Defence Reform

Revising defence objectives and capability to keep up with developing threats in today’s security environment is a constant challenge for all countries, not only those in the developing world. Professionalisation of armed forces under resource constraints and within the growing demand for a responsive and accountable service culture are part of the new human security paradigm that characterises development in defence today. As defence develops its capability to tackle new threats and new foci, whether transnational crime affecting sovereign territory or new roles and responsibilities in peacekeeping, four areas remain relevant to defence strategy: namely keeping defence forces appropriate, adequate, accountable and affordable.

Informed by national security strategy objectives, a defence policy review followed by joint strategy implementation, allows defence forces to coherently

  • Assess the strategic environment to identify the threats, risks and challenges facing a country over the short- to long-term;
  • Review the operational roles and objectives of the armed forces and civilian defence sector institutions;
  • Reconsider the tactical relationships between the defence sector and other security providers as well as the institutions involved in managing and overseeing the defence sector;
  • Develop appropriate priorities, action plans and reform programmes for armed forces and defence institutions within their financial budget;
  • Ensure that new capability development is matched by adequate external governance structures and appropriate internal accountability mechanisms, as well as a functioning interface between the two.

Making the defence sector more inclusive and more representative of the population is an additional cross-cutting goal in defence reform. In due course, this is likely to include a commitment to promoting gender equality, due to the tactical advantages that come with being able to operate with all genders in a target society, the operational advantages of being able to conduct gendered analysis of the operating environment, and the strategic advantages that full diversity brings to decision making. As nations renew efforts to commit to international obligations on Women, Peace and Security, and to the revised Sustainable Development Goals, the ability of armed forces to recruit women into their forces and so to serve in peacekeeping has become central to defence development goals.  

Key Selected Resources

  • UN Defence Sector Reform (DSR) Policy - This policy is designed to guide the United Nations support to National Defence Sector reform (DSR) efforts. It outlines the parameters and components of this support, including principles, elements for any mission concept, core tasks and constraints.
  • NATO Defence and Security Related Capacity Building Initiative (DCBI) - The DCB Initiative was launched in September 2014 at the NATO Summit in Wales and reinforces NATO’s commitment to partners and helps project stability by providing support to nations requesting defence capacity assistance from the organisation
  • NATO Building Integrity - The Building Integrity (BI) Programme provides practical tools to help participating countries strengthen integrity, transparency and accountability and reduce the risk of corruption in the defence and security sector. 
  • Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index - This index by Transparency International assesses the existence, effectiveness and enforcement of institutional and informal controls to manage the risk of corruption in defence and security institutions.
  • Securing Development: Public Finance and the Security Sector - The publication by the World Bank highlights the role played by public finance in the delivery of security and criminal justice services. It seeks to strengthen policy and operational dialogue on security sector issues by providing national and international stakeholders with key information on security expenditure policy and management.
  • Sustainable Capacity Building - USIP's handbook offers practical guidance for planning, program design, and decision making for building the capacity of host country institutions, ensuring that lasting capacity is built and new processes remain in place over time. 

ISSAT Defence Sector Reform Mandates