Thematic Review of Security Sector Reform (SSR) to Peacebuilding and the Role of the Peacebuilding Fund

Publication Year:
April 30, 2020
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


1. This “thematic review” examining SSR and peacebuilding is part of a series of multi-partner studies examining different thematic areas of peacebuilding .1 All studies focus on sector engagements supported by the PBF . The objective of these studies is to identify good practices in each area and, in particular, to identify the factors that contribute towards making a particular intervention successful and sustainable . All thematic reviews are “cross-country” and seek to draw lessons learned that contribute to a greater understanding about:

  • the effectiveness and peacebuilding relevance of current practices in the fund use to inform better selection of PBF projects in the future;

  • the added value, comparative advantage and best strategic positioning of PBF’s funding arrangements from a more programmatic than project-based view aiming for a more lasting peacebuilding impact; the sector relevance and comparative advantage of UN engagement for the peacebuilding process in particular contexts .

2. The PBC’s vital role in facilitating support for national strategies to consolidate and sustain peace has been emphasized by the Secretary-General .2 To date, the PBF has supported SSR related projects in ten countries, constituting approximately US$ 44 million, or 19 per cent of its total US$ 228 million expenditure . Of this total, approximately 72 per cent of this funding has gone towards ‘hardware’ issues, that is, infrastructure, and operations support and equipment . Twenty-one per cent has gone towards training and discipline related issues, while only 7 per cent to ‘security-sector wide’ initiatives3, including in the area of governance (i .e ., oversight and management) . The significant PBF-funded investment in SSR, and the ‘hardware-intensive’ approach adopted by many of the approved priority peacebuilding projects (as opposed to security sector-wide initiatives including in the area of governance), suggest the need for a fuller examination into PBF-funded SSR programmes/projects in order to understand the strategic impact of this investment on building sustainable peace .



3 . The Thematic Review of SSR and Peacebuilding was completed under the overall supervision of the Chief of the Policy, Planning and Application Branch of the PBSO, and a number of PBSO desk officers representing the countries examined in the Review.

The report addresses the following issues, using case studies as examples and evidence, as appropriate:

a) Promising practices in SSR and peacebuilding, especially of a programmatic nature, within the respective sector;

  • Reflecting on the various types of activities that have been undertaken, i.e., including infrastructure, assessment and analysis, training and discipline, operations support and equipment, security sector wide initiatives, including in the area of governance, and/or more generally, between supporting the ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ of SSR.

b) Identification of approaches and factors that are deemed to have contributed to successful SSR in ways that serve peacebuilding;

  • Approaches that are catalytic, support national ownership and build capacities at all levels, encourage civilian oversight and management (effective security sector governance) at all levels, are sensitive to context and conflict causes and dynamics;

  • that support the development of an overall SSR strategy and work within relevant policy frameworks or strategies (i.e., the national development plan); and that support the implementation and/or development of relevant provisions in peace agreements;

  • that promote synergies with other thematic areas and aim for aggregate impact.


Research methodology

4 . The research methodology supporting this review involved the following processes:

  • A research design exercise

  • A short desk-based review of the SSR and peacebuilding literature

  • A roundtable organized and facilitated by ISSAT4 in Geneva in which the lead researcher participated

  • An opportunity to share the findings emerging from the literature review with the other research consultants supporting the project and a wider SSR stakeholder group in New York

  • Field missions undertaken in four PBF-funded countries (Central African Republic, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and one desk-based study carried out on a fifth PBF-funded country (Burundi) .

  • The production of 5 case study reports

  • The production of a synthesis paper which considers the findings from across the 5 national case studies reviewed.


Key Messages

5 . The consultant was tasked to undertake a short literature review on SSR and peacebuilding . The findings of this literature review were cross-referenced with the data findings of the fieldwork from the five countries examined (Burundi, CAR, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) . This wider analysis concluded with the following ‘key messages’:

a)  PBF funding is one of a number of sources of funding for SSR . As SSR is considered a tool of peacebuilding, and as PBF funding is only short-term in nature, PBF funding cannot be expected to address all SSR priorities . However, the future potential of the PBF to shape comprehensive strategies in countries emerging from conflict suggests that i) PBF funding can play an important role in keeping existing SSR programmes ‘on track’ by addressing contingencies and unforeseen SSR-related priorities which emerge over medium to long-term timeframes, ii) PBF stakeholders and structures should be used to inform both new and existing multi-year SSR programmes, and iii) support for ‘ii’ above will require effective partnerships between the PBF and the wider SSR community .

