May 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2008
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Security Sector Reform

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to take up the Secretary-General’s 23 January report on security sector reform (SSR) in May. A public meeting is planned at which several speakers are expected, including possibly the Secretary-General and Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, whose delegation played an important role in highlighting this issue during its 2006-2007 term in the Council. (Please see our 14 February 2007 Update Report for detailed information.) At press time, it seemed likely that negotiations on a presidential statement would continue at informal consultations after the public meeting.

As the analysis below shows, the issues underlying SSR are also related to wider questions concerned with better integration of activity by peacekeeping missions, more focus on root causes of conflict and the wider challenges of the peacebuilding context. In this regard, there is a lot of synergy with the problems and issues likely to be addressed at the wider high-level debate envisaged for 20 May and foreshadowed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the Security Council on 16 April.

On 20 February 2007, the Council held its first thematic debate specifically on SSR at the initiative of Slovakia (S/PV.5632 and Res. 1). The discussion acknowledged the growing importance of SSR in the work of the Council. It also reflected that discussions on how best to develop principles, guidelines and lessons learned on SSR were still at an early stage. 

In its country-specific work, the Council has progressively recognised that a key factor in achieving peace in post-conflict situations is the transformation of old security sector structures that reflected past power alignments. This has increasingly affected the mandates for UN peacekeeping operations—most notably in Timor-Leste, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire. Progress with SSR has often become a key benchmark in assessing countries’ overall progress towards stability—and especially the impact of the UN’s involvement—and for the exit strategies of multidimensional peacekeeping operations.

The 2007 Council debate provided an opportunity for members and representatives from the wider UN membership, as well as the presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), and the Secretary-General to participate.

The Council adopted a presidential statement confirming that SSR is a “critical” aspect of post-conflict efforts. The statement sought to balance various existing concerns by emphasising the “sovereign right and the primary responsibility of the country concerned to determine the national approach and priorities,” while emphasising the importance of regional and international input, and the PBC’s role. It further noted:

  • the UN’s crucial role in a “comprehensive, coherent, and co-ordinated international support to nationally-owned security sector reform programmes”; and
  • that SSR programmes should be context-driven and have a comprehensive, holistic focus, along with “a balanced realisation of all aspects of security sector reform, including institutional capacity, affordability, and sustainability of its programs.”

As a follow–up, South Africa and Slovakia organised a workshop on African perspectives on SSR in Cape Town on 7-8 November 2007, issued as S/2007/687.

The Secretary-General’s Report on Security Sector Reform
The Secretary-General responded to the requests from the Council and the General Assembly and tendered his recommendations on 23 January 2008. He noted that security sector is “a broad term often used to describe the structures, institutions and personnel responsible for the management, provision and oversight of security in a country.” He stressed that the lessons of the past sixty years have shown that security, development and human rights are interlinked conditions for sustainable peace. As such, the development of effective and accountable security institutions on the basis of non-discrimination, full respect for human rights and the rule of law is an essential element if a peace process is to be maintained.

He identified national actors involved in the security sector as including:

  • security services (including armed forces, police and intelligence);
  • the judiciary;
  • institutions responsible for managing and overseeing the design and implementation of security, including ministries, legislative bodies and civil society; and
  • other non-state actors such as customary or informal authorities and private security actors.

The report proposes a definition of SSR as “a process of assessment, review and implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation led by national authorities that has as its goal the enhancement of effective and accountable security for the State and its peoples without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.” In this regard, the process should go beyond the role of the military and the police and include a “much wider range” of national institutions and actors.

He proposed that international assistance to SSR programmes should involve a range of players with varying expertise and capacity, including UN peacekeeping operations and political offices, UN funds, programmes and agencies, bilateral and institutional donors, and regional and sub-regional organisations and agencies.

He identified various challenges and lessons learned in SSR, including:

  • recognition that SSR is a highly political and country-specific endeavour depending upon political commitment, basic consensus and coordination among national actors;
  • the need for the inclusion of SSR in national reform agendas, poverty reduction strategies and development programmes;
  • the need for a “clear and realistic consideration” of financial, operational and logistical feasibility as well as attention to capacity-building and effective governance and civilian oversight, including civil society; and
  • the current lack of a coherent SSR framework amongst national and international players, as well as in the UN, and the resulting absence of coherent and consistent approaches including in the focus for UN peacekeeping operations.

In view of those challenges, the report proposes guiding principles for UN involvement in SSR:

  • the organisation’s goal would be to support states and societies in developing effective, inclusive and accountable security institutions;
  • SSR should be undertaken under a Security Council mandate and/or a General Assembly resolution, and in accordance with the UN Charter and human rights law;
  • national ownership and commitment;
  • flexibility and country specificity;
  • gender sensitivity;
  • a clearly defined strategy with priorities, timelines and partnerships;
  • effective international support as defined by the integrity of motive, level of accountability and amount of resources provided;
  • coordination among national and international partners; and
  • monitoring and regular evaluation.

