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Putting the UN’s security sector reform policy into practice


The involvement of the United Nations (UN) in supporting security sector reform (SSR) has come a long way in a very short period of time. Once a very contested term with a narrow focus on post-conflict settings, SSR is now fully embodied in broader peacebuilding and development perspectives. With a remarkably rich policy framework, including two UN Secretary-General reports, a Security Council Resolution 2151, and a body of guidance tools, SSR has become a core area of engagement for the UN. In the words of H.E. Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly “[i]t is gladdening to note that the UN has moved its security sector reform focus from post-conflict peace building to a more comprehensive peace approach that is sustainable.”

However, while this is true at the policy level, great challenges remain to putting policy into practice in day-to-day operations. DCAF’s new edited volume on The United Nations and Security Sector Reform: Policy and Practice draws from the experiences of UN practitioners and external experts to offer insights into these challenges.

First among them would be to fully implement the now more than 5-year-old Security Council Resolution 2151, which has not happened because of the imperative of the Council to focus mainly on peacekeeping contexts. In addition, identifying opportunities to better engage in SSR-related initiatives in transition, as well as non-mission, contexts.

Indeed, this is nothing new. The sustaining peace resolutions of 2016 (from the General Assembly and the Security Council, 70/262 and 2282 respectively) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda have already underlined the critical role played by professional, accountable and effective security sectors in the consolidation of peace and stability.

When identifying opportunities for SSR engagement throughout the peace continuum, it is key to acknowledge the political dimension of these processes and their impact on power dynamics. SSR, when done though inclusive approaches and in consultation with all parts of society, provides a great opportunity for restoring trust in security institutions, not only after conflict flares, but when tensions first arise.

SSR can thus be crucial in re-establishing a common national project in support of broader nation-building goals, and in turn becoming a key tool for the UN’s preventive approach. To succeed, however, more efforts need to be done to ground the UN’s support in well-informed political analysis, and a thorough understanding of national and local security eco-systems (including hybrid forms of security sectors). It must also ensure coordination and coherence with other international actors offering assistance in the country.   

In implementing such a framework the role of the other main UN organs beyond the Security Council is becoming increasingly critical. That includes, for instance, the Peacebuilding Commission, which brings the governing bodies on development and security together, as well as the General Assembly, and the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Indeed, the new volume on SSR and the UN, which was launched recently at a high-level event at UN Headquarters in New York, recommends that the General Assembly should increase its involvement in SSR to complement the support of the Council.

Against this backdrop, the presence of the President of General Assembly at the launch event in New York was very encouraging. In his view, the “collection of studies from both practitioners and scholars will serve as a reference and tool for debates on security sector reform. It will assist us in our efforts to identify remaining gaps, bridge the gap between policy and practice, and articulate priorities for the future engagement of the United Nations on security sector reform.” 

Read selected chapters of The United Nations and Security Sector Reform

Heiner Hänggi
Heiner Hänggi is Deputy Director and Head of the Policy & Research Department at DCAF – Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance. He is co-editor, with Adedeji Ebo, of "The United Nations and Security Sector Reform". Policy and Practice published by LIT Verlag.