Security Sector Reform and Stabilisation - Part 3

by Gordon Hughes · August 17th, 2012.

Part 3 - SSR and Stabilisation of the Security Sector

Following on from the previous two blogs on emerging concepts, political consensus and vision building, this final part of this series looks at the art of the possible for SSR during a period of stabilisation, starting with stabilisation of the security sector.

Given that Security Sector Stabilisation (SSS) needs to be as strategic as possible, interventions should be targeted and realistic, and aimed at a political accommodation, which stops further violent conflict. The immediate priority in countries emerging from conflict is to establish "stability” of the security sector by preventing a recurrence of violent conflict. This also helps to buy time for a permanent peace settlement, and the emergence of ongoing incentives for parties to stick with the peace process, often demonstrated by some form of peace dividend.

Context is key.  A different context in each country will mean different priorities for establishing stability.  These should be identified through a comprehensive contextual analysis and assessments of the existing and predicted internal and external security threats.

How to Condition an Unstable Environment for SSR

Careful analysis is needed in order to identify how an unstable environment can be conditioned or prepared for SSR interventions.  In broad terms the way forward could be determined by: 

  • Identifying the most important strategic focus areas, for example, basic service delivery such as food, clean water and essential medical care 
  • Undertaking an initial audit across the designated focus areas 
  • Establishing a set of benchmarks in each focus area which defines a “good enough” level of stability to enable SSR to begin 
  • Undertaking a gap analysis based on the initial audit results and the “good enough” benchmarks.  From this analysis a “Critical Intervention Path” should emerge 
  • Finally, prioritise, sequence and cluster SSR interventions and initiatives

Security Sector Stabilisation needs to be implemented in a way that builds long-term prospects for reform.  The conditions for successful SSR are unlikely to exist in unstable environments.  These include clarity about the structure of the centre of government and political accountability (through a political agreement or constitution), and capacity to manage a comprehensive approach that is both led and coordinated by government.  However, by working through government systems and engaging senior stakeholders in dialogue about the sector’s development, Security Sector Stabilisation can prepare the ground for SSR.

A wide range of activities can be undertaken by national and international forces and civilian agencies to help stabilise the security sector.  These include:   

  • Providing basic levels of protection for local communities, including access to food supplies, water, health and electricity 
  • Providing basic organisational capacity for a degree of rule of law to prevail (police and justice enforcement) 
  • Managing the impact and future of former adversarial groups, militias and other non-state actors 
  • Making pragmatic decisions on how to manage existing statutory security forces, including plans and strategies for vetting, developing or disbanding personnel, together with a realistic programme for veterans. 
  • Supporting the wider political process, linked to an overall national / international recovery strategy 

The primary purpose of Security Sector Stabilisation activities, therefore, is to create the conditions and build better prospects for SSR programmes.  A programme of SSR requires strong (and to some degree consensual) political commitment, capacity for coordination and managing a comprehensive approach, and development of a legal framework for enhancing political oversight.  To build prospects for successful SSR, Security Sector Stabilisation needs to promote political consensus through dialogue and the opportunities for coordination (for example, making use of entry points such as the management of security for elections) whilst not distracting from the overall political process.  

Critical Success Factors.  In the context of Security Sector Stabilisation there are a number of other critical success factors, which should be explored.  These include: establishing the legitimacy of government; the pivotal importance of leadership at the political and technical levels; the need to assess public perceptions and the value of formulating an information/media strategy; the challenges of international and national coordination; and the fundamental importance of building and promoting local ownership during stability operations. These are some of the building blocks for longer term sustainable development — all of which need further analysis, and are the subjects of future ISSAT operational guidance notes. 

Final Note

 Finally, it is important to remember that there is no predetermined period for stabilisation - it can range from months to years. However, to avoid a collapse in the provision of security and justice, and the prospect of abusive, predatory and unaffordable security institutions, it is imperative that a high priority is given to Security Sector Stabilisation.



Fairlie Chappuis
19 Nov 2012, 20:29:23

Linked to your point in Part 2 that SSR often begins as part of a peace agreement, and to the point you make here about the need for a minimum of political commitment, it would seem reasonable to argue that the goal of security sector stabilisation must be to undo the security dilemma that former waring parties face in laying down their arms. After all this is what makes SSR (and DDR) a key element in so many peace agreements to begin with. If its about changing the balance of (political) power by changing who has control of violence, then the ultimate goal of security sector stabilisation must be to create enough security for former enemies to "risk" engaging in non-violent politics without endangering their vital interests. This is less than what SSR ultimately aims to achieve, and a precondition for SSR, so it would fit with the proposition of security sector stabilisation as the earliest phase of SSR in difficult environments.