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New DCAF report: Enhancing multilateral support for SSR


In New York on Thursday (13 December), at a meeting of the UN Group of Friends (GoF) on SSR, DCAF launched the Mapping Study Enhancing Multilateral Support for Security Sector Reform: A Mapping Study covering the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The event was hosted by the co-chairs of UN GoF, H.E. Mr. Michal Mlynár, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic and H.E. Mr. Jerry Matthews Matjila, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa, and they invited me to present the background, main findings and main recommendations of the study.

It was attended by representatives from the four organizations examined in the study, namely Alexandre Zouev, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions at UN DPKO; Ayoup Zaid Elrashdi, Senior Economic Affairs Officer and AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN; Serge Christiane, Acting Deputy Permanent Representative, EU Delegation to the UN; and Alexandra Pfefferle, Associate Project Officer (SSG/R) at the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre. Furthermore, several state representatives (including from Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and others) as well as other UN staff (including from UN DPKO and UNDP) were also there. All participants commended DCAF for its work, and expressed keen interest in taking forward some of the recommendations. In this post, I will provide some background of the study and explain the process of engagement with the four international organizations on their approaches to SSR.

Security Sector Reform (SSR) is widely recognized as playing an important role in sustaining peace and enabling development to take root. At its heart, SSR is a fundamentally national process, but many countries draw on support from international actors, for financial resources, technical knowledge, and experience of security sector governance in other reform contexts. Multilateral organizations are also playing an increasingly important part in supporting SSR. Yet the narrow window of opportunity in which national SSR processes can be successfully supported by external actors is often missed because time is lost at the planning stage. Additionally, support delivered by the international community is often compartmentalized, which means it’s not always provided in the most effective way.

In 2014, United Nations Security Council resolution 2151 identified the ‘importance of coordination (...) between the different actors involved in supporting security sector reforms.’ This means more efforts are needed to ensure greater predictability in multilateral support to SSR based on a clear understanding of the normative framework, institutional capacities, and operational practices of each actor. With this in mind, on the margins of the first ever joint UN-OSCE conference on strengthening cooperation on SSR, in Vienna in July 2014, DCAF underlined the need to better understand different multilateral approaches to SSR in order to increase predictability and improve coordination. In the wake of this discussion, the then head of the UN Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions (OROLSI), ASG Dmitry Titov, brought forward the possibility of a mapping exercise that would bring together multilateral organizations engaged in SSR support, while noting that DCAF should lead the exercise under an SSRU mandate.

Now, four years on, we have published the report Enhancing Multilateral Support for Security Sector Reform: A Mapping Study covering the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Our overarching goal was to develop evidence-based recommendations for enhancing the effectiveness and predictability of multilateral support to nationally-driven SSR processes. The Mapping Study’s specific goal was to build a first comparative set of data on the normative and operational approaches to SSR of selected multilateral organizations. Then, on this strong empirical basis we sought to develop a better understanding of the roles and potential comparative advantages of these organizations in SSR support, as well as avenues for enhanced cooperation.

The methodology for this study was a mixed qualitative approach: a combination of desk-research, surveys, and interviews with the AU, EU, UN and OSCE representatives in Addis Ababa, Brussels, Geneva, New York, and Vienna between September 2016 and May 2017. The results of the mapping exercise were reviewed by the four organizations and independent subject-matter experts, and finally validated at expert-level workshops in New York (June 2015) and Brussels (March 2018).

The study addresses three areas that are key to understanding each organization’s approach to SSR: (1) normative frameworks; (2) institutional capacities, and (3) operational practices. In the latter part, the study summarizes the key findings and presents specific recommendations for enhancing SSR support provided by the multilateral organization covered.

The elaboration of this study was a rewarding process because it brought the four organizations together in an unprecedented and intensive collaboration that has contributed to a greater mutual understanding of the others’ approaches to SSR support, and laying the foundations for improved cooperation and coordination in the future.

The report reveals three main findings that should be underlined.

First, while the normative frameworks of these organizations are very rich, they don’t provide meaningful information on potential comparative advantages. Additionally, while it is true that frameworks lay out roles in the area of cooperation and coordination, they don’t clarify which organization should take the lead. The lack of guidance prevents commitments from being translated into practice.

Second, institutional structures vary significantly between organizations, although  they have similar staff profiles. For all four organizations, these capacities are generally limited and are insufficient to provide all necessary expertise required to implement their SSR support mandates.

Third, most operational challenges are common to all the organizations, such as integrating SSR into internal planning processes. Additionally, existing cooperation mechanisms are usually based on information-sharing as opposed to efforts to discuss division of labour.

Furthermore, this study uncovered a discrepancy between the strong commitment of these organizations to enhance the effectiveness and predictability of international support to SSR and current practices on the ground. In practice, support is often delivered in a compartmentalized way with little coordination among actors on the ground. This report will make an important contribution to further enhancing the harmonization of multilateral support to SSR. DCAF stands ready to continue working with the four partner organizations, the UN, the EU, the AU and the OSCE, and to support them to advance the very practical agenda identified in this mapping study.


Thomas Guerber
Ambassador Thomas Guerber has been the Director of DCAF since July 2016. He joined the Swiss diplomatic service in 1997, gaining deep experience of multilateral diplomacy and policy development relating to human security, human rights and sustainable development. He has held senior diplomatic roles at Switzerland's Permanent Mission to the UN, in New York, and at the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs' Human Security Division, including as Head of Section for Peace Policy and Human Security.