Skip to main content


Back to Insights

SSR, prevention and sustaining peace


The ultimate goal of the United Nations can be boiled down to the need to save populations from the scourge of war – to sustain lasting peace. The increase in internal armed conflict in recent years incurring the displacement and suffering of millions has led to recognition that something needs to change. To this effect, under the leadership of Secretary-General António Guterres, the concept of 'sustaining peace' has been put high on the UN agenda: it is intended to place renewed focus on prevention efforts predicated on early warning and grounded in analysis of root causes of conflict. 

Earlier this year, on 24-25 April, the President of the UN General Assembly, Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Miroslav Lajčák, convened a high-level meeting to discuss options for strengthening the UN’s efforts to sustaining peace. I attended the meeting and was impressed by Member States’ commitment to this topic – it received the highest level of attendance of any UN meeting this year. 

At the meeting, Secretary-General Guterres stressed the need to enhance the coherence of international efforts to ensure they are aligned with national priorities. He also underscored that sustaining peace requires effective prevention efforts at every level, from the local and national to the regional and international. Finally, he made a strong call for relocating funds from peacekeeping to peacebuilding in order to better prioritize prevention efforts. 

Many of the key messages shared at the General Assembly (GA) meeting underlined the importance of security sector reform (SSR) for sustaining peace. This was further reinforced by the high-level roundtable on the role of SSR in sustaining peace that took place on the eve of the GA meeting. DCAF had substantively supported the co-chairs of the UN Group of Friends of SSR, Slovakia and South Africa, in organizing this roundtable. At the roundtable, the President of the General Assembly said security actors “hold the tools which can pull societies back from the brink of conflict – or push them over the edge”. Hence the importance of SSR to help ensure that security actors play a preventive role, in terms of maintaining stability throughout periods of tension and protecting people from violence.

SSR is a challenging endeavour, however, and its success depends on national ownership and leadership. While international actors can play an important supporting role, SSR will only succeed if they are driven by the relevant national actors. The meeting underlined that more needs to be done to truly operationalize the concept of national ownership of SSR. For example, it is important to ensure that the development of national capacities for SSR is part and parcel of broader institutional reforms. Moreover, with national ownership comes the responsibility of national authorities to ensure inclusivity, both in terms of the composition of the security sector and the delivery of security to all people, regardless of race, religion or gender.

We were also reminded that all key areas of peacebuilding, including SSR, requires effective partnerships and sustainable financing. Otherwise, the vision for future peace will never be more than words on a page, leading to further frustration. In terms of partnerships, it was particularly underlined that more needs to be done to institutionalize cooperation across multilateral organizations which support SSR in member and partner states and to clarify roles and responsibilities between these organizations. To this effect, the mapping study on multilateral approaches to SSR support that DCAF has conducted at the request of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and in cooperation with the African Union, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was commended by several representatives of these organizations for taking a step in the right direction towards identifying concrete recommendations, based on strong empirical evidence. The study will be launched publicly in the coming months and we hope it will be an important contribution to strengthening partnerships in support of sustaining peace.

It was also noted that without sustainable funding, the comprehensive approach needed to support SSR from an institution-building perspective will not materialize.

Fostering international commitment to the transparency of bilateral and multilateral security assistance, including through the tracking of funding, is considered an important means to prevent the fragmentation of international support. Like an increasing number of international actors, DCAF has taken an important step in this direction by publishing information on its SSR support through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) which is intended to make information about aid spending easier to understand and access, to the benefit of national and international partners.

In sum, the high-level events on sustaining peace that took place in April in New York highlighted the growing momentum towards a new approach to peacebuilding in the form of sustaining peace. This, combined with the discussions on the upcoming reform of the UN peace and security architecture, offer an opportunity for a renewed emphasis on SSR support as a building block for sustaining peace.

From DCAF’s own experience, such an approach should be predicated on three fundamental principles: 

1) Renewing efforts to place national ownership at the heart of SSR: This means moving beyond lip service to actually increasing efforts to build national capacities in areas essential for enabling national authorities to lead and manage reforms, through a focus on planning, monitoring and evaluation, and budget management. It also requires the recognition that what may work for one country may not be right for another.

2) Operationalizing prevention: This necessitates an increased focus on understanding how SSR relates to root causes of conflict and early warning, as well as identifying mechanisms for increasing the accountability, inclusiveness and resilience of the security sector within an institution-building framework.

3) Capitalizing on partnerships: This includes better leveraging the expertise of diverse actors towards a common objective, and bringing together different perspectives and approaches to support, from peace and security, to human rights to development. 

At DCAF we are applying ourselves to this important agenda, from supporting the UN and other international actors in shaping their policy approaches to mainstreaming these principles through our own operational support on the ground. 

Thomas Guerber
Ambassador Thomas Guerber was DCAF's Director from 2016 to 2022. 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.