Welcome to the United Nations

Security sector reform

  • Graduation ceremony for 493 newly trained police officers, including 69 women. Former SPLA soldiers trained with the assistance of UNMIS. Photo: UN Photo/Tim McKulka
Security means different things to each of us. Transforming security institutions to prevent and respond to violence requires giving women and men a voice in articulating security needs, and ultimately fosters popular trust in state services and sustainable development.

The security landscape in every country is a reflection of history, culture, political, socio-economic conditions and experiences. The United Nations assists Member States to undertake security sector reform with a view to achieving effective and accountable security for the State and its citizens, without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law. The United Nations pursues a coordinated and comprehensive approach to security sector reform, anchored in principles endorsed by Member States, across the spectrum of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and development settings.

Security sector reform: the vision of Member States

In its first thematic resolution on security sector reform 2151(2014), the United Nations Security Council reiterates the centrality of national ownership for security sector reform processes. It encourages states to define “an inclusive national vision”, informed by the needs of their populations and developed through inclusive national political processes. The resolution calls for the integration of security sector reform into broader national political processes, notes the importance of strengthening support to sector-wide initiatives that enhance the governance and performance of the security sector, and calls for improved monitoring and evaluation of security sector reform.

The resolution is indicative of the broad political support for security sector reform. Member States are committed to improving the contributions and relevance of security sector reform to the wider development agenda. Created in 2007, the Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform serves as platform for Member States to deliberate on what collective actions need to be undertaken to shape and advance the United Nations security sector reform agenda. The Group is currently co-chaired by Slovakia and South Africa.

Preventing conflict, sustaining peace, fostering development: why security sector reform matters

Security sector reform is an integral element of the United Nations sustaining peace and prevention agendas. Where security sector reform has the necessary political traction and national ownership, it can serve as an entry point for sensitive rule of law reform efforts, helping to fight impunity and thus restoring the social contract on which stability depends.

Support for security sector governance and reform is both a preventive measure and a long-term development goal. The United Nations supports security sector reform not only in peace operations, but also in non-mission settings, in response to national requests, and in transition settings, where peace operations are withdrawing but where ongoing security sector assistance is needed. In societies emerging from conflict, security sector reform is a determining factor for the exit of a peacekeeping operation, early recovery, sustainable peacebuilding and longer-term development. Security sector reform is a sine qua non for sustainable economic and political development.

The security-development nexus is widely acknowledged. The reform of the security sector, particularly in conflict-affected societies, creates an environment conducive to political and socio-economic growth. The joint United Nations-World Bank study, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, notes that “security and justice institutions that operate fairly and in alignment with the rule of law are essential to preventing violence and sustaining peace”.

Security sector reform at work

The Security Sector Reform Service, located within the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions of DPKO serves as the United Nations system-wide focal point on security sector reform. Specifically, the Unit (i) assists field operations and presences with mandates to support national security sector reform efforts, (ii) develops normative documents and guidance, provides training to other practitioners and organizes events on themes at the forefront of the security sector reform debate; and (iii) provides advisory support to senior United Nations leaders, thus streamlining the implementation of a system-wide approach to security sector reform.

Through the Security Sector Reform Service, the United Nations provides significant support to national efforts on security sector reform. The complexity and scope of security sector reform mandates has also evolved beyond “training and equipping” security providers to include interventions that address strategic governance and management of the sector as whole, but also specific components, such as defense sector reform.

Our work is organized around core themes set forth during the High-Level Roundtable on SSR and Sustaining Peace convened by the United Nations Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform, notably strengthening national ownership, regional engagement, gender-responsive security sector reform, sustainable financing as well as coherence and cooperation.

The Security Council has issued security sector reform mandates that include a range of complex undertakings, including the promotion of national dialogue, enhancing civilian oversight and public financial management (Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia), security sector governance, police reform, prison reform, defense sector reform (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya), capacity building, establishment of national security coordination mechanisms (Democratic Republic of the Congo,Libya, Mali, Somalia) to more context-specific areas such as border management (Mali) or maritime security (Somalia) as well as cross-cutting issues, such as gender mainstreaming in the security sector.

Peace operations with a security sector reform mandate include:

The Security Sector Reform Unit is capitalizing on the partnership with the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) to provide - via the International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) - more effective and predictable responses to the needs of peacekeeping and political missions in security sector reform and ensure overall coherence throughout the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2151(2014).

Complementarity and integration: United Nations inter-agency coordination

As part of broader efforts to foster system-wide coherence, the Secretary-General established an Inter-Agency Security Sector Reform Task Force in 2007 to promote an integrated, holistic United Nations approach to security sector reform. Its core functions are: developing sector-wide guidance; leading regional partnerships for security sector reform; maintaining policy dialogue and consultations with Member States and maintaining a United Nations roster of security sector reform experts.

The Inter-Agency SSR Task Force is co-chaired by the Department of Peace Operations and the United Nations Development Programme and consists of 14 UN entities addressing different dimensions of security sector reform processes in a complementary manner. Achievements of the Task Force include the Integrated Technical Guidance Notes to assist security sector reform practitioners and promote a better understanding of security sector reform; conducting assessments and programmes as One UN and the establishment of the roster of experts.

Building coalitions: the regional dimension of security sector reform

The United Nations has an important role to play in ensuring security sector reform processes are nationally-led and adequately coordinated. However, the United Nations is neither the sole provider of assistance, nor the most equipped actor in terms of capabilities. The legitimacy and effectiveness of the United Nations approach to security sector reform depends on the extent to which it is informed by and responsive to regional approaches. Transnational security threats, such as terrorism, organized crime and trafficking of arms, drugs and people, are better addressed through regional cooperation. The United Nations is partnering with the African Union, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and sub-regional organizations to harmonize approaches and improve joint delivery of security sector reform assistance.