Formulate NATIONAL SECURITY vision and strategy

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The practice of formulating a national security vision and strategy is still very much in its infancy, with few countries having reached this level of detail in their ability to look at state-level governance and structures. As a result, common definitions of the meaning, hierarchy and processes involved are still in flux. For instance, the term policy rather than vision is commonly used to describe the overaching goals, purposes and values related to national security. What is important is that each of these key elements of a vision are well articulated in the policy, and that they are the product of a truly comprehensive and inclusive dialogue process resulting in a widely and genuinely shared view. This reinforced by the UN Security Sector Reform Integrated Technical Guidance Notes which state that a national security policy is a "formal description of a country's understanding of its guiding principles, values, interests, goals, strategic environment, threats, risks and challenges in view of protecting or promoting national security for the State and its peoples" and that "this understanding is anchored in a vision of security determined through a comprehensive process of dialogue with all national stakeholders...".

Similarly, the national security strategy is often broken down into two documents: a national security strategy and a national security plan.

Developing a 'vision and strategy' aimed at strengthening national capacity to address basic security in the immediate aftermath of a conflict is recognized as a fundamental peacebuilding priority and therefore essential for increasing the chances for sustainable peace and development.

Report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict

National security policies and strategies are intimitely linked to SSR, as they articulate the priorities for national security and the capacities required to meet them. These policies and strategies should therefore be viewed as invaluable strategic entry points at the sector-wide level for engaging in and guiding SSR.

UN SSR Integrated Technical Guidance Notes 2012

Nonetheless, for those countries that are looking at their security sectors as a whole, layers of structure are becoming apparent and are beginning to form a conceptual framework and increasingly common procedure. 


1. National security policy (NSP)

A national security policy is the umbrella policy overarching sectoral policies in defence, interior and justice. Most nations today have an unwritten security policy, made up of practices and precendent, tradition and allegiances, which may even be well documented in literature. Purposefully written policies are still rare. Those written policies which do exist tend more than the sectoral policies which sit below them to describe a  state’s understanding of national values, interests, threats, needs and objectives in view of protecting or promoting national security for the state and its citizens. 

RISK : The devil is in the detail

An overly comprehensive policy, which strays into expounding on strategy and dictating action plans, may have a tendency to fall short of due dilligence to strategic rigour. Subsequent problems in implementation of security policy can arise from this and from the lack of detail in a poorly thought-out action plan. 


"A national security policy is defined as a formal description of a country's understanding of its guiding principles, values, interest, goals, strategic environment, threats, risks and challenges in view of promoting national security for the State and its peoples."

SSR Integrated Technical Guidance Notes UN 2012

A policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has to be pursued with apostolic zeal'.

Gandhi 1922.

The formulation of a written national security policy should result from a full national dialogue: a thorough and inclusive process of consultation with all national (and in some cases regional and international) stakeholders, to form a common understanding of the vision, values, interests, objectives and needs of society and the threats they face. Thus, it should incorporate not only a top-down state-centric approach (emanating from the views and perceptions of the government) but also and importantly a bottom-up human-security approach (based on the perceptions and wishes of the people).

National security policies may point to the current priorities in state thinking on national security threats and concerns and will input into a national security strategy of how to marshall national resources to meet security policy level goals. Some national security policies can be quite comprehensive and attempt to include strategy and concrete action plan all-in-one. Others remain  purely at the level of policy discourse. The vision and objectives outlined in the national security policy should ideally inform the development of a national security strategy.

2. National security strategy (NSS)

National security strategies look at how to best marshall a countries resources and assets, including the budget set aside for this specific purpose, in order to acheive the goal of national security. A national strategy will thus build on the strategic vision set out in the national security policy. 


"A national security strategy is defined as a formal description of the methods to be used by the State and its people to realize the vision and goals outlined in the national security policy." 

SSR Integrated Technical Guidance Notes UN 2012

When no explicit policy exists (as is the case in many developed countries) then a national security strategy will rely on a body of tradition, common law, political decrees or statements and relevant white papers. It will also draw on the outcome of a national security dialogue if one has already taken place, or may instigate one in order to elicit opinion from stakeholders, gain as broad a consensus and buy-in as possible, communicate intent and reassurance, and create legitimacy in the process of drawing up the strategy.

In principle, national security strategies could range from those that are explicitly internationalist to those that are more independent or even isolationist. Within the internationalist group of strategies, states may opt to be broadly aggressive in their political and economic dealings with the world or broadly cooperative. Once the state has determined the thrust of its strategic approach to the world, it needs to determine the details to make the strategies work.

3. National security plans

National security sector development (or reform) plans go into the detail about the changes required within the security sector to meet the objectives set out in the higher level National Security Strategy, and the goals and vision set out in the National Security Policy. The plan sets out specific steps showing how the strategy will be implemented over time and how it will be budgeted as considered in the Defence Expenditure Review.

'The main thing is always to have a plan; if it is not the best plan, it is at least better than no plan at all'.

Monash 1918


Security development plans should outline the specific changes (development/reform/transformation) required within the national security architecture in response to the needs of, threats to and vision and objectives for national security articulated in the national policy and/or strategy. Ideally, plans should also contain clear goals and indicators, to encourage measurement of impact and to contribute to public communications campaigns outlining the progress of specific reforms."

SSR Integrated Technical Guidance Notes UN 2012

At the national security level, the plan should be cross-governmental and cross-sectoral. It should consider the application of human rights principles such as child protection and gender equality, as well the interaction with oversight bodies such as parliamentary committees and ombuds institutions.

As development moves into designing and implementing the architecture of the security sector, then the complexity of the task at hand will tend to subdivide into the traditional sectoral areas of police/interior, judiciary, defence, intelligence, ideally with strong reference and collaboration across sectors to show the interplay, for instance, in the criminal-justice chain. At the national level there will probably also be crisis management centre plans, natural disaster plans, and emergency preparedness plans.