Actors & Activities

Last Updated: April 13, 2009

The willingness of the development community to engage and work with the new concept of security sector reform (SSR) has varied from agency to agency in the years since the term 'SSR' was first coined. The concept of SSR has evolved from a two-pillar, state-centric focus to one that encompasses a human security framework, moving beyond the reform of government institutions to include non-statutory actors.

This section examines the various national, inter-governmental organizations and donor countries that work on SSR activities. SSR is effectively an externally driven process. As security expert Heiner Hänggi explains, "The SSR agenda pursued by the development donors makes the concept problematic from the perspective of recipient countries. Other than in post-conflict countries, SSR programmes are still quite the exception in developing countries, which although in principle in need of SSR, are not haunted by the legacy of recent violent conflict and therefore not forced to rely on external involvement for the provision of public security."1

National actors

As stated above, the actors that are involved at the local level generally include the security forces (armed forces, police, gendarmerie, customs and border police, intelligence officers, and paramilitary forces), government officers managing operations and personnel, the affiliated defense ministries and the Ministry of the Interior, judicial offices, prosecutors, and prison management. Non-statutory security forces include rebel forces, militia, private security companies, criminal networks, guerrilla groups, and terrorist groups.

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Civil society organizations

Civil society organizations include non-governmental organizations, political parties, and interest groups. They fulfill an important role as a watchdog over the security sector, ensuring that the democratic system and good governance are actively implemented. Some research organizations have mobilized action around SSR-related activities, facilitated discussions between government officials, and helped to provide technical input for security sector reform.

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Regional actors

Both the European Council and the European Commission of the European Union (EU) have elaborated their respective SSR concepts and have drafted an EU-wide overarching SSR background paper.2 This document recognizes that security and development are interdependent and that every effort needs to be made to ensure that this is reflected in the work of the Council and the Commission, which follows the norm-setting work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) does not have an official SSR concept, although the 1994 Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security contains a number of key concepts and principles that relate to SSR. OSCE is engaged in a number of SSR-related activities, such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), control of small arms and light weapons (SALW), border management, and rule of law.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) SSR activities take place under the Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building (PAP DIB). The work focuses on the post-Communist part of the Euro-Atlantic area. PAP DIB focuses on building capacity in the defense sector for personnel management and budgeting issues and on addressing the consequences of reform. NATO also recognizes that development and security are interlinked and hold defense ministries to high standards of transparency and accountability.

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are two inter-governmental organizations in Africa that have not developed a coherent SSR concept. They have, however, adopted mechanisms and instruments that aim to engage in democratic governance of the security sector. The ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security and its Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance are two instruments that touch on the sub-regional SSR concept. The Common African Defence and Security Policy of the AU provides the overarching framework for a continental African SSR doctrine that would be premised on the United Nations SSR concept. In addition, some African countries do not agree with the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) guidelines on SSR, preferring more locally owned projects.

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SSR and donor assistance

OECD considers SSR a tool for conflict prevention and peacebuilding that requires a developmental approach. Its conceptual approach to SSR has contributed to helping other actors in the field recognize that SSR is not just a technical but also a highly political process, into which local ownership needs to be integrated.3

The British government, which initially took the lead in this sector, has found a number of followers in the Nordic countries, as well as in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States.4 It created two conflict prevention funding pools, one for Africa and one for the rest of the world.

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SSR and the United Nations

The United Nations (UN) assists states in improving the capacity and governance of the security sector through the promotion of a 'holistic' SSR agenda. However, it has not developed a system-wide SSR policy or concept that could guide SSR programs in a consistent and coherent manner.5 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has advocated for "a coherent and consistent United Nations approach to security sector reform is the articulation of core guiding principles based on lessons learned, international law and standards and existing United Nations policies on the broad rule of law. Those principles should establish the purpose and objectives of the Organization with regard to security sector reform and direct its engagement in specific contexts. Ideally, security sector reform should begin at the outset of a peace process and should be incorporated into early recovery and development strategies."6

