Summary of Key SSR Developments and Trends 2005-2017

by Alexander Burian · May 31, 2017.

Security sector reform has come a long way since it was first coined in the 1990s. Below is a short synthesis of some of the current key SSR developments and trends. 

  • Complete SSR policy framework: The international policy framework guiding SSR programming has come a long way in a relatively short time. Since 2007, when the first dedicated UN debate on SSR took place in the UN Security Council, the OECD, UN, EU, AU, OSCE, and ECOWAS have developed their own dedicated policies and guidance on how to effectively support national and regional SSR processes. Other institutions, including NATO, OIF, SADC, IGAD, AFDB, IDB and the World Bank have also joined policy debates on SSR. With the SSR policy framework being complete, the emphasis has turned towards implementing what the international community has committed to and examining the impacts/outcomes of SSR.
  • Growing investment in SSR: There has been a sustained growth in the investment of the international community in supporting national SSR processes. While investment in SSR programming remains modest in size when compared with classic “train and equip” programmes, we are seeing a significant growth in the number and size of SSR programmes. Such programming can today be found in virtually all parts of the world and across a wide range of contexts. In countries like Ukraine, Nigeria, or Mali the donor community is spending over a 100 million EUR each year on supporting SSR. 
  • Shift towards multilateralism: There is an evident shift towards multilateralism in SSR. While bilateral donors, including the UK, Canada, Sweden, Norway, or Netherlands, led the way ten years ago, today the lead role in supporting SSR has been taken over by multilateral institutions, namely the UN, EU or OSCE. Bilateral donors are continuously moving away from directly implementing SSR programmes themselves, rather preferring to channel their resources through multilateral institutions. Yet, multilateral organisations have struggled to source the requisite expertise to cover the gaps in support left by bilaterals. One of the most acute challenges at the moment in SSR is finding the right expertise. 
  • Need to refocus on Governance: Reform of security sector management, accountability and governance are the key defining aspects of SSR. Yet, we are seeing that these critical areas are receiving no more than 10-15 percent of the budget donors spend on security sector assistance programmes. 
  • Monitoring and Evaluation gaps: Monitoring and Evaluation has been a consistent gap in the UN capacity and donor programming. Very little is spent on actually measuring and analysing the quality of support and its impact on conflict prevention, development and stability.  There are only a handful of impact assessments on SSR that can actually clearly demonstrate the added value of SSR. SSR is one of the few, if only, major global disciplines that does not have standardised global indicators being collected on the quality and effectiveness of security and justice institutions. Statistics and hard data related to SSR is still hard to come by as this is not given very much attention by donors.
  • Balanced and Holistic Approach to Support: We see that globally, probation and rehabilitation programmes in penitentiary institutions can help to reduce recidivism rates by up to 25 percent. High recidivism rates are one of the key contributing factors to high crime rates and violence in communities. Yet, we see that prison and probation reform is inconsistently given support by the international community. Norway and Sweden have been some of the leaders in this field, and their donor programmes have shown to be highly effective.  Similarly, we still find that in countries with a high number of SSR programmes, donors inconsistently focus on building the capacities of responsible Ministries (MoJ, MoI, MoD) to effectively oversee and manage the security and justice agencies (eg. police).
  • Re-balancing focus away from Stabilisation to Development: In recent years there has been an evident trend of donors channelling their funds towards SSR programmes in post-conflict stabilisation contexts (eg. Mali, Libya, Somalia) and a decline in focus on SSR in development contexts where the SSR agenda started (eg. the first examples of SSR were from stable and developed transition countries in Central Europe or South Africa). There is a need to rebalance support and focus away from just stabilisation contexts but also ensure SSR is used as a conflict prevention tool in fragile or transition contexts.
  • Non-state actors: 80 percent of the world population, especially in developing and post-conflict contexts, accesses their primary justice and security needs through informal institutions (eg. chiefs). Yet, we see very few donor programmes actively and directly engage with such institutions. In Mali, Nigeria, Guinea Bissau or Liberia – where there is significant donor investment in SSR – there is only one example of a programme working with non-state actors and it is having impactful results at community level. If we are to make an impactful contribution on the daily lives of people, we need to engage with these actors.
  • Long-term engagement: SSR has proven to be an effective conflict prevention mechanism. In countries emerging from conflict where we have spent significantly on SSR and sustained such efforts in the long-term (eg. Liberia, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone) we are seeing positive results. In these countries public perception surveys show that security or fear of conflict is no longer a key concern for the population and they are starting to have improved trust in the security and justice institutions. The challenge is, however, that the international community inconsistently has such a long-term commitment to supporting SSR. The international community is often quick to lose interest in support of SSR if there are no visible or measurable results, yet we see that SSR takes time and the process can not be rushed.
  • Gender is critical to effectiveness: We have seen that more inclusive and gender representative security and justice institutions are key in the effectiveness of those institutions and can even directly contribute to conflict prevention.  It is no accident that countries with high numbers of female police officers (eg. Nicaragua, Chile, Ghana, South Africa) are some of the most stable or peaceful in their respective regions. Yet, our efforts at addressing and promoting gender issues in the mainstream SSR agenda are inconsistent or lacking altogether.
  • Capacity and political constraints: We are still facing acute challenges in ensuring that the right capacity and skill sets are made available for UN missions to comprehensively and effectively support national SSR processes. As Resolution 2151 outlines, there is a need to provide more comprehensive support to UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) to ensure that they are better able to engage in and support SSR processes. The political context of SSR means that it is crucial UN mission leadership actively engages with their national counterparts to openly assess and review challenges and gaps in implementation that may potentially derail SSR efforts. Without active engagement of UN SRSG in the process we risk supporting only cosmetic reforms or reforms that will be undermined by political influences or lack political ownership.
  • SDG-SSR Link: The integration of security and access to justice amongst the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is an important step in regards to streamlining SSR into the development agenda and reaffirming its importance in social and economic development. In its basic form the security-development nexus can be broken down into the notion that without a secure environment investments in development, such as building of schools or hospitals, are likely to wither away without sufficient security being in place to protect such investments. Similarly, economic reforms can only prove successful if there is effective Rule of Law in place to instil confidence in the business climate. The same causal link holds true also for security reform, which itself is unlikely to have the desired long-term impact, even with robust improvements in the capacity of security services, without in parallel addressing the social and economic causes of social unrest and instability. Yet, the approach to SSR and development is too often done in parallel rather than integrated. We need to explore how police reform can contribute to economic growth (Eg. elimination of police road blocks and the impact it has on local businesses).