Security Sector Reform and Stabilisation - Part 1

by Gordon Hughes · July 17th, 2012.

Part 1: Connecting SSR and Stabilisation ­­— seeking some conceptual clarity

The immediate priority in countries emerging from conflict is to create the conditions for stability so that a peace process can take root leading to reconstruction and development rather than a relapse back into violent conflict.  Security Sector Reform (SSR) is generally considered to be an essential element of any stabilisation, reconstruction and wider peacebuilding process in post-conflict environments.  The UN's Security Council Presidential Statement (SC/9327 dated 12 May 08) emphasizes security sector reform as an essential element of any stabilization and reconstruction process in post conflict environments.  More recently, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, stated that:

“SSR is not palliative or short term.  It is a core element of multidimensional peacekeeping and peacebuilding, essential for addressing the roots of conflict and building the foundations of long term peace and development (UN SSR Perspectives, May 2012)”

Therefore, the SSR Community should seek to deepen its understanding of the nature of stabilisation and the important linkages between stabilisation and SSR.

 Stabilisation has been defined by the UK’s Stabilisation Unit as:

"The process by which underlying tensions that might lead to a resurgence in violence and a breakdown in law and order are managed and reduced, whilst efforts are made to support preconditions for longer term development.”

Stabilisation is about ending violent conflict, or preventing its recurrence, and also creating the conditions for a return to normality.  In this context, normality includes a climate where people feel reasonably safe and where there is non-violent politics and basic economic activity across the country.  The UK’s Stabilisation Unit describes ‘stabilisation’ as support to places emerging from violent conflict by:

  • Preventing or reducing violence
  • Protecting people and key institutions
  • Promoting political processes which lead to greater stability; and
  • Preparing for longer term non-violent politics and development.”

 (Source: UK Government Stabilisation Unit’s website:

In ‘hot’ stabilisation (where violence is still prevalent) achieving these objectives may require emphasis on pursuing insurgents (spoilers) who have no intention of participating in a non-violent political process.  This must be done in such a way as to contain rather than inflame violent conflict.  In such environments external armed forces need to be prepared to play an enforcement role even in the absence of a peace deal or agreement, and to use substantial force in promoting the authority of a weak or contested state against an insurgency or separatist movement.

Stabilisation Environments

Non-Permissive environments are assessed as too dangerous for civilians to work in without armoured vehicles and close protection.  Key Stabilisation Advisers will be authorised to work in non permissive situations for short periods in as secure conditions as possible, to draw up (usually with the military) strategies and policies that will then be implemented by the military. Implementation will be in tasks that are essential for stabilisation in non-permissive environments.

Permissive environments are secure enough to allow the deployment of civilians in the majority of tasks. The military will still be required to undertake military tasks and there will be limited police involvement, but the main deployments will be civilians.

Appropriate Terminology - Stabilising the Security Sector

Stabilisation environments are usually characterised by weak organisational and institutional capacity with continuing outbreaks of violence.  It is often too early to initiate meaningful reform programmes. Furthermore, stabilisation environments have a more pressing need for an immediate reduction in violence, and are contested by turbulent politics, which hinder constructive and far-reaching reform. Arguably, Security Sector Stabilisation (SSS) may be more appropriate terminology than SSR because it more accurately describes the main security sector activities taking place in a hot stabilisation or an immediate post-conflict context.

Future Blogs

What is actually done to stabilise the security sector in immediate post conflict contexts can begin a process to set the conditions for the development of a national security vision, strategy and plan leading to a national SSR programme with a range of projects. The importance of a strategy is the subject of the next part in this series. The third and final part will then look at what can be done to stabilise the security sector in a way that will contribute to sustainable progress. In the meantime I look forward to hearing other views on the connections between stabilisation, SSS and SSR.  

Best wishes, Gordon 


Fairlie Chappuis
19 Nov 2012, 20:01:58

Of course there are already enough acronyms swarming around SSR (SJSR, SST, SSD...etc.) but the idea of security sector stabilisation as a distinct early phase of SSR is promising because it reflects the reality that SSR tends to start out as train-and-equip operations that respond to the exigencies of the immediate security environment. More profound institutional reforms and organisational capacity-building usually come only later, as do the governance focussed reforms that make SSR distinct from other kinds of security assistance.

Thammy Evans
6 Aug 2012, 10:33:00

A piece of supporting literature on this subject is Peter Dahl Thruelson's 2010 paper Security Sector Stabiisation in Non-permissive Environments :

Click here for Part 2 of Gordon's blog.