Security Sector Reform and Stabilisation - Part 2

by Gordon Hughes · August 2nd, 2012.

Part 2: Building Political Consensus around an SSR Vision and Strategy

In Part 1 of this series of blogs on SSR and Stabilisation I sought to outline the concepts and connections surrounding SSR and stabilisation.  Now I want to focus on, arguably, the most important dimension of SSR and Stabilisation: building political consensus for future progress.

Effective SSR interventions are best planned within a robust peace agreement, a well-articulated framework of political consensus and around a strategy (Ways, Means and Ends) for the long-term development of the security sector.  Any meaningful SSR Strategy should be based on a much broader National Security Strategy and ideally include: 

  • An environmental analysis and threat assessment.
  • Clear definitions of appropriate institutional roles and responsibilities; future force structures; financial, administrative and performance management systems; and recruitment and promotion procedures.
  • Vetting and skills training.
  • Clarity about the roles of the military and police (including clarification of the counter-insurgency, public safety and criminal justice functions of the police) and the frameworks under which they operate, such as relevant national law.
  • The role of international support and coordination structures and of civil society bodies. 

Without such a strategy, there is a risk of ad hoc and knee-jerk responses to changes in the security situation. For example, increasing police numbers or prison capacity without considering financial and human resource constraints over the longer-term, or failing to consider alternative options, which might achieve the same goal. 

However, most experienced planners recognise that achieving a broad consensus and defining a strategy in stabilisation environments is highly problematic (it was only in 2007 that a strategy was developed in Afghanistan).  There are a number of reasons why national strategy formulation in unstable environments has proved difficult: 

  • Agreements to end conflicts are fundamentally based on a set of political and security compromises, concessions and trade-offs. 
  • If a political agreement lacks widespread legitimacy, or there is no political agreement in place, politics will be contested and turbulent, played out in competition for key positions and resources.  This will limit opportunities to bring people to the same table. 
  • In situations where there is a heavy international military presence, key decisions about both military operations and efforts to build national capabilities are often made by international force commanders.  This risks undermining national government policy capacity and legitimacy. 
  • International and national security forces are often required to focus efforts on reducing violence, and where it exists, to tackle the insurgency, rather than spend time thinking strategically.  
  • Many ministries in stabilisation contexts will also lack any basic capacity for policy formulation and coordination.  

A more realistic approach is to take incremental steps seeking out opportunities and entry points, without undue haste.  This may be a slow and frustrating approach for international actors who are often looking for quick results and an exit strategy. The end goal of a well formulated SSR strategy remains, but in the early stages of a peace process support should be provided to enable decision-making to be as good as it can be, or just “good enough” – for now.  

The most should be made of opportunities to enhance the role that national government, ministers and heads of armed forces play in policy decisions, to draw ministers and senior officials into discussions around future roles and resource issues, and to promote coordinated approaches.  Basic support to establish informed policy making capacity may be essential, including identifying offices, equipment, helping to recruit suitable individuals, defining systems of collating and reporting information, and preparing policy briefing for ministers. 

When a political agreement is in place, the government will then be in a much better position to agree a security sector strategy and move forward. The third and final part of this blog series will looks at the art of the possible for SSR in immediate post-conflict and unstable environments. More to follow....

Best Wishes, Gordon



Thammy Evans
5 Mar 2013, 11:58:29

Click here for Part 3 of this blog.