Nevertheless, SSR cuts across a wide range of UN policy areas, from peace and security to development, human rights, and the rule of law. An increasing number of UN departments and agencies are involved in SSR. The UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) and the UN Development Programme are two key actors involved in operational SSR activities. There is an SSR unit within the rule of law office in UNDPKO. The UN Department of Political Affairs focuses on security sector reform in peacemaking processes and in the context of offices or missions led by the Department of Political Affairs. The UN Security Council has repeatedly referred to SSR but rarely defined it. The UN Development Fund for Women provides knowledge and expertise on the gender dimensions of security sector reform, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights addresses the reform of human rights institutions and capacity building for security actors. In addition, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime supports ad hoc security sector reform addressing crime control.

In recent years, the number and scope of UN activities related to SSR have increased; however, they were not attributed to the SSR concept. The UN tends to favor justice and police reform, as well as SSR-related activities in post-conflict settings. Its missions in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are among the first missions to insert SSR within their mandates.

There have been strong calls to create a roadmap for SSR activities carried out by integrated peacekeeping missions. Most recently, the Office of the Rule of Law and Security Institutions (OROLSI) was established in UNDPKO in 2007 to provide an integrated approach to UN assistance in rule of law and security entities. According to a UN secretary-general report, "OROLSI unifies police, judicial, legal, correctional units, and mine action, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, as well as new security sector reform functions, primarily in support of United Nations peacekeeping operations, as well as globally with regard to the police and corrections in the context of countries with no peacekeeping missions."7 SSR remains very much an ad hoc activity for UN missions.

UNDP developed its own programmatic approach to SSR, known as Justice and Security Sector Reform (JSSR). Activities that fall under this rubric include community policing, police reform, security reviews, parliamentary oversight of the security sector, and others. SSR activities are generally considered part of the broader governance strategy. In Kosovo, UNDP was involved in an Internal Security Sector Review (ISSR). This process involved issues such as transparency, legitimacy, and international buy-in. UNDP has been carrying out this program on the basis of voluntary contributions, which has had the effect of facilitating work with the bilateral donors involved. The program brought together Kosovo civil society, bodies involved in internal security, and a range of inter-governmental organizations. ISSR has been proceeding in eight stages and is expected to be a blueprint for succeeding security institutions in Kosovo. The UN Peacebuilding Commission and UNDPKO/UNDP have also implemented SSR stock-taking efforts.

The UN Office for West Africa hosted a regional workshop entitled "Security Sector Reform, Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding in West Africa" on November 22-23, 2004, to facilitate regional debate among key stakeholders on the reform of the security sector as a way to enhance peace and contribute to the prevention of conflict in West Africa. SSR is a priority in the sub-region, as the security forces in West Africa have appeared to be a source of insecurity rather than a factor of democratic stability. The workshop developed a shared understanding of SSR as a conflict prevention tool and established projects on non-military threats to the security sector in three sectors: health (HIV/AIDS in the armed forces), administration of justice, and combating cross-border criminal activities.8

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International financial institutions

Although there has been some expectation that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank would play a role in supporting SSR activities, especially in public financial management, both institutions have had limited engagement in security-related issues.9 The World Bank continues to support DDR programs in post-conflict environments, but it has not integrated these programs into the general rubric of SSR.

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Non-state actors

The role of non-state actors has increasingly played an important role both during and in the aftermath of conflict. In the sub-region of West Africa, in the Great Lakes region, and in Afghanistan, the splintering of rebel groups, inter-factional fighting, or inter-militia fighting, as well as the various roles played by warlords, have contributed to the prolongation and exacerbation of conflict. At the same time, there has been a rapid increase in the outsourcing of SSR activities to the private sector (with little understanding of the benefits or risks outsourcing entails). The question of how to rein in the multiplicity of actors in the form of armed groups, private sector security, and the private sector generally is a key question that most actors in the field of peacebuilding are struggling to address.

