A fragile state is characterised by one or several of the following factors: a loss of physical control of the state in its territory, a weakened monopoly over the legitimate use of force, the inability to make collective decisions and provide basic public services, including mainly security and justice services. Security Sector Reform is a necessary transformative process that tackles shortcomings in the access to relevant and accountable security and justice services.

As a matter of fact, SSR is considered as a potential tool for the prevention of fragility. SSR brings together military, police, justice, government officials, political leaders, local leaders and community members to enable justice and security institutions to become more representative, accessible, just and accountable.

The drivers and consequences of fragility are several interconnected factors dealing with environmental, societal, economic, political, security and rule of law factors. As a result, there is a need to understand better what those factors are, how do different donors tackle them in their policies and programming and how can SSR help tackle fragility. Below, are the main multilateral and bilateral fragility policy frameworks as well as examples of ISSAT’s work in this area. 

International Frameworks on Fragility

OECD States of Fragility Framework has been one of OECD’s Development Co-Operation Directorate’s principal products. Through cutting-edge evidence and analysis, it informs and guides donor policies in fragile situations. The OECD remains one of the few sources of aggregate data and analysis on fragility and adopts an evidence-based view of what makes different contexts fragile. In doing so, the OECD’s analysis helps ensure that issues driving fragility remain high on the international development agenda and drives more effective programming on the ground. OECD’s publications also illustrates the current state of financing to address fragility and suggests more effective approaches, accounting for its multidimensionality.

The New Deal developed through the forum of the International Dialogue and signed by more than 40 countries and organizations at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness on November 30th 2011 at Busan, Korea also presents itself as a key agreement between fragile and conflict-affected states, development partners, and civil society to improve the current development policy and practice in fragile and conflict-affected states. Endorsed by the UN, EU, OECD and the World Bank,The FOCUS principles of the New Deal advocate for country-led pathways out of fragility which calls for periodic country-led assessments of fragility in a given context.

UN and World Bank has partnered on a large scale study on the Prevention of Conflict which also assesses fragile states. Originating from the conviction that the international community’s attention must urgently be refocused on prevention, the study Pathways for Peace aims to improve the way in which domestic development processes interact with security, diplomacy, mediation, and other efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent.

The World Bank has launched a global consultation process between April to September 2019, the results of which will feed into the World Bank Group Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV). The consultations seek to integrate stakeholders’ inputs, adopt lessons learned, and reflect best practices so as to inform the strategy and ensure a broad and fully inclusive process. The World Bank Group’s (WBG) Fragile, Conflict and Violence Group annually releases the Harmonized List of Fragile Situations.

Other international initiatives with wide recognition and systematic approaches are:

Fragile State Index (FSI). The index has been published since 2005, applying Conflict Assessment System Tool (CAST) and social, economic, political and demographic indicators.

The Global Peace Index (GPI) measures the state of peace using three thematic domains: the level of Societal Safety and Security; the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and the degree of Militarisation.

Bilateral Approaches to Fragility

United Kingdom

In the UK, 50% of the Department for International Development (DFID) budget is allocated to fragile states. Additional funds will be allocated by 2020 in conflict research. DFID and UK Aid and have published a Building Stability Framework in 2016 which describes how aid could be effectively used in transition from fragility to stability and provides strategic tools in the design of aid programmes. The framework makes a clear linkage between improving the quality of and access to security in reducing the risk of violent conflict and fragility. This is enhanced through more capable and accountable security forces and increase in state legitimacy through fair resolution of disputes, curbing corruption or prevention of violence against women and girls. The framework also advocates for an in depth analysis of the complex drivers of fragility including non-state actors.

In parallel, the UK Stabilisation Unit has published a Guide for Policy Makers and Practitioners explaining the stabilization efforts of United Kingdom. 

The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) works to build peace and stability in countries and regions suffering from some of the world’s most difficult and long-running conflicts.  The CSSF takes a cross-government approach to support and deliver programmes that build stability and tackle fragility. It takes direction from the National Security Council, which includes secretaries of state from across government. Decisions on funding are determined at every level by cross-government boards which provide incentives to departments on working together to deliver government objectives. Programmes blend Official Development Assistance (ODA) and non-ODA funding which allows departments to deliver a broader range of interventions.

LSE-Oxford Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, established under the auspices of the International Growth Centre (IGC) in the UK is working to guide policy to address state fragility by pointing to recent advances in research that policymakers and practitioners aren’t yet paying attention to, and encouraging new research by highlighting critical areas of knowledge missing about fragile and conflict situations.


Sweden’s Strategy for Sustainable Peace and Development (2017-2022) addresses human security in fragile states as a significant goal in its aid programmes executed through Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA).

ISSAT Mandates in Fragile Countries and Knowledge Products

The Gambia is among the big improvers of 2018 according to the Fragile States Index. ISSAT is currently conducting a Human Resource Assessment in the Gambia on behalf of the EU which would further support the local government in rightsizing the security sector and improving public services and human security in the country.

Justice Sector Assessment in Nepal, Mandated by Norway, 2017. Nepal has improved in the 2018 FSI.

SSR Contribution to UN-World Bank Prevention Report, Mandated by the UN, 2017. In 2017, the UN and the World Bank requested DCAF's contribution to their planned study on the prevention of violent conflict. DCAF, used its subject-matter expertise to contribute knowledge and operational experience of how SSR processes have supported prevention efforts. 

ISSAT Video: Identifying Dimensions of Fragility in JSSR, on Guatemala and Honduras, 2016. 

Prevention and SSR, ISSAT thematic webpage, 2018. 

Selected Resources

States of Fragility 2018, OECD.

Global Peace Index, The Institute for Economics and Peace 2018

Escaping the fragility trap, SE-Oxford Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, 2018.

From Urban Fragility to Urban StabilityAfrica Center for Strategic Studies 2018.

Now Is the Time: Research on Gender Justice, Conflict and Fragility in the Middle East and North Africa, Oxfam International 2018.

States of fragility: Stabilisation and its Implications for Humanitarian Action - Humanitarian Policy Group/ Overseas Development Institute, 2010.