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Plural security provision

In many contexts around the world, though especially so in places affected by fragility and violent conflict, the state is not the sole provider of security to citizens, or even the most important. In these contexts, an array of coercive actors operate simultaneously and assert claims on the use of force, an arrangement understood as plural security provision. Building on the definitional work of Bruce Baker and others, plural security providers are defined here as:

actors characterized by the ability and willingness to deploy coercive force, lack of integration into formal state institutions, and organizational structure that persists over a period of time, that seek to ensure the maintenance of communal order, security and peace through elements of prevention, deterrence, investigation of breaches, and punishment.

The spectrum of plural security providers embraces, inter alia, religious police; militias and warlords; customary or political authorities with armed retinues; organized criminal groups; neighbourhood gangs; and the security arms of occupational communities. Plural security providers may acquire legitimacy by proving more effective and efficient, proximate and relevant to the needs of local populations, and cheaper than state alternatives. Notwithstanding these advantages, the risks associated with this form of security provision include human rights violations, perverse and symbiotic interface with the state, competitive statebuilding, difficulty providing security objectively in contexts of diversity, and an almost ineluctable tendency toward net production of insecurity over time.

While some donors acknowledge improving citizens’ access to security in fragile contexts obliges them to work within the reality of plural security provision, the majority are wary of upsetting relationships with state partners, conferring legitimacy on groups with unpalatable goals or tactics, or tacitly endorsing violence as a path to political privilege. Despite a pronounced need, scant empirically-based advice is available to support and guide local government or international engagement in plural security contexts.

The city is an ideal site for tackling this dilemma: the proximity of local government to its citizens fosters responsiveness and accountability; coordination of citizen interests and the benefits of mutual cooperation are more discernible; and it is cheaper to effectively deliver services to densely concentrated urban populations. Moreover, with limited control over state security institutions, local governments are compelled to use other policy levers to impact citizen safety.

For more information on plural security, please see our discussion paper.