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. The drivers and consequences of fragility are several interconnected factors dealing with environmental, societal, economic, political, security and rule of law factors.

SSG/R is seen as a means of progressively building resilient security and justice systems thus addressing many of the root causes and drivers of conflict that stem from ineffective, poorly managed, or unaccountable security and justice institutions. Security and justice institutions are commonly the primary interface between the State and the population they are meant to serve.

The role of state security and justice institutions during the recent wave of instability globally,  has been a key factor determining how the crisis unfolded. In addition, the Covid-19 public health crisis has put security and justice institutions at the forefront of crisis response measures across the world. The effectiveness, accountability and relevance of these institutions have become increasingly a determining factor for the effectiveness and resilience of the State, as well as, that of the social contract it maintains with the population.

What is Fragility?

In order to understand how SSG/R contributes to conflict prevention, we should first establish the drivers of fragility, as recognised in ISSAT’s Governing Board Members’ strategies. The primary objective of this exercise was to establish a common understanding amongst ISSAT’s GBMs on how they collectively viewed fragility, including its driving factors.

ISSAT studied the conflict prevention or fragility strategies of Germany, Sweden, France, Norway, Netherlands, UK, Slovakia, Switzerland and Denmark and The World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Whilst only France and the World Bank have developed fragility-specific strategies, the rest have developed conflict prevention strategies.

The World Bank and the OECD DAC provide the widest definitions of fragility, linking them to social, economic, political, environmental and security dimensions. Sweden aligns itself to these five dimensions. France adopts four of the five dimensions and considers the environmental aspect to be a “booster” element for fragility. Switzerland, through its Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Strategy, seems to focus on political, social and economic dimensions. The UK, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Slovakia and Denmark’s strategies seem to focus on the aspect of inequalities; social or intercommunal cohesion; illegitimate or untrusted public institutions and security threats on the national and regional levels. The Netherlands adds to that the concern of youth unemployment (in particular men) and perceptions of exclusion. Switzerland’s highlights the determining factor of “uncertain democratic transitions”.

International Frameworks on Fragility

The direct and indirect contribution of security and justice reform to the prevention of violent conflict has been highlighted in nearly every international partner’s security, justice and governance related police, as well as, fragility strategies. The landmark references include the UN Security Council Resolution 2151 (2014), the AU SSR Policy Framework, the European Union Policy Framework for SSR and the OSCE Guidance on SSR.  Organisations such as ECOWAS and the United Nations Office for West African and Sahel (UNOWAS) have included SSG/R as an integral element of their conflict prevention strategies at country and regional levels.

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 internationally-recognised initiatives which provide necessary data and evidence around fragility and resilience of states include:

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.

Second, What is Resilience?

Resilience is generally defined as the ability of a system to absorb shocks, adapt and respond to change in a positive manner, whilst maintaining constructive relations with its environment. International partners tend to recognise four key dimensions to resilience: political; institutional; societal; and partnerships.

France, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark’s strategies understand building resilience as a State-Community partnership; whereby the social contract and civil participation need to be reassessed and rebuilt. The UK and Switzerland highlight the importance and primacy of the political process in rebuilding peace and preventing conflict. The multilateral approach calls for wide partnerships covering economic development, peacebuilding and human security as the way forward for building resilience.

ISSAT Mandates in Fragile Countries and Knowledge Products

ISSAT has supported its international partners in directly addressing fragility and building resilience across four key engagements:

The Gambia is among the big improvers of 2018 according to the Fragile States Index. ISSAT supported 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.

Recognizing that access to justice and an effective, efficient and accountable justice system is one of the main garantees of social cohesion and peace in a given context, Norway had mandated ISSAT to support a Justice Sector Assessment in Nepal, in 2017. Justice reform has been instrumental in Nepal’s improvement in the Fragile State Index as of 2018.

AT the level of policy development around conflict prevention and the role of SSR, DCAF’s ISSAT and Policy and Research provided a SSR Contribution to UN-World Bank Prevention Report, 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.