b)  PBF-funding supporting SSR ‘hardware’ (infrastructure and equipment) is generally viewed to be a positive development . However, investments in institutional governance or oversight remain very low (if not non-existent) in comparison with the investment in train and equip priorities . This questions the extent to which such a disproportionately high investment in ‘hardware’ has had any impact on wider SSR and peacebuilding goals . In order for the ‘hardware’ to support the sustainable effectiveness and efficiency of the security sector, and serve as an effect multiplier for wider peacebuilding, such ‘hardware’ investments should only follow a sufficient investment in the ‘software’ (i .e ., on ‘security sector wide’ initiatives, including in the area of oversight and management, political dialogue and advocacy, capacity-building, education and training), or a complementary ‘software’ element should be written into the peacebuilding project proposal in such a way that the investment in the ‘hardware’ becomes contingent on progress being made in the ‘software’ area .

There is an important and mutually dependent link between security and justice which is well-supported by both scholarly and policy literature . The analysis of the 5 case studies examined in this work indicated that this critical linkage is often not developed in a way which ensures that a) the justice sector develops in accordance with the development of wider security actors; and b) both the judicial and law enforcement systems can provide the mutual support required to promote the rule of law . Efforts to capture important information statistics have provided effective support to these initiatives . For example, consolidated data on current, repeat and potential offenders can inform more effective planning across law enforcement agencies . In cases where first-time offences are committed, more discretion can be exercised with regards to lighter sentencing and punitive measures such as community service .

d)  Despite the important role played by non-state actors in support of SSR, traditional SSR approaches do not tend to prioritize grass-roots engagements . Grass-roots issues are at the heart of peacebuilding challenges . The concept of peacebuilding, and its commitment to ‘tackle the root causes of conflict’ is a complementary and overarching framework that can ensure that traditional state-centric security sector institutions develop effective ways of engaging with the communities which are most affected by security-related issues .

e)  Effective SSR programmes are informed by effective and broad national dialogue processes . In post-conflict environments, ‘component-specific’ SSR (such as defence reform and police reform programmes) often begins in advance of such broad-based consultation . In other experiences, SSR programmes have been initiated only after the conclusion of national dialogue processes . Support is required for both initial and follow-on dialogue, thereby supporting an ‘iterative’ process which is entirely consistent with SSR principles . It is in this context that the PBF has added value, and has produced a number of catalytic effects .

f)  The catalytic nature of peacebuilding engagements increased when an individual project formed part of a larger strategic framework . This was the case for PBF projects which supported the Government of Burundi’s Defence strategy, the Government of CAR’s Inclusive Political Dialogue, the Government of Guinea’s PROCONSOGUI, the Government of Liberia’s Justice and Security Programme (and the Liberia Peacebuilding Programme which took peacebuilding beyond PBF-funded activities) and the Government of Sierra Leone’s draft ONS National Security Policy . Projects which formed part of a larger strategic framework also tended to attract follow-up funding .

g)  Through both its Peacebuilding Recovery Fund and its Immediate Relief Facility (IRF), the PBF can be used to fund activities that would otherwise be unlikely to receive funding . The IRF provides enormous utility for addressing potential ‘spoilers’ and unanticipated issues and processes impacting on the security sector which emerge as a result of a changing strategic environment . The IRF is unrivalled and nothing similar is accessible from any other international donor funds, most of which are linked to specific tasks and activities without much room for flexibility . It is often also the case that external funding for security and development assistance cannot be disbursed except in the form of large transactions and an endorsed programme . As potentially derailing events often demand interventions which are not necessarily expensive, but which, if left unattended, have the potential to impact negatively on progress across many parts of the security sector; this type of flexibility and immediate release of funds has proven to be invaluable .

h)  Due to the immediate security (and ongoing development) requirements of post-conflict countries, peacebuilding actors will often find that there may already be some form of ‘embryonic’ planning capacity within some parts of the security and/or development communities . This capacity should be assessed by peacebuilding actors (particularly the JSCs) in order to identify sources of potential support the development of conflict analysis, strategic peacebuilding frameworks and peacebuilding priorities . PPPs should also consider the priorities set out in existing strategic frameworks, as these projects proved to have a much higher rate of further funding and incidence of catalytic effects .

