February 2, 2018

Security Sector Reform, Resilience Building and Civil Society in Ukraine


“You cannot have a resilient society without civil society.”
Hanna Hopko, Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Parliament)

Security sector reform in Ukraine gained new momentum and energy after the dramatic events of the Maidan Revolution in 2013 and the start of Russia’s—still ongoing—undeclared war against Ukraine. One of the key issues in this reform is how to ensure that Ukraine’s vibrant civil society sector—a vital contributor to Ukraine’s self-defence efforts against Russia’s hybrid aggression in Crimea and Donbass—has a properly acknowledged and well-established role as a stakeholder in Ukraine’s national security. Empowering civil society organisations at the local, regional and national levels as partners of the state authorities—and as a vital tissue connecting those authorities with wider society—are essential ingredients of Ukraine’s broader national resilience.

The research track of the ICDS project “Resilient Ukraine” investigates the evolving role of civil society in Ukraine’s security and defence and how this impacts national resilience. It focuses on generating new knowledge, conducting analysis and developing policy recommendations on addressing critical gaps and developing greater synergies—in goals, values, motivation, capabilities and communication—between the state and civil society. The full research findings and policy recommendations will be presented in the forthcoming policy paper and a companion report, scheduled for release in late Spring 2018.

As part of this work, our Non-Resident Research Fellow Anna Bulakhprovides an overview and analysis of the progress made thus far and various impediments that arise in Ukrainian security sector reform, with particular emphasis on efforts to involve civil society in this important process. Non-Resident Research Fellow Maxime Lebrunbrings the external dimension into the discussion by analysing how the EU is attempting to project resilience into Ukraine by assisting reforms in one particular sector of national security—law enforcement and the rule of law.

Both papers are predicated—like the entire “Resilient Ukraine” project—on the notion that greater involvement of civil society in national security brings substantial benefits in terms of enhancing overall resilience. However, it should be remembered that there might be a dark side of this phenomenon, whereby the vacuum created by the state’s weakness in terms of governance capacities and sound political leadership is filled not only by benign civil sector organisations but also by aggressive actors with very retrograde and extremist agendas—perhaps even engineered and manipulated by hostile foreign powers. There is an ever-present risk in Ukraine that, as the state tries to restore its monopoly over the legitimate use of force and rein in such malignant actors, who attempt to take justice and policing into their own hands, serious collateral damage will be inflicted on the image of—and trust in—the entire civil society sector. This will make the task of creating synergy between this sector and the state authorities in Ukraine’s national security even more difficult.

Download: Security Sector Reform in Ukraine – Finding the Place for Civil Society (PDF)

The Challenge of Projecting Resilience – The EU and the Advancement of the Rule of Law in Ukraine (PDF)