Thoughts on building a national SSR strategy

SSR is Security Sector Reform. Based on the ivorian (Cote d’Ivoire) experience how can a SSR national strategy be built efficiently? What are the major steps?
1/ National ownership and understanding of the SSR process is a prerequisite
2/ Political will to conduct a real SSR is a priority
3/ A comprehensive review and overview of the national actors involved must be conducted
4/ A new national security Policy (defence and security) must be written based on the diagnosis made earlier
5/ A dedicated budget to SSR is more than necessary
6/ The SSR cross-cutting process must be inclusive and participatory
7/ The SSR actors must be entirely involved in the implementation of the national SSR strategy
8/ The SSR national strategy must be coordonated and monitored by a National Security Council chaired by a prime minister or a President for effectiveness
9/ Each SSR actor must create a SSR dedicated cell in order to implement the reforms
10/ International support for the implementation of SSR national strategy is required

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on building a national SSR strategy

  1. ibishaq

    I am part of the reforms in Cote d’Ivoire, specifically the police part, being member of the group of 40 or so UNOCI UNPOLs tasked to provide technical support to the police reforms. I perfectly agree with your ten-point agenda for buidling a national strategy. The points are crucial and to the point, from my standpoint as participant on the ground. I am not abreast with what is happening on the military and justice aspects (though I am informed our side of the process is the most advanced at the moment), but from all indications a serious look at your ten points by all concerned – local and international – would do the process a great deal of good. I look forward to this.


  2. philipwilkinson

    Having spent 2 years in both Afghanistan and Iraq advising on SSR at the national level (NSC-level), I agree that there needs to be a coherent and comprehensive policy statement that embraces all elements of SSR, however, in both countries we placed SSR within a broader national security policy statement. I have added a brief I produced for the NSC in Iraq in 2008 that is based on experience in Afghanistan: NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY DEVELOPMENT


    1. Before 9/11, few developed western countries had stand-alone security policies. Security policy was considered the sum of foreign and defence policies. Few developed countries had any serious domestic, internal threats to national sovereignty or survival. However, post 9/11, and, in an effort to confront the threats posed by global terrorism, many developed western countries have produced stand-alone security policies that embrace not only the traditional paradigm of foreign and defence policies but also include domestic counter-terrorist strategies and other threats to human security. However, even that wider model of security policy does not cover the threats faced by developing countries, and especially those developing countries coming out of conflict, such as Iraq.

    2. Apart from the ‘traditional threats’, developing countries and those coming out of conflict are also confronted by threats and challenges that emanate from the need for reconciliation and national unity, human rights, the return of refugees, access to justice for all, international and domestic crime, banditry, SSR, DDR, the ready availability of small arms and light weapons, including mines; and threats to social and economic development more broadly. For such countries as Iraq, the threat spectrum is much greater than to more developed nations and consequently, the breadth of coverage of National Security Policy (NSP) needs to be that much greater. Western NSP templates are unlikely to be of much use. Templates from other countries coming out of conflict, however, may offer guidance. That said, the Government of Iraq already has a National Security Strategy that very wisely sets security in a broader development context. However, the NSS as it currently is written does not go into the specifics of the roles, responsibilities and authorities of the various elements of the Iraqi Security Forces and how those roles should be enshrined in law.

    3. Ideally National Security Policy should define the roles responsibilities and authorities of all elements of a national security architecture, including the relationship between the legislature and executive. The commonsensical reason for this is to minimise overlap, potential friction and waste, and to enhance the professional and cost effective delivery of the security function – national defence, the rule of law and justice and human security – in an equitable manner that is perceived as being legitimate by all citizens. Governance issues should be addressed not only in terms of best internal and cost effective management processes but also external over-sight by the legislature and ultimately civil society.

    4. It is also worth pointing out that no government can provide its citizens with a 100% security guarantee, no matter how much money it spends on security, not even the world’s only super-power. Security is relative and the challenge for any government is to balance and prioritise the demands of security, and social and economic development within the national fiscal round. This is the traditional business of government.

    5. The purpose of this short paper is to describe the process used by most countries, both developed and developing, to build their national security policies and to describe how Iraq’s national security strategy might evolve into a full national security policy statement.