i)  Most of the delays in the PBF-funded SSR projects, and especially those relating to the ‘hardware’ of SSR, occurred as a result of procurement-related issues and errors concerning project management . Procurement processes and project management are central to the effective implementation of peacebuilding projects . The PBF should consider ways of leveraging existing UN procurement and project management expertise to assist in the design and oversight of peacebuilding projects . Parallel systems should not be developed if national capacity exists to support elements of the PBF project management cycle . This risks undermining the credibility of the PBF . If national capacity is not sufficiently strong to support projects, PBF project stakeholders should engage with this weak capacity to ensure that these functions benefit from the PBF project experience . The experience of the UN Integrated Services Centre (ISC) in Burundi helped address a number of project management and procurement-related delays and problems but still took time to set up and staff .

j)  Less conventional security institutions which do not neatly conform to the UN’s accepted definition of the security sector6, such as Land, Forestry, Local Government and Labour Ministries, contribute to the sustainability of longer-term SSR . The broader mandate of peacebuilding provides a useful opportunity to consider development requirements of government ministries which must serve to support, and indeed augment, the security sector . Effective analysis and broad consultation and dialogue will lead to the more precise identification of these requirements . The development of cross-government leadership supporting peacebuilding could learn from the effective leaders in the security sector; particularly where such leaders are not always interested in applying their knowledge and skill sets in support of the consolidation of peace.

k)  Careful and in-depth analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the way in which peacebuilding objectives are supported by proposed peacebuilding projects . This ‘base’ analysis should go beyond a ‘conflict analysis’ and inform more specific strategic peacebuilding objectives and the general programme areas supporting these objectives . Once strategic objectives have been identified, interdependent effects across these objectives and potential programme areas should be evaluated (ideally by the JSC) in order to inform sequencing, prioritization and evaluation indicators .

l)  Lasting capacity development is understood as the process whereby people, organizations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time7 . In this context, enablers supporting capacity development in a PBF-recipient country should be evaluated . UNDP has identified four core issues that influence capacity development: institutional arrangements, leadership, knowledge and accountability .8 Research findings informing this paper indicate that a lack of accountability mechanisms, which form an important part of capacity development, can undermine progressive capacity development initiatives elsewhere across the security sector . Parliamentary capacity and strengthened oversight mecha-nisms are required to oversee the activities and budget of the security institutions, pass new laws/bills, adopt amendments to existing laws/bills, and ratify new policy/strategy documents and decrees which, amongst other things, outline the roles and responsibilities of the security institutions . Support for oversight and accountability of actors and mechanisms, including the civil society, should be considered by all peacebuilding projects . By definition9, SSR requires a focus on both effectiveness and accountability of the security sector . The gradual and sustained development of civil society is important and could be facilitated by using CSOs to support ‘information/data capture’ projects (such as the one described in serial b) above which discussed the utility of bolstered support for justice sector development). Due to the different societal norms and traditions – and based on the different national security priorities impacting on southern-based developing countries – peacebuilding interventions should be supported, where possible, by south-south exchanges and dialogue . Other peacebuilding forums, such as the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, should also be used by the PBC to facilitate the sharing of southern experience and knowledge .



6 . Based on the key messages above, and a review of the management and implementation capacity of the UN to support PBF-funded SSR, the following recommendations are made:

Recommendation 1: Funding in support of national dialogue processes Due to the catalytic effects felt by the national dialogue processes in 4 of the case studies examined in the review, the PBF funding for SSR should, where possible, prioritize support for a national dialogue on peacebuilding . The JSC should evaluate the extent to which a national dialogue process has already been developed . It is sometimes the case that a national dialogue on SSR will precede a national dialogue on peacebuilding . In this case, PBF funding could be used to support the continuity of this dialogue in a way that reaches all regions of a country, and in a way that broadens the dialogue beyond SSR to issues relating to wider governance, social cohesion and socio-economic development; considerations which are important for both longer-term SSR and peacebuilding . Lessons from the past have demonstrated that funding in support of national dialogue is often difficult to leverage . The PBF could add significant value added to this important pre-requisite for comprehensive SSR .

Recommendation 2: Potential IRF projects should be given formal consideration in PPPs – Based on the fluid strategic environment in which SSR takes place, PPPs should make recommendations for contingency projects which could anticipate areas where emergencies or blockages could occur (e .g ., forthcoming elections, instability in particular regions, etc .) . The IRF has made an invaluable, and innovative, contribution to the sustainability of national SSR programmes and thus should be given formal consideration in planning documents . IRF funding that may be required in advance of PPPs being finalized could be used for supporting national dialogue processes as described above in recommendation 1 . IRF funding should also be considered as a way of facilitating the development of cross-institutional relationships, and as a way of providing a forum for national middle and senior government leaders to support the sharing of knowledge and good practice .

Recommendation 3: Where possible, PBF planning should draw on the support of existing national planning capacity – PBF-funded SSR projects should draw on what in some cases represents the most optimal institutional planning capacity in the country’s security sector in order to produce synergies, and to help expand this planning capacity into other government ministries and institutions . Based on increasing evidence that security planning communities are slowly merging with development planning communities, depending on the stage of post-conflict SSR, there is a likelihood that a further expansion in planning capacity will be well-positioned (i .e ., as a result of a Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and/or National Security Sector Review exercises) to help inform peacebuilding priorities . Where security discussions precede peacebuilding discussions, the security/development planning capacity should also be drawn on in order to support the development of a conflict analysis . The planning capacity should be used to inform the prioritization and appropriate sequencing of proposed PBF priorities . Project evaluation criteria should include the need to address the cross-impacts of the project on other non-conventional security ministries whose strengthened capacity, as the research indicates, is critical for the success of longer-term SSR .

Recommendation 4: Conflict analyses and project prioritization should address the critical linkages between the criminal justice component of the security sector and wider security institutions – Conflict analyses undertaken by the JSC should seek to address the gaps in the critical linkages between the criminal justice and security sectors . In order to ensure a degree of coherency across the development of both sectors, these gaps should be used to inform and evaluate SSR-related proposals for PBF funding . Proposed projects that ensure that police training curricula tackle these linkages – or which seek to develop reliable knowledge systems which consolidate data which is central to the functioning of both sectors – serve as two of many examples of projects which could build better coherency between security and criminal justice .

Recommendation 5: Ensuring an element of ‘software’ is included in support for ‘hardware-focused’ SSR projects – In the interest of promoting sustainability, optimal impact and catalytic effects, PBF projects which fund SSR ‘hardware’ should seek to ensure that some form of ‘software element’ is built into the project proposal, as a complement to the ‘hardware’ elements . This could include security sector-wide initiatives such as those outlined by the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (A/65/19, A/64/19), i .e ., the development of “national security sector strategies; security sector legislation; security sector reviews; national security sector development plans; national dialogue on security sector reform; and national management and oversight capacities [and] national coordination bodies for security sector reform” .10 Where appropriate, PBF funding disbursements could be tranched into two phases, with further funding for ‘hardware’ becoming contingent on progress made on the ‘software’ project elements .

Recommendation 6: Addressing the importance of ‘grass-roots’ engagement for SSR-related PBF projects

– Due to the critical role played by ‘grass-roots’ civil society organizations in peacebuilding, UN PBSO should include a provision for ‘grass-roots engagement’ (and perhaps also ‘grass-roots outreach’) in the criteria used to evaluate proposed peacebuilding projects and programmes . Based on the existing confusion surrounding the concept ‘grass-roots organization’, PBSO should also articulate what it means by a ‘grass-roots organization’ . Such clarification would inform both the national strategic concept document, and the conflict analysis advising SSR-related peacebuilding projects, in terms of what is understood to be a ‘grass-roots’ group or organization in the national context . If a PBF-funded SSR engagement does not allow grass-roots CSOs to access PBF funding, they will disengage as CSOs cannot afford to advise/inform peacebuilding processes “out of pocket” .

Recommendation 7: Ensuring that PBF-funding develops capacity in the functions on which it will rely in the future – PPPs should consider the existing procurement, administrative and financial management capacity of the recipient government to support elements of project implementation . Indigenous capacity that can meet the ‘stress test’ should be used to support implementation . Where capacity is too weak to play a leading role in elements of peacebuilding projects, a capacity-building element supporting these implementation functions should form one of the project objectives and thus be included in the project evaluation criteria . Duplication of competent national implementation, governance and oversight mechanisms should be avoided .

