Book

Security Sector Reform: Thematic Literatue Review on Best Practices and Lessons Learned

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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” (United Nations, A/62/659, para. 45(a)). 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 (United Nations, A/62/659, para. 42).

A proliferation of policy and guidance on security sector reform programming has articulated approaches and documented good practice, but remains scattered across governmental and organizational sources. This book is a compendium of the practice notes assembled based on the findings of the SSR Best Practices and Lessons Learned Repository project, which surveyed SSR policies and practice across governments, international organisations, and non-governmental and civil society organisations. The project aimed to bridge policy and lessons learned in implementation through a comprehensive literature review, and interviews with SSR experts. The repository includes a collection of more than 600 documents; a thematically indexed spreadsheet of 193 key documents describing SSR policy, guidance, and case studies; and practice notes on six areas of SSR identified by the SSR Unit at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions as key priority areas lacking consistent guidance. The six areas of priority are:

  1. SSR in stabilization environments
  2. Threat assessments and reviews
  3. National security policies and strategies
  4. Governance and oversight of the security sector
  5. Management of the security sector
  6. Defense sector reform

A comprehensive and consistently applied framework for SSR must be balanced with the need for context specificity. This repository and practice notes, therefore, aim not to provide prescriptive actions, but to provide the tools and processes that assist decision-makers, and insights on how to proceed. Where case examples and lessons learned are provided, they may be viewed as options, and may reflect bad practice (i.e., what not to do, what to be aware of, or what to consider in planning), rather than policy or implementation prescriptions.

The repository and 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 will ever perfectly achieve the ultimate objectives of SSR. However, it also recognizes the possibilities: 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 should be, is often challenged by a lack of capacity, resources, and expertise (“demand-side” challenges). 

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