National security strategy (NSS)

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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.


1. Set up steering committee (if different from national security policy steering committee)

2. Conduct further national dialogue on the means to meet the vision and objectives outlined in the NSP

3. Establish a national security forum composed of representatives from government and academia to exchange ideas on strategy development

4. Decide on key priorities, lead actors, coordination mechanisms, and human and financial resource needs

5. Draft the national security strategy

National security strategies (NSS) should be guided by the strategic vision outlined in the national security policy (NSP). They should be based on the values, interests, threats to and needs of the country and ought to describe the methods to be used for meeting the objectives outlined in national security policy.

In cases where there is a lack of clear policy then national security strategy may be based on the interpretation of different elements of what may be considered national security policy, for example, white papers or political statements of intent.

Moreover, if a consultative process has not taken place in the development of the national security policy (or if no formal or explicit national security policy exists) then a broad consultation process (which should usually already take place at the NSP formulation stage) will have to be conducted to ensure that the perceptions, needs, concerns and values of society at large are first taken into account. As a strategy must be both proactive and reactive, the national security strategy should be continuously reviewed to ensure that it responds to both current and future needs and threats.



Shared long-term vision

A vision is based on the country’s values, aims, and interests, and should describe where the country tends to see itself in 5-10 years.  While a vision does not state how to get there, it should set the direction for strategic planning. The vision should be the key component of the NSP, and should be reiterated in the NSS to ensure coherence between the two documents.


Example of a vision: “Jamaica aims to establish a safe and secure environment in which it can focus on achieving a prosperous, democratic, peaceful, just and dynamic society which upholds the fulfillment of human rights, dignity for all persons, and builds continual social progress based on shared values and principles of partnership. It aims to provide an environment in which Jamaicans can experience freedom and the other benefits guaranteed by the Constitution.” National Security Policy for Jamaica: Towards a Secure & Prosperous Nation, 2007.


Threats, risks and challenges

An NSS should reiterate (in the case that a NSP exists) the threats and challenges the strategy aims to address. Over recent years, threats have tended to move from a state-centric approach to one which considers security for the people. Threats addressed may range from piracy, illegal immigration, or risk of invasion, to the risk of natural disasters or gang and drug-related violence. Threats addressed ought to be both current and forward looking.


Objectives and Interests

Objectives will vary on the basis of the threats and what the strategy aims to achieve. Objectives may include: the consolidation of democracy, economic development, protection of territorial sovereignty, prevention of crises, a new approach to security – for example the move from traditional state-centred to people-centred security; enhancing democratic governance of the security sector; coordinating response to a new set of threats, etc… Interests may be linked to the objectives, and may include: economic prosperity, good relations with neighbours, or strengthening the efficiency of state institutions.


Guiding principles

Core principles should be identified to guide the implementation of the strategy as well as the development of the security sector implementation plan. Principles may include: transparency, inclusiveness, confidence-building, partnership-building, respect for human rights and rule of law.




NSS’s should contain a list of activities that will be undertaken in view of achieving the objectives outlined. These may be broad (e.g. conduct media campaigns to draw public attention to the problems of violence or support counter narcotics campaigns), or specific (e.g. enter digital fingerprint information in all travel documents). These activities are likely to be described in more detail in the security sector development or implementation plan.


Human and financial resources

This section should be based on the analysis of the roles and responsibilities of security sector actors identified through the security sector review and gap analysis. Financial resources and needs may be considered at this stage and then developed in more detail in the national security sector development or implementation plan. Clarity on these issues is important in order to help identify the priorities to be addressed.




Priorities ought to be listed on the basis of what is feasible according to the human and financial resources available to reach the objectives. Priorities may also refer to geographic areas of the country or to target groups of the population.


Mechanisms for co-ordination


NSS’s ought to address the issue of mechanisms for co-ordinating the large number of actors involved in the process. Similarly, identifying a lead actor is essential to enhance coherence. The strategy may call for the setting up of a steering committee or implementation committee, although this is something that is likely to be addressed in more detail in the security sector development plan.


Communication strategies


Given the sensitive nature of NSPSPs, some mention ought to be made to the need for communication strategies targeting the government, specific Ministries, civil society, and the international community. This is important to make sure that the general public is informed, and that supporting Ministries understand the importance of contributing to the effective implementation of the strategy.




Reference may be made to the implementation of the security strategy through the need to develop a security sector development plan. This may be done separately or be included in the annex of the NSS.



Reference should be made to the need for monitoring and evaluation. This may take the form of a regularised system, may be ad hoc, or may constitute of a one off review. In some cases there may be no clear mechanism at all.


6. Develop and launch a communication strategy