What's In Blue

Posted Wed 15 Mar 2023

Briefing on Security Sector Reform

Tomorrow afternoon (16 March), the Security Council is expected to hold an open briefing on security sector reform (SSR) at the initiative of Council president Mozambique. Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions Alexander Zuev and AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Bankole Adeoye are expected to brief. Representatives of Slovakia and South Africa, the co-chairs of the Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform, are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.


The Council first discussed SSR as a thematic issue in 2007 in an open debate during Slovakia’s Council presidency. Since then, the Council has adopted several presidential statements that recognised the role of SSR in the consolidation of peace and stability and in the promotion of long-term development. On 28 April 2014, the Security Council adopted resolution 2151, the first thematic resolution on SSR, following an open debate convened by Nigeria, which spearheaded the resolution. The resolution recognised that SSR should be a nationally owned process, and in this regard recalled the sovereign right and the primary responsibility of the states concerned to determine their respective SSR approaches and priorities. While noting the support provided by bilateral and regional actors, resolution 2151 focused on the key role of the UN system in coordinating international support to SSR processes.

On 3 December 2020, under South Africa’s Council presidency, the Security Council convened a ministerial-level debate on SSR. Following that meeting, the Council adopted resolution 2553, which updated and expanded resolution 2151. This second thematic resolution on SSR contained new language reflecting progress in the implementation of the SSR agenda since 2014 and broader developments in the UN’s approach to the issue. It referenced the need to facilitate inclusivity in SSR processes, including by considering the needs of the entire population and promoting the participation of women in the security sector. It also sought to address gaps in the implementation of resolution 2151, including through strengthened provisions on reporting by the Secretary-General on SSR in his country-specific updates to the Council. Additionally, resolution 2553 requested the Secretary-General to submit a stand-alone report to the Security Council on his efforts to strengthen the UN’s comprehensive approach to SSR. That report was published in March 2022.

Tomorrow’s Meeting

Building on resolutions 2151 and 2553, the Security Council has gradually integrated more SSR considerations in its work, including through country‐specific resolutions mandating peace operations to implement an increasingly wider range of SSR tasks. Tomorrow’s briefing will allow Council members to take stock of these developments, providing an opportunity to review implementation of the resolutions and to consider the challenges and recommendations that the Secretary-General’s 2022 report identified in the UN’s provision of support for SSR.

The concept note (S/2023/168) circulated by Mozambique ahead of tomorrow’s briefing outlines key messages from the Secretary-General’s report. It highlights several challenges described therein, including: the need to address SSR as an inherently political issue rather than purely technical exercise; the lack of specificity commonly characterising SSR provisions in peace agreements, which undermines implementation and complicates UN support; the low priority given to SSR support in official development assistance and uneven coordination between both multilateral and bilateral donors in this area; and the need to engage in sustained and inclusive consultation with local communities and civil society to ensure broad national ownership of SSR processes.

Based on these points, the concept note suggests the following questions to guide tomorrow’s discussion:

  • How can the Security Council improve inclusion of SSR in the context of peace processes?
  • How can the Security Council contribute to the principle of a governance-focused approach to SSR as outlined by the Secretary-General in his report?
  • How can the Security Council support the recommendations of the Secretary-General to improve the United Nations coordination role and improve predictability of SSR support and implementation beyond the lifetime of a mission?

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers are expected to touch on these questions from various perspectives. Zuev is likely to describe efforts undertaken by UN peace operations to implement the SSR components of their mandates, drawing on best practices and lessons learned over the past decade to ensure a coordinated “one-UN” approach to SSR in support of political solutions, in line with the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) reform initiative, which was launched in 2018 by Secretary-General António Guterres.

Adeoye may note that the majority of SSR-mandated peace operations are located on the African continent and consequently highlight the comparative advantages that the AU has in supporting nationally owned SSR processes based on local experience and expertise. Among other points, he may note that the regional organisation adopted a Policy Framework on SSR in 2013 and has identified the issue as a key element in the Agenda 2063, the AU’s framework for promoting sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development. The representatives of Slovakia and South Africa may commend the progress that has been made in the development of SSR policy and practice in recent years, while also urging greater efforts to address remaining gaps in the implementation of resolutions 2151 and 2553.

Although Council members generally agree on the importance of SSR in conflict and post-conflict settings and have integrated SSR-related provisions in the mandates of UN peace operations, some differences of view exist on the matter. Such differences were evident during the negotiations on resolution 2553. For example, China and Russia opposed suggested language linking SSR to conflict prevention, arguing that it is only required in post-conflict situations. Other members, however, took the view that security sector challenges may be a potential root cause of conflict, and argued that SSR should be viewed as part of a broader process relating to conflict prevention, peacebuilding, sustaining peace, and development. In addition, members have expressed divergent views on certain cross-cutting thematic issues, such as the extent to which the UN should promote human rights and a gender perspective in its support of national SSR processes.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may discuss ways to advance the Council’s support for SSR processes in the context of peace operations. Several members might also urge UN entities such as the Inter-Agency Security Sector Reform Task Force and the Global Focal Point for the Rule of Law to enhance efforts to ensure a unified UN approach to the issue that will effectively link SSR activities to other strategic mandate objectives. Some members may advocate a more regular reporting cycle on the topic, and encourage the Secretary-General to include SSR reporting more systematically in relevant country-specific updates to the Council, in accordance with resolution 2553.

Several Council members are likely to raise the issue of financing. Some members may especially highlight the need to ensure that SSR-related activities remain adequately resourced during transitions, as peace operations draw down and hand over responsibilities. They may also consider mechanisms to strengthen coordination between different actors in the provision of SSR support to host countries, including by making use of the convening power of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), as well as by enhancing partnerships with regional organisations such as the AU.

Finally, some Council members are likely to echo the Secretary-General’s report in underscoring the importance of inclusivity in SSR processes. As noted in the report, one of the UN’s guiding principles to SSR is that of “inclusive national ownership, with a focus on the meaningful participation and representation of local communities, women, young people and civil society”. In this context, Council members may note that gender is referenced in only four out of 11 peacekeeping mandates on SSR and call for more consistent inclusion of gender-responsive SSR provisions in relevant mandates.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails