Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


William C. Banks

Second Advisor

David M. Van Slyke


Afghanistan, institutional transfer, security force advising and assistance, security sector reform, statebuilding, transnational politics

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


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. Content analysis of interviews and supporting documentation reveal that participants perceived modest impact on capacity development in both the Afghan security ministries and security forces; however, they perceived limited normative impact on both organizational and individual levels. Second, participants who used heavy-handed or transactional approaches rarely saw positive or enduring outcomes with their counterparts. Third, legitimacy-based approaches that elicited partner engagement were perceived as more effective than power-based approaches (e.g., demands, incentives), though the techniques participants favored (e.g., persuasion, guided discovery learning) varied by level and context. Fourth, in addition to Afghan political and cultural constraints, NATO's campaign strategy, accelerated timeline, and high resource inflow created perverse incentives for some advisors and leaders to pressure or induce their counterparts in the spirit of progress. Finally, advisors with the unique ability to develop close relationships were more likely to promote capacity transfer and, elicit curiosity and dialogue on security governance norms (e.g., civilian control, ethical leadership).


Open Access