Security sector reform

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Soldiers from the British and United States armies training Sierra Leonean soldiers to use a mortar during 2011

Security sector reform (SSR) is a concept that first emerged in the 1990s in Eastern Europe. Though there is no single globally accepted definition, SSR generally refers to a process to reform or rebuild a state's security sector. It responds to a situation in which a dysfunctional security sector is unable to provide security to the state and its people effectively and under democratic principles. In some cases, the security sector can itself be a source of widespread insecurity due to discriminatory and abusive policies or practices. In this respect, an unreformed or misconstructed security sector represents a decisive obstacle to the promotion of sustainable development, democracy and peace. SSR processes therefore seek to enhance the delivery of effective and efficient security and justice services, by security sector institutions that are accountable to the state and its people, and operate within a framework of democratic governance, without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.[1]

SSR efforts target all state institutions and other entities with a role in ensuring the security of the state and its people including: armed forces; law enforcement and intelligence services; institutions responsible for border management and customs services; justice and penal institutions; and actors that play a role in managing and overseeing the design and implementation of security, such as ministries, parliaments, ombudspersons, human rights commissions and civil society organisations. In some contexts, it also addresses non-state armed groups and/or private security and military companies.

SSR is both an operational as well as a normative concept. Featuring norms such as good governance, civilian oversight and the rule of law among its defining characteristics, its inclusion as a necessary component of international policies addressing post-conflict situations is becoming more and more commonplace.[2] As such, SSR can be seen as a branch of an increasing international effort to secure human security.[3]

Country contexts[edit]

SSR is not limited to a single political situation, but rather can be introduced in various contexts. The circumstances under which reform efforts are undertaken can be classified as three very different reform environments: post-conflict, transitional and developed countries. SSR is most commonly introduced in post-conflict settings.[4] However, its application insensitivity to such contexts has raised criticism. For example, Jane Chanaa argues that there is a concept–context divide because conceptualisation overshadowed the understanding on how the idea adapts to the local situations[5] whereas Safal Ghimire notes that such chasm exists also because 'security sector reform' concept does not talk about reforms in the benefactors.[6]

Post-conflict situations[edit]

Post-conflict environments are characterized by mostly destroyed, distrusted or dismissed political institutions and widespread insecurity. SSR in such a situation can be understood as Security Sector Reconstruction, as the state's monopoly on the use of force and effective and efficient structures needs to be rebuilt. Reform is seen as essential to prevent the recurrence of conflict and to enhance public security, which in turn are necessary to initiate reconstruction and development initiatives.[7]

Transitional countries[edit]

Transitional countries are on a borderline from one political system to another, but no violent long-term conflict has yet occurred. SSR in this environment has to improve the state's performance in the security sector, to rebuild or to reorganize security institutions and sometimes to dissolve non-statutory forces like paramilitary police units. The main aim of SSR in transitional countries is to introduce the principles of democratic governance to the security sector. Reform efforts often focus on creating accountability mechanisms and addressing public mistrust of security sector institutions.

Developed countries[edit]

The term SSR tends not to be used in relation to developed countries, although reform is often needed and may be occurring at different levels. Reform efforts in developed countries are most often institution-specific and focus on issues such as efficiency, increased oversight, and management and operational procedures. In many developed countries, the security sector has yet to effectively respond to and prevent Gender-related violence or to attain gender parity between male and female employees.


SSR is essentially aimed at the efficient, effective and non-discriminatory provision of state and human security within a framework of democratic governance. However, the goals of providing state and human security can be conflictual in the context of conflict-torn societies which lack the framework of democratic governance.[8] The experiences of SSR in Afghanistan triggered a debate on the advantages of providing human rather than state security in the process of state-building.[9]

The concept of SSR as an ideal is holistic in its approach to the security sector: all relevant actors and instruments should be included in the process from a dysfunctional security sector to a reformed one.

The SSR concept links measures aimed at increasing efficiency and effectiveness of security forces to overriding concerns of democratic governance. Efforts to modernize security forces, e.g. by buying new weapons or reorganizing hierarchical structures, would not be considered SSR without ensuring the sector's democratic accountability. SSR-related activities must always be aimed at improving the governance of the security sector; an approach which is advocated by the right-financing framework.

Gender and SSR[edit]

The integration of a gender in SSR contributes to different objectives of the reform process: better delivery of security and justice services; more representative institutions; respect for human rights; strengthened oversight and accountability and local ownership of the SSR process itself. The integration of gender perspectives is generally pursued through two complementary strategies: gender mainstreaming, and measures to promote the equal participation of men and women in security sector institutions and SSR processes. Gender perspectives can be included in both the SSR process itself (e.g. by consulting men and women on SSR, or training personnel responsible for SSR policy on gender issues) and in the institutions undergoing reform (e.g. in efforts to recruit more women, pursue gender-sensitive service delivery or provide gender training to new recruits).


Basic instruments of SSR are:

It is imperative to link each area of engagement because efforts will not succeed unless complementary work is carried out in other areas.[10]

Post-conflict SSR[edit]

In post-conflict peacebuilding, SSR is confronted with a unique set of challenges. Typical additional SSR instruments in post-conflict situations are:

To apply these instruments in a stand-alone manner would not suit the requirements of SSR. Rather, they should be integrated into an overall SSR concept. For example, combating SALW is ineffective until the rule of law is re-established. Only by integrating all instruments and combining them with democratic oversight can SSR influence the security situation substantially and sustainably and prevent (the recurrence of) conflict.[11]


Although SSR is still an evolving and contested concept, it is increasingly accepted as a precondition for good governance, security, human rights, and the achievement of long-lasting peace.[12]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

Articles and papers

External links[edit]

UN peacekeeping missions conducting SSR
SSR online presentations