    6. While Iraq is only recently coming out of conflict, many of the causes of conflict have only been partially redressed and human rights abuses remain a major concern. The GOI is making major efforts to address the issue of national unity and reconciliation, and the wide range of non-statutory armed groups. A variety of armed groups exist; some are semi official, others unofficial but legitimate, others unofficial and illegitimate and some are simply criminal gangs. The disbandment and reintegration of those groups will require a nuanced and carefully targeted DDR programme. Ultimately, the long-term success of any DDR programme will require the successful delivery of alternate livelihoods. Inevitably DDR strategies should be conducted in parallel with efforts to right-size and professionalize the existing legitimate security forces (SSR). Until the legitimate and statutory security forces can deliver national and human security to a level that inspires confidence in all its citizens, the rational for some form of unofficial community protection force will remain. The macro challenge for the GOI will be to deliver both DDR and SSR plans impartially nationwide such that they are supportive of other initiatives related to constitutional reform, national unity and reconciliation, and downstream reform and invigoration of the public and private sectors. Social and economic development being the key to achieving the specific goals identified in Iraq’s national development strategy.


    7. Whilst security policy will be different for every country, there is a generic sequence of activities that most countries use for its development. This will generally follow the sequence described below, though certain activities will overlap and may be concurrent. An assessment of the security sector and its ability to reconfigure, or be reconfigured and retrained in a democratic context will be an ongoing activity. In those countries coming out of a particularly unpleasant regime (pre-apartheid SA, Iraq), it may be necessary to introduce a preliminary step to any policy review process that states the democratic principles that will underpin the review . The usual sequence of steps that a country uses in developing NSP may adopt the following sequence.

    Step 1. A statement of the democratic principles under-pinning the review.
    Step 2. Identify stakeholders and establish an inclusive and transparent NSP development process that includes civil society and citizens.
    Step 3. Identification of vital national interests, not just in terms of traditional foreign and defence policy objectives but also others such as the need for reconciliation of different ethnic and religious groups. The Iraqi national development strategy should essentially set not only the context but also the goals of a NSP. In the longer-term the ultimate objective of every country, rich or poor should be the achievement of the UN’s millennium development goals.
    Step 4. Conduct a comprehensive national threat assessment to national interests identified in National Development Strategy.
    Step 5. Assessment of the existing security sector, its strengths and weaknesses, and its ability to reconfigure and retrain for new roles and missions.
    Step 6. Development and agreement of basic security assumptions .
    Step 7. Definition of security requirements.
    Step 8. Definition and delineation of missions, roles and responsibilities to the various elements of the security sector.
    Step 9. Establish national security budget and allocate resources.
    Step 10. Force development and capacity building.
    Step11. Develop finance, pay, procurement and personnel policies; conduct a training needs analysis leading to institutional development.
    Step12. Promulgate NSP and relevant legislation.
    Step13. Establish a review and process for identifying and learning lessons.

    6. Process Management. National security policy development should be managed and coordinated at the highest levels of government – cabinet or National Security Council (NSC). Stand-alone reviews of the different elements of the national security forces (army, police etc) should be conducted by responsible government ministries, but coordinated by the NSC. It is the role of the NSC to coordinate all subordinate ministerial committees that are addressing national security policy development. Where assistance is provided by the international community, it must support local ownership and focus on indigenous capacity building. The danger is that large assistance teams have a tendency to create dependency. The development of policy is a futile exercise unless mechanisms are put into place to ensure that policies translate into best practice, validated and lessons identified and learnt.

    7. Conceptual Illustration of NSP. In the following diagram I have tried to show the development process. This is based upon a study of the processes used by just about all those countries that have a national security strategy or policy. It is a generic process. Part 1 is where we start and the immediate requirements. Part 3 is where we want to get to in terms of steady state security policy goals and the legislative framework that frames the roles and responsibilities to the various elements of the Afghan security forces. Part 2 is how we are going to get there (end-state) in terms of ways and means, and is an amalgam of various related strategies. In Iraq, unlike in more stable countries, the challenge of NSP is the management of change and transition and to take the country from a situation of relative insecurity to relative security, while building the capacity of the security forces to assume full responsibility for their missions and roles, as defined in Part 3.

    10. Conclusion. I am aware that you already have a refined process in place that you used to develop your national security strategy, which is an excellent broad security framework. This same process could easily be used to add the additional requirements to turn your NSS into a complete national security policy, which enshrines roles, responsibilities and authorities into law.

    11. Recommendation. You reactivate the NSS process and complete NSP.

    Phil Wilkinson
    5 December 2008



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