Recommendation 8: Ensuring that peacebuilding monitoring and evaluation does not get lost at the technical level – The recommendations of an earlier evaluation of the PBF have called for PBF-funded interventions to be ‘more strategic’ .11 This would necessitate the development of clear strategic peacebuilding objectives (as opposed to ‘themes’ only), and requires a degree of coherency between strategic objectives and programme/ project goals . Clarity on these issues will provide better indicators for evaluation and will cater for the development of a ‘results chain’ . UN PBSO should ensure that the project reports and narratives accessible through the ‘MDTF Gateway’ comment on the extent to which the project is supporting its intended outcomes and impacts . This is not necessarily a consistent practice across the project reports .

Recommendation 9: Ensuring that PBF-funded SSR projects support national capacity development, particularly in the area of ‘accountability’ – the analysis produced by the JSC that supports the Strategic Framework concept and the PPP should include an assessment of national capacity for peacebuilding . Research findings informing this paper indicate that a lack of accountability mechanisms, which form an important part of capacity development, can undermine capacity development elsewhere across the security sector . In this context, PBF programmes should consider current levels of accountability in priority project areas . As such, it is recommended that Strategic Concept documents produced by the JSC consider the effectiveness of current accountability mechanisms – such as Parliamentary and civil society capacity – in each of the priority areas it identifies. In addition, guidance for the submission of PBF project proposals should require all applicants to elaborate on the project’s potential to support (or have a ‘catalytic effect’ on) relevant accountability mechanisms .

If funding does not permit for a significant investment supporting accountability mechanisms, other partners – possibly through a ‘Friends of the PBF’ forum – should be advised of areas where additional funding (or existing programmes) could help ‘gap-fill’ for the PBF, and produce catalytic effects . The limits of the PBF need to be recognized . The utility of the JSC, and the depth of the consolidated analysis it produces, should not be used only to inform short-term PBF projects .

In the case where civil society organizations are weak, PBF funding should consider an element of support for the development of a civil society network (through, for example, the provision of seed funding for network secretariats) and ensure that CSOs (perhaps through the network) are engaged with the oversight and monitoring/ reviewing functions for all PBF-funded projects . Where respondents felt that national mechanisms could be used more efficiently to support project implementation, most government respondents welcomed a role for CSOs in the project oversight .

Recommendation 10: The provision of support for integrated project services – Based on the high number of implementation problems and delays in project completion that came as a result of procurement or project management-related challenges, UN PBSO should leverage existing UN expertise in project management and procurement . The ISC concept proved useful in Burundi, particularly in light of the Government’s lack of procurement, contracting and project management experience . This important capacity is central to the management of future projects that support all areas of peacebuilding beyond SSR . Further research should examine good practice and lessons learned drawn from the ISC experience in both Cape Verde and Burundi and be used to inform recommendations for PBF project implementation capacity.

Recommendation 11: The provision of ‘good practice’ and more strategic guidance supporting SSR in the context of peacebuilding – Lessons from the PBC’s in-country experience should be channelled into the current and ongoing International Dialogue on Statebuilding and Peacebuilding . The g7+ forum should also be used for the purposes of shared knowledge and experience in peacebuilding . The OECD’s INCAF Secretariat could provide and excellent mechanism for the dissemination of PBF-related reviews, good practice and lessons . This support should draw on existing SSR ‘good practice’, and be complemented by UN-funded ‘south-south’ exchanges between PBF-recipient countries.

UN PBSO and the other members of the IASSRTF, which is co-chaired by DPKO and UNDP, should work closely to develop a number of ‘guidance notes’ which support a more strategic approach to peacebuilding as part of the set of guidance notes currently under development . Such ‘guidance notes’ could include, for example, ‘Strategic peacebuilding and SSR: The Role of the PBC and PBF’; ‘The contribution of SSR to the PRSP process’; ‘The relationship between SSR and Peacebuilding’; ‘Comprehensive vs . component-based approaches to SSR’; and ‘Challenges to Longer-term SSR’ . These more ‘strategic frameworks’ and guidance will also help stimulate a broader, more strategic-level debate on the future of UN peacebuilding.

As the IASSRTF is currently developing guidance notes which largely focus on the UN’s strategic level engagement in the provision of SSR assistance – and which make the link between issues such as governance and SSR, and peace agreement and SSR – the UN should consider disaggregating responsibilities for guidance note development between PBSO (to focus on the strategic level issues) and the IASSRT (to focus more on ‘how-to’, operational level guidance).


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