The report suggests that only rarely will the UN be the sole partner supporting SSR; rather, a multitude of actors is expected. Given this context, the organisation’s primary roles could be normative (i.e., the development of general principles and standards) and operational, encompassing the establishment of a secure environment, providing strategic planning, facilitating national dialogue, and providing technical advice, coordination, capacity-building, and monitoring and evaluation. He recommended that an effective UN approach would also require work on improving UN system-wide coherence and coordination, and assessment of and response to existing gaps and resource requirements.

The key question for the Council is whether it should continue with a proactive role in developing a common strategic approach to SSR. On one hand, there seems to be a genuine need for strategic thinking (or what the Secretary-General called “normative” work) on SSR given the large number of players, the need to ensure that “national ownership” means an inclusive, participatory and transparent process, and the huge potential for incoherence and lack of coordination and commitment at the operational level especially in peacekeeping operations with Council mandates. The lack of strategic clarity has led to a diversity of explicit or implicit SSR mandates, ad hoc and inadequately-funded implementation and confusion about leadership and division of labour among donors as well as within the UN system.

On the other hand, Council members are aware of the vast complexity and sensitivity of the subject. Any overarching strategic framework needs to bear in mind the acute political sensitivities as between the Council and the General Assembly, the different capabilities and interests of the General Assembly and ECOSOC, and the roles of the PBC, national authorities, donors and regional organisations.

Nevertheless, country-specific involvement in SSR also raises for the Council a number of recurrent questions requiring a coherent strategy at the operational level:

  • the need for improving mission integration;
  • ensuring that sufficient attention to SSR is given in the early stages and that national security strategies are timely adopted;
  • ensuring that peacekeeping operations are coherently incorporated into a national and regional peacebuilding strategy;
  • adopting clear mandates;
  • securing sufficient resources; and
  • paying sufficient attention to rule of law, justice and human rights components.

Council and Wider Dynamics
There are some lingering differences within the Council on the desirable extent of the Council’s role on normative aspects. This largely mirrors previous differences over the Council’s thematic role that some perceive as infringing upon the competencies of the General Assembly. There are also differences—but probably of a more limited kind—about the need for a common SSR strategic approach for operational activities.

Some Council members are very supportive of a Security Council role in establishing a quite wide-ranging normative approach to SSR standards. They do not oppose making this a collaborative effort with the General Assembly. Those members, and key donors, seem to support the notion that SSR should be nationally owned, but they also strongly emphasise that it must not be at the expense of effectiveness, coherence, accountability and human rights standards as key aspects in any SSR approach.

Some—in particular from the Non-Aligned Movement—appear to prefer that wide-ranging normative discussions should occur in the General Assembly. They also seem concerned about generic approaches that could limit future flexibility to accommodate the prerogatives of national governments. For those reasons, they also support a broader role for regional discussion.

It was clear from recent discussions in the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations that a number of UN member states appear particularly concerned SSR will open doors to notions of human rights and human security (and perhaps linkages with other concepts they oppose such as the responsibility to protect).

Options for the Council include:

  • adopting a statement confirming an ongoing proactive role in developing SSR norms, welcoming the Secretary-General’s report and requesting a new report at a specific date;
  • stepping back from a specific normative role but signalling in the text that the Council will focus on some strategic principles relevant for its development of mandates for future peacekeeping operations and oversight of existing ones;
  • inviting the Council’s Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations to come up with specific recommendations for the Council in that regard;
  • initiating discussions with a role for the PBC in joint lessons-learned exercises; and
  • adopting a statement welcoming the Secretary-General’s report and requesting a follow up report by a specific date, but indicating that the Council would welcome working jointly with the General Assembly on an overarching normative framework for SSR taking into account all of the elements in the Secretary-General’s recommendations.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2007/3 (21 February 2007) was the outcome of the thematic SSR debate. 

Selected Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2008/39—A/62/659 (23 January 2008) was the recent SSR report.
  • S/2006/980 (14 December 2006) was the report “Uniting our strengths: Enhancing United Nations support for the rule of law.”


  • S/2007/773 (28 December 2007) was a letter from Slovakia forwarding an SSR concept paper by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  • S/2007/687 (29 November 2007) was a letter from Slovakia and South Africa containing the statement of the co-chairs of the Cape Town SSR workshop.
  • S/2007/107 (23 February 2007) contained the results of an Arria-style meeting chaired by the UK in preparation for the SSR debate.
  • S/PV.5632 and Res. 1 (20 February 2007) was the record of the Council thematic debate on SSR.
  • S/2007/72 (8 February 2007) was the concept paper for the Council’s thematic debate on SSR.

Useful Additional Sources