Security sector governance and reform

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The concepts of security sector governance and reform (SSG/R, or SSG and SSR) generally refer to a process in Western-based international development and democratization to amend the security sector of a state towards good governance and its principles, such as freedom of information and the rule of law.[1][2]

The objective of security sector reform (SSR) is to achieve good security sector governance (SSG)—where security actors are effective and accountable to their people. For example, SSR might guide decision-making on what form should the oversight of armed forces take or how transparent will intelligence agencies be according to legislation.[3] Different nomenclature of the same overall framework include security system reform (SSR), security sector reconstruction (SSR) and justice and security sector reform (JSSR).[4]


In 1994, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) adopted a Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security stating that the democratic control of the security sector as essential to stability.[5]

The framework emerged after Saferworld staff observed from examples in South Africa, Indonesia and countries in Eastern Europe that national security and its components were considered crucial in a state recovering from conflict or an authoritarian regime. On 13 May 1998, Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, used the term for the first time, publicly, during a speech at the Royal College of Defence Studies.[6] Reportedly, the increasing number of civil wars led development actors to look at the problem of insecurity from the perspective of good governance. The conclusion was that the security sector should adhere to the same rules of good governance as any other public service to curb conflict and violence.[4][7][8]

In 2014, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted its first stand-alone resolution on SSR and within it the role of security sector reform in stabilizing post-conflict countries.[9][10]


The quality of the service provided by the police, such as the pictured Police of Denmark, is a component of security sector governance and reform

There is no single globally accepted definition of security sector reform (SSR), but it generally refers to a process to reform or rebuild a state's security sector towards good security sector governance (SSG).[11][12] Good SSG is usually defined as a number of idealized principles and good practices of a healthy security sector servicing its people. Likewise, the objective of SSR is defined as the application of the same principles of good governance to the security sector as to any other public sector service delivery, such as public health or education.[1][2][13] For example, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has defined four standards that SSR should strive for:

1. Establishment of effective governance, oversight and accountability in the security system; 2) improved delivery of security and justice services; 3) development of local leadership and ownership of the reform process; and 4) sustainability of justice and security service delivery.[14]

The target of SSR are the components of the state that uphold national security. Although the security sector is therefore a wide term open to interpretation, it is generally used to describe the structures, institutions and personnel responsible for the management, provision and oversight of security in a certain country.[15] Therefore, the scope and target of SSR has usually been defined comprising the following four groups:

  • Core security actors, such as armed forces, police, gendarmerie, border guards, customs and immigration, and intelligence and security services;
  • security management and oversight bodies, such as ministries of defence and internal affairs, financial management bodies and public complaints commissions;
  • justice and law enforcement institutions, such as the judiciary, prisons, prosecution services, traditional justice systems; and
  • non-statutory security forces, such as private security companies, guerrilla armies and private militia.[14][16][7]


A diagram of the relationship between security sector reform and governance relative to time and quality

To observe and measure the quality of SSG as well as set more definite objectives, international development actors generally break down good security sector governance into different principles that are believed to showcase different subparts of a healthy security sector under democratic control.[17] While exact configurations vary, some of the most common principles or objectives of good SSG that are commonly used include accountability, rule of law, and effectiveness.[18][19]

A multitude of different practical situations of good SSG exist according to development actors: For example, in a security sector lead by good governance, the use of force is defined by a legal framework. This subsequently requires, among others, that publicly transparent laws are in place; oversight and separation of powers mechanisms are established and working; and the state's legitimate use of force is regulated through strategies and policies.[1][14] An operational level example would be improved and open interaction between the public and the security sector, including functioning freedom of information and complaint institutes.[4]

SSR is aimed at the existence of both national security and human security. However, the goals of providing national and human security can be conflictual in the context of conflict-torn societies which lack the framework of democratic governance. According to Florian Weigand, the experiences of SSR in Afghanistan, for example, have prompted a debate on the advantages of providing human rather than state security in the process of state-building.[20]


The UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) providing security sector reform assistance

SSR is considered an instrument of international development aid; and attaining good SSG is seen by practitioners as a conflict prevention tool and as a post-conflict stabilizer.[21][7] Examples of mechanisms that international actors reportedly use to perform security sector reform include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes to try and synchronize reforms to the security sector—and rule of law reforms as justice and security sectors are often considered intertwined.[22][23][12] Likewise, SSR can be performed along transitional justice processes if the security sector has a legacy of violence against the population—and during security policy discussions to use SSR in supporting the implementation and reviews of the states' national security policy and strategy.[23][3][4]

