Though the concept of security sector reform emerged in the 1990s, there is no universally accepted definition of the security sector or of security sector reform.
Different actors embrace broader or narrower understandings of SSR and a variety of terms are often used interchangeably: security sector reform, security system reform, security sector modernisation, security sector transformation, security sector reconstruction, etc. Despite the differences that persist in scope and terminology, there is some convergence on the definition put forward by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD DAC):
Security sector reform means transforming the security sector/system, which includes all the actors, their roles, responsibilities and actions, so that they work together to manage and operate the system in a manner that is more consistent with democratic norms and sound principles of good governance, and thus contributes to a well-functioning security framework.
Within the framework provided by the OECD-DAC definition, there are three primary goals which SSR seeks to achieve:
At its core SSR, is about development. Creating a secure and stable environment is crucial to a sustainable economic development processes. Enhanced security and justice service delivery can provide structural stability and is vital for preventing conflict and resolving disputes before they become violent. SSR processes are also vital to ensuring good governance in a framework that respects the legal separation of powers and the fair conduct of democracy. As security is becoming increasingly privatised and politicised, appropriate accountability and oversight structures are needed to ensure that security and justice provision is people-centred, responsive to the rule of law and able to meet the needs of the recipients of these services.
It must be emphasised that SSR is a fundamentally political process, involving institutions associated with national sovereignty. SSR inevitably creates winners and losers while addressing sensitive issues such as strengthening human rights, rule of law, and democratic processes. It can fundamentally alter power structures within a country and for all of these reasons needs to be approached in a participatory manner that fosters broad local ownership. SSR becomes even more political when the relationships between local communities and donors, amongst donors themselves, and with other regional actors are all taken into account.
ISSAT views SSR as incorporating both security and justice components, which at times are separated at the policy level into different initiatives. At the operational level, these distinctions between support to security and justice reforms simply are not sustainable.