Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law’s Security Sector Governance project addresses difficult, often ambitious efforts embodied in a variety of multi- and unilateral activities, with labels such as Security Cooperation (SC); Security Assistance (SA); Security Sector Reform (SSR); Security Force Assistance (SFA); and Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR).

Part 1: Contracting in Complex Operations

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Contracting in Complex Operations:  Developing a Contracting Framework for Security Sector Reconstruction and Reform

Sponsoring Agency

Naval Postgraduate School (Award #NPS-BAA-12-002)

Project Team

  • David Van Slyke, Principal Investigator
  • Nicholas J. Armstrong, Co-Principal Investigator
  • William C. Banks, Senior Researcher

Project Description

This research project examines the challenge of contracting for training and mentoring services for foreign security force assistance in complex contingency operations and aims to develop a Security Sector Reconstruction and Reform (SSR) Contracting Framework for the future purchase and integration of these services.

Using Afghanistan as a critical case, we will analyze diverse stakeholder perspectives gained from ethnographic interviews of subject matter experts from the myriad institutions involved to understand what elements of a complex service such SSR are working as intended and how these stakeholders are collaborating together to continuously improve outcomes.

This project draws on a contracting framework developed for the purchase and integration of complex services, and our findings to date suggests that rules, relationship strategies, governance mechanisms, and mutual understanding are critical to using contracts to purchase complex services for SSR in contingency operations. Consequently, a contracting framework is needed that deliberately considers the complexities of SSR training and advising in complex environments.

Project Significance

Our findings to date suggest that the private sector’s role in providing security sector training and advisory services—both in Afghanistan and globally (i.e. post-Arab Spring)—will remain significant for years to come.

Given the long-term demand for improved security governance in fragile environments, the need for a contracting framework increases as governments around the world, especially the US, enter into lengthier contract relationships for the procurement of these complex services and products.

In the long-term, ensuring goal alignment with a focus on win-win outcomes that accounts for performance and cost effectiveness is beneficial for both the buyers and sellers of these services. The case illustration of Afghanistan is not unique, but rather the framework being developed has more generalizable application to future donor state security assistance to fragile states.

Next Steps

We seek to conduct a round of confidential interviews with current and former civilian contractor trainers and advisors to capture their experiences and interactions working with both the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and NATO/ISAF coalition forces.

This step is critical to understanding the full range of methods used by military, government civilian, and civilian contractor personnel to institutionalize learning, exchange, and mutual understanding with their ISAF counterparts while collectively building ANSF capacity.

Part 2: The Prospects of Institutional Transfer

Read More The Prospects of Institutional Transfer: A Within-Case Analysis of Partnering Efforts across the Afghan Security Sector


  • Nicholas J. Armstrong, ISPL

Project Description

This in-depth, multi-level case study examines “partnering” interactions between NATO/US advisors and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to understand how and the extent to which partnering strategies—via inducement mechanisms of coercion, material incentives, or persuasion—shape the transfer (or non-transfer) of organizational capacity and professional norms across the Afghan security sector.

The end goal of this study is to assess when these strategies work, when they do not, and why. It builds theory on SSR by analyzing the challenges that arise when foreign actors work with host nation security forces to influence changes in organizational structures, behaviors, and beliefs.  Likewise, this study serves a practical purpose by adding greater nuance and clarity to the strategies and conditions under which internationally-led SSR will be successful (or not) in contested and postconflict environments.


Afghanistan 2014-2024: Advising for Sustainability, Small Wars Journal, May 2012

Project Significance

That the task of internationally led security reform is ambitious is certainly an understatement. Yet simply resigning to the conclusion that postconflict SSR is impossible without rigorous scrutiny of the underlying processes at work within different local contexts is irresponsible given the humanitarian implications and the strong likelihood that integrated security and development assistance will continue into the future.

SSR is critical in the sense that, if done successfully, it creates the space and momentum for human security, institution building, and development in other sectors.  Above all, when the international community decides it has a responsibility to protect human rights through foreign intervention, local citizens deserve better than years of “muddling through” with uncertain prospects for long-term peace and prosperity.

Progress & Next Steps

To date, more than 50 in-depth, confidential interviews have been completed with senior US and Canadian military officers; senior US government civilian officials; private contractors who are current or former Afghan Ministry of Defense and Interior advisors (MoDAs); and field and company grade military officers who have served as embedded trainers to or conducted partnered operations with the ANSF.

As evidence of “institutional transfer,” we have collected more than three dozen translated Afghan ministerial level strategy and policy documents (signed by Afghan ministers or higher) on topics including counter-corruption, counter-narcotics, logistics and acquisitions, search and seizure, and codes of conduct.

Once all interviews are completed and transcribed, they will be coded (NVivo) to assess interactions between NATO officials, civilian contract trainers and advisors, and ANSF.  My analysis will seek patterns and variation where causal pathways may help illuminate the extent to which and why institutional transfer has or has not occurred.


The Prospects of Institutional Transfer: A Within-Case Study of NATO Advisor Influence Across the Afghan Security Ministries and National Security Forces, 2009-2012” by Nicholas Armstrong (ISPL Research Fellow/Ph.D. Thesis 2014)

This dissertation is an in-depth case study of NATO advisors and their perceived influence in Afghanistan (2009-2012). It explores the two-part question, how do foreign security actors (ministerial advisors and security force trainers, advisors, and commanders) attempt to influence their host-nation partners and what are their perceptions of these approaches on changes in local capacity, values, and security governance norms? I argue that security sector reform (SSR) programs in fragile states lack an explicit theory of change that specifies how reform occurs. From this view, I theorize internationally led SSR as “guided institutional transfer,” grounded in rationalist and social constructivist explanations of convergence, diffusion, and socialization processes. Responding to calls for greater depth and emphasis on interactions and institutional change in SSR research, I examine NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan as an extreme case of SSR in which external-internal interactions were the highest. A stratified, purposive sample of 68 military and civilian elites (24 ministerial advisors, 27 embedded field advisors and commanders, and 17 experts and external observers) participated in a confidential, semi-structured interview.