SSR is not understood by researchers to be limited to a single political situation, but rather can be introduced in various contexts. The circumstances under which reform efforts are undertaken are often classified as three different reform environments: post-conflict, transitional and developed countries. Nevertheless, security sector reform is most commonly introduced in post-conflict settings after war has ceased.[24] However, its insensitive application to such contexts has raised criticism. For example, Jane Chanaa has argued that there is a concept–context divide because conceptualisation overshadowed the understanding on how the idea adapts to the local situations whereas Safal Ghimire has noted that such a chasm exists also because the 'SSR' concept does not talk about reforms in the benefactors.[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Security Sector Governance: Applying the principles of good governance to the security sector (PDF). SSR Backgrounder Series. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). 2015. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-09-15.
  2. ^ a b Security System Reform and Governance. DAC Guidelines and Reference Series. Paris: OECD DAC. 2005. ISBN 978-92-64-00786-4.
  3. ^ a b UN Security Council Resolution 2151 (S/RES/2151) on Security sector reform: challenges and opportunities. United Nations. 2014. Archived from the original on 2017-11-21.
  4. ^ a b c d Security Sector Reform: Applying the principles of good governance to the security sector (PDF). SSR Backgrounder Series. Geneva: DCAF. 2015. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-09-13.
  5. ^ Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security. Vienna: OSCE. 1994. p. 3. Archived from the original on 2017-08-29.
  6. ^ Robinson, Colin D. "Rebuilding armies in southern Somalia: What currently should donors realistically aim for?." Conflict, Security & Development 21, no. 3 (2021): 329. The speech can be seen at
  7. ^ a b c "Security Sector Reform". Folke Bernadotte Academy. Archived from the original on 2016-08-26. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
  8. ^ Price, Megan; van Veen, Erwin (2014-08-19). "SSR: Securing its success, justifying its relevance". Clingendael. Archived from the original on 2017-08-26.
  9. ^ "Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2151 (2014), Security Council Underscores Need for National Ownership of Security-Sector Reform". 2014-04-28. Archived from the original on 2017-08-20. Retrieved 2017-08-25.
  10. ^ "UNDP sees Security Sector Reform as foundation for Peace and Development". UNDP. 2015-02-13. Archived from the original on 2017-08-26. Retrieved 2017-08-25.
  11. ^ Elements for an EU-wide strategic framework to support security sector reform, JOIN(2016) 31 final (PDF). Strasbourg: European Commission. 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-08-25.
  12. ^ a b Security Sector Reform (PDF). USAID, US Departments of Defense and State. 2009.
  13. ^ "About SSG/R". DCAF (Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces). Archived from the original on 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
  14. ^ a b c The OECD DAC Handbook on Security System Reform (SSR) - Supporting Security and Justice (PDF). Paris: OECD DAC. 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-08-21.
  15. ^ The United Nations SSR Perspective (PDF). New York: UN SSR Unit. 2012. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-05-19.
  16. ^ Securing peace and development: the role of the United Nations in supporting security sector reform - Report of the Secretary-General (A/62/659) (PDF). New York: United Nations. 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-09-05.
  17. ^ "What is Good Governance?". United Nations ESCAP. 2009-06-10. Archived from the original on 2017-04-23. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
  18. ^ Security Sector Governance and Reform: Guidelines for OSCE Staff. Vienna: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 2016. Archived from the original on 2017-08-25.
  19. ^ Weiss, Thomas G. (2000-10-01). "Governance, good governance and global governance: Conceptual and actual challenges". Third World Quarterly. 21 (5): 795–814. doi:10.1080/713701075. ISSN 0143-6597. S2CID 143243345.
  20. ^ Weigand, Florian (2013). How can security sector reforms contribute to State-Building? The case of the Afghan Police Reform (PDF). London: London School of Economics and Political Science. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-08-09.
  21. ^ International Security Forum 2016 (2016-06-13). "Security Sector Governance in West Africa: Regional norms, local experiences". Archived from the original on 2017-08-25. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  22. ^ "6.10 DDR and Security Sector Reform" (PDF). Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards. UN DDR Resource Centre. 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-11-23.
  23. ^ a b Cutter Patel, Ana (2010). Transitional Justice, DDR, and Security Sector Reform (PDF). International Center for Transitional Justice. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-11-07.
  24. ^ Bryden, Alan; Hänggi, Heiner (2005). Security Governance in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). ISBN 978-3-8258-9019-3. Archived from the original on 2017-09-15.
  25. ^ Chanaa, Jane (2002). Chanaa, Jane. "Adelphi Paper 344: Security Sector Reform: Issues, Challenges and Prospects." (2002). New York: Oxford University Press for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. ISBN 9780198516743.
  26. ^ Ghimire, Safal (March 2016). "Making security sector reform organic: infrastructures for peace as an entry point?". Peacebuilding. 4 (3): 262–281. doi:10.1080/21647259.2016.1156813. S2CID 156333204.

Further reading[edit]


Articles, papers and guidelines

External links[edit]

Organisations working on SSG/R or its subcategories