Security force assistance to Cameroon: how building enclave units deepens autocracy

Kristen Harkness*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Western countries have increasingly turned to security force assistance (SFA) to build partner capacity and counter terrorist threats in weakly governed states. This trend sits uncomfortably alongside widespread pessimism that coup-proofed and patronage ridden armies can be meaningfully reformed and made combat effective. Searching for new solutions, both scholars and practitioners have converged on the idea of creating 'enclave units’—elite forces isolated from the broader military that can be proficiently trained and then deployed on counterterrorism missions. But can enclave units resolve the fundamental interest misalignments that have undermined SFA more broadly? This article leverages the case of the Bataillons d’Intervention Rapide in Cameroon to build theoretical insights into the promises and perils of enclave units. I find that achieving combat proficiency perversely deepens autocracy by strengthening the repressive capacity of dictators. When harshening policies and further marginalization then lead to uprisings, often among ethnic minority groups, embattled autocrats redeploy western trained enclave units against civilians. Extending these insights to the shadow cases of the Iraqi Golden Division and Somali Danab suggests that an indefinite western commitment to remain in-country and directly command enclave units may be necessary to prevent their political misuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2099-2117
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2022


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