraine that make achieving such coherence and synergy an enormously challenging undertaking, especially as the conflict in the east of the country continues to test Ukraine’s resilience in multiple ways.
In the course of the project, ICDS published two papers analysing various aspects of the ongoing security sector reforms, civil society’s role and national resilience in Ukraine. This report brings together and highlights various findings of the research strand and develops some recommendations on how to eliminate those identified gaps, thereby putting resilience-building efforts on a broader and more sustainable basis at all levels—national, regional and local.
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