International Order & Conflict
Report

Security Sector Reform Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Security sector reform (SSR) aims to support the development of “effective, inclusive and accountable security institutions so as to contribute to international peace and security, sustainable development and the enjoyment of human rights by all.” Achieving these normative goals is a long-term, complex, and political process. To be durable and effective, security sector reform must address sensitive and often contentious questions, including what the most critical security needs are, what the security sector “should” be to best meet those needs, and how to get there. In practice, conflicting approaches and priorities among international, national, regional, national, and local actors has led to ad hoc, inconsistent, and uncoordinated SSR implementation. Given its lofty goals, security sector reform in practice has far to go. 

Policy and guidance materials on security sector reform programming have proliferated in recent years, articulating multiple approaches and practices scattered across governments, organizations and scholarly sources. The Future of Peace Operations (FOPO) Program’s SSR Best Practices and Lessons Learned Repository project surveyed SSR policies and practice across governments, international organisations, and non-governmental and civil society organizations with the aim of bridging policy and lessons learned through a comprehensive literature review and interviews with SSR experts. The resulting repository of policy and practice includes more than 600 documents; a thematically indexed spreadsheet of 193 key documents describing SSR policy, guidance, and case studies; and six practice notes. The six areas of focus for the repository and the notes were identified by the SSR Unit in the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as areas needing analysis to support the development of consistence guidance to field operations. 

As part of the process, FOPO produced a unique tool to access and index key SSR documents.This tool, the SSR best practices reference matrix, was launched in New York by the SSR Unit at the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 26 May 2009, and was also presented in Washington on 4 June 2009 at a workshop organized and hosted by the Stimson Center. The SSR best practices reference matrix has been posted to the UN SSR Unit’s website. As a follow-up to research on the six priority areas, the UN’s SSR Unit asked FOPO to write a broader report on cross-cutting issues, good practices and lessons learned in security sector reform. That research has been completed and the final document will be published by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 

UN Photo/ Tim McKulka

SSR Best Practices Reference Matrix

The SSR Best Practices Reference Matrix is a web-accessible, cross-indexed, and interactive reference spread­sheet of SSR sources by themes. It is organized such that the rows contain SSR themes and activities extracted from the documents compiled and indexed by the Stimson team. The columns in the spreadsheet list the documents surveyed, grouped by government/ organization/ authors/ case example, ranging from governments and international organizations to non-governmental organizations and individual scholars. At the moment it provides hyperlinks to public government, international organizations, and NGOs in the repository; links to other documents will be added as we obtain electronic copyright permission. A bibliography of all documents referenced in the spreadsheet is available here. Documents are listed both by major source category (governments, United Nations, other international organizations, and NGO and civil society publications) and alphabetically. 

The SSR repository project was made possible with support from the United Kingdom’s inter-agency Strategic Support for International Organisations (SSIO) program.

SSR Lessons Learned Practice Notes

The quest for a comprehensive and consistently applied framework for SSR must be balanced against the need for context specificity in its application. The following practice notes therefore aim not to prescribe specific actions but to offer tools and processes to assist decision-makers and insights on how to proceed. Case examples and lessons learned may be viewed as options and may reflect what not to do, what to be aware of, or what to consider in planning as well as what has worked or proved useful. The practice notes recognize the multiple limitations of security sector reform: first, that it faces immense challenges of coordination and coherence and, second, that no state is ever likely to model every best practice that can be conceived. But the notes also recognize that many leaders are committed to reform, that their populations demand improved security, and that the transformation of security forces and their supporting institutions from what they are into what they could be is a matter of meeting challenges posed by lack of capacity, resources, and expertise. These notes pull together the possibilities.

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