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SSR-related activities

OECD specifies the following as security sector reform-related activities:10

  • Political and policy dialogue and initiatives: Activities aimed at improving civil security force relations, increasing civilian input into security policymaking, and preparing the terrain for reform. This can include confidence-building activities between civilians and security force personnel.
  • Armed forces and intelligence services: Activities aimed at improving governance of the armed forces, the intelligence services, paramilitary forces, and other reserve or local defense units that support military functions, provide border security, and so on.
  • Justice and internal security apparatuses: Activities involving police functions, prisons, courts, secret services, and civilian internal intelligence agencies.
  • Non-state security forces: Activities involving private security companies and other irregular security bodies that enjoy a degree of public authority and legitimacy that is not derived from the state itself or legal status. This also involves political party militias/security forces, local militias, bodyguard units, and so on.
  • Civil oversight mechanisms: Activities involving formal mechanisms, such as the legislature, legislative select committees, auditors general, police commissions, and human rights commissions, and informal mechanisms, such as civil society 'watchdog' organizations and customary authorities.
  • Civil management bodies: Activities aimed at strengthening functions for financial management, planning, and execution; security policy development; personnel management; and the like found in finance, defense, internal affairs and justice ministries, presidents' and prime ministers' offices, national security advisory bodies, and the like.
  • Civilian capacity building: Activities aimed at general capacity building and education initiatives that do not fit into the civil management and oversight categories, including activities designed to build capacity of civil society groups seeking to analyze and influence security policy and increase public literacy on security issues, as well as academic and other training courses on security issues.
  • Regional initiatives: Activities involving the role of foreign affairs ministries and peacemaking initiatives, as well as formal mechanisms, such as defense treaties and pacts, regional security bodies for dealing with defense, criminal, and intelligence issues, and the like.
  • Initiatives to demilitarize society: Activities in the area of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, with particular attention to child soldiers, small arms and light weapons, and other factors. External contributions to SSR have been made under a variety of circumstances. Central and Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet states undertook efforts to democratize their security sector in the early 1990s. Although the term SSR was not used by the main drivers of the process (EU, NATO, and OSCE), activities such as good governance, efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the security apparatus are all related to present-day notions of SSR.
The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) developed an initiative called the International Security System Advisory Team (ISSAT), which brings together policy and operational security sector reform expertise from the developmental, security, defense, and diplomatic fields to provide comprehensive advice to bilateral and multilateral actors in order to help them develop, design, and implement SSR strategies, programs, and practices. ISSAT provides five main services including: (1) support for undertaking and coordinating SSR assessments; (2) guidance on program design; (3) support for monitoring and evaluation of SSR programs; (4) training and capacity development; and (5) developing a roster of experts, country monitoring, and sharing lessons learned. Through these services, ISSAT aims to enhance coordination and harmonization across the international community to improve the quality of programming.11

1. Heiner Hänggi, "Conceptualizing Security Sector Reform and Reconstruction," in Reform and Reconstruction of the Security Sector, eds. Alan Bryden and Heiner Hänggi (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2004), 7.
2. For more information, see, Saferworld, Developing a Common Security Sector Reform Strategy (London: Saferworld, January 2006).
3. See, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC), OECD DAC Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice (Paris: OECD, 2007).
4. Michael Brzoska, Development Donors and the Concept of Security Sector Reform (Geneva: Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2003).
5. Heiner Hänggi and Vincenza Scherrer, Towards a Common UN Approach to Security Sector Reform: Lessons Learned from Integrated Missions (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2007), 1-2.
6. "Report of the Secretary-General on Security Peace and Development: The Role of the United Nations in Supporting Security Sector Reform," UN Doc. A/62/659-S/2008/39 (January 23, 2008), 12-13.
7. United Nations Peacekeeping, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions.
8. United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), The UN Office for West Africa (Dakar: UNOWA), 2.
9. Nicole Ball, "World Bank/IMF: Financial and Programme Support for SSR," in Intergovernmental Organisations and Security Sector Reform, ed. David Law (Munster: Lit Verlag, 2007).
10. OECD DAC, Security System Reform and Governance, (Paris: OECD, 2005), 16.
11. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, "The International Security Sector Advisory Team."

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