Personal profile

Research overview

Alexandra Kerr is a Handsel Scholarship awarded Ph.D. Candidate in the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews where her research focuses on Security Sector Governance and Reform. She holds an MA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of Saint Andrews and an MA in International Conflict from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

PhD Project: Alexandra’s doctoral project explores underlying catalysts for success and failure in Security Sector Reform (SSR). SSR posits that economic, political, and social stability cannot be achieved in the absence of legitimate, accountable, and effective security, justice, and defence institutions. Thousands of man hours, as well as billions of dollars, are spent annually on SSR programming to improve the capacity of partner states to effectively provide accountable security to their populations. Despite laudable efforts and significant resources invested, however, there are very few concrete examples of success. Given the magnitude of SSR programming around the world and the gravity of what is at stake in terms of international security, identifying the underlying reasons behind why SSR does not succeed is critical. Existing literature on this phenomenon focuses on challenges encountered by the host or donor during implementation, but rarely considers whether the root cause can be found at the conceptual level. Given that theory informs policy, which in turn directs SSR strategy, planning, and implementation, this study will help bridge the gap by analysing whether certain embedded assumptions, fundamental concepts, or theoretical principles are flawed or incomplete in scholarly discourses surrounding SSR. By employing a comparative case study structure to test whether these normative components have a significant impact on SSR failures in the field, this study will contribute to the academic literature examining SSR’s anaemic record of success by providing a unique perspective that re-examines fundamental conceptual components of SSR that may hinder successful outcomes on the ground.

Professional Experience: Alexandra has more than a decade of experience working in the fields of international relations and defense around the world. Most recently she served as Deputy Director of Strategic Capacity Group where she designed and lead institutional and technical capacity-building programs and research projects on Defence Sector Reform, Defence Institution Building, and security challenges globally. From 2015-2017, she was a Research Fellow at the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Where she led an initiative on Defense Institution Building in collaboration with the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Cooperation. Prior to joining NDU, Alexandra was Assistant Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) where she oversaw award-winning projects and publications related to global multilateral cooperation, and went on to develop CFR’s international initiative, the Council of Councils. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, Alexandra held several research internships, including at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, the University of Saint Andrews, Sircuro Group, the political risk division of Lloyds of London, and the UN World Food Program in Rome.

Recent Publications: Alexandra’s 2022 book, A Practitioner’s Guide to Defense Sector Reform (coauthored by Dr. Querine Hanlon), is a practitioner-oriented conceptual road map for program managers and implementers who have the difficult job of achieving reform in a wide range of defense sectors around the globe. The authors propose ten goals for Defence Sector Reform, each of which identifies a place to start and details how to implement programming across a range of country contexts. The goals include: (1) democratic control, (2) civilian oversight, (3) legislative and judicial oversight, (4) coordination and management, (5) functioning logistics, (6) defense planning, (7) financial management, (8) the right people, (9) strategy generation, and (10) military effectiveness. Examples from Colombia, Georgia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, and Tunisia help practitioners translate this guidance into effective reform programming.

Alexandra is also editor of the 2017 book, Effective, Legitimate, Secure: Insights for Defense Institution Building, which offers an introduction to the concept of Defence Institution Building (DIB) and argues that establishing effective and legitimate defense institutions to undergird a partner’s defense establishment is the only way to ensure long-term security. This edited volume analyses the challenge for donors of how to best invest resources to help establish strong and capable defence partners. As traditional security cooperation and assistance approaches have proven insufficient to instate sustained improvements to partners’ defence sectors, U.S. Security Sector Reform (SSR) experts offer insights into the relatively new concept of DIB, which was developed to fill a gap in SSR by supporting partner stakeholders as they seek to develop the systemic capabilities and strong institutional foundations needed for legitimate, effective, professional, and sustainable defence sectors that are responsive to civilian control and contribute to the overall security and prosperity of the state—and in turn, to regional stability and U.S. national security.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Master of Arts, International Conflict, Department of War Studies, Kings College London

Sept 2010May 2012

Award Date: 21 May 2012

Master of Arts, International Relations, University of St Andrews

Award Date: 1 May 2010

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