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Aug 1, 2016 | SSR Initiative

This article is contribution #17 in our Academic Spotlight blog series that features recent research findings on security sector reform and security governance published in international relations academic journals.

This contribution summarizes research originally published here:

Safal Ghimire (2016). Making Security Sector Reform Organic: Infrastructure for Peace as an Entry Point? Peacebuilding. Available online (doi): 10.1080/21647259.2016.1156813

Is a home-grown security sector reform possible?

Security sector reform (SSR) has been a topic of debates since the 1990s, notably because of the lack of local ownership and other challenges related to the implementation of SSR policies on the ground. In this context, this article succinctly discusses what determined SSR outcomes and whether the ‘infrastructures for peace’ framework can complement the orthodox SSR model. It first frames SSR debates, revisiting the experiences of post-conflict countries before introducing the idea of ‘infrastructures for peace’ and discussing its potential to contribute to SSR efforts. Finally, it reflects on the possibilities of bridging orthodox SSR and ‘infrastructures for peace’ approaches.

SSR in practice

Experiences of post-conflict countries reflect negotiations between internal realities and external intervention models. SSR policies are expected to contribute to state building and peace building processes. At a policy level, they are expected to lead recovery processes towards democratisation and participatory state institutions. At an institutional level, they are designed to create new bodies and restructure existing ones with mandates based on public participation and meritocracy. However, the effective and successful implementation of SSR policies has remained a daunting task in several countries.

For example, SSR policies in Afghanistan emphasized training and security assistance over governance and accountability. The ‘imperatives of winning the war’ and counterterrorism efforts were prioritized over SSR and peace building principles. [1] SSR in Bosnia and Herzegovina was imbalanced because defence restructuring was substantial while police reform had limited impact. Nepal and Kosovo showed just the opposite result. Internal political horse-trading shaped the depth and breadth of police and army restructuring in both places, as did fragmented donor interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The sustainability of SSR policies in Georgia and Liberia remains doubtful because of the replication of international standards. Indifference towards public participation was observable in Liberia, where international authorities performed technical jobs and blamed local political actors for unresolved political issues.

These experiences show that the context—such as latent or active conflict, post-conflict or post-accord situations—shaped the modalities of SSR in practice. Institutional orientation entrenched in agencies also made each context dissimilar to others. Global incidents and consequent shifts in donor policies determined the scope and timeframe of SSR policies. Additionally, rising powers and the nature of regional security complexes also affected SSR performance, as did donors’ domestic discourse, resource availability and political mandates. The labelling of SSR by some groups as an ‘orthodox’, ‘western’, ‘liberal’ or donor-driven model and a focus on techno-bureaucratic re-engineering also impeded its success partly. To what extent then could locally led efforts be successful in addresssing this gap?

Infrastructures for Peace as an Entry Point?

Infrastructures for peace (I4P) has been defined as a ‘dynamic network of interdependent structures, mechanisms, resources, values and skills which, through dialogue and consultation, contribute to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in a society’. [2] In the light of obstacles in externally led peacebuilding efforts, the burgeoning literature on ‘infrastructures for peace’ focus on continuous engagement from various layers of socio-political structures, especially local platforms, to negotiate for sustainable peace. This idea can be applied to the SSR terrain, based on evidence highlighting how participatory institutional structures were successful to some extent in defence reform, police reform, DDR and the curbing of SALW proliferation. Its focus on grassroots and cost-effective measures resulted in a growing sense of local ownership and local support.

Such infrastructures de-escalated violence, assisted in negotiation and encouraged structural transformation. [3] For example, Ukraine’s Human Security Council for Crimea mediated minority–majority relations; Nepal’s Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction led recovery programmes; and Ghana’s National Peace Council, Timor-Leste’s Department for Peace-Building and Kyrgyzstan’s Department on Ethnic, Religious Policy and Civil Society Interaction enhanced capacities to manage conflicts and sustain peacebuilding. The average cost (as observed in Guyana, Bolivia, Ghana and Kenya) is significantly less than externally funded programmes, with UNDP currently supporting ‘infrastructures for peace’ projects in more than 30 countries.

The infrastructures for peace model can also directly contribute to police reform in a wide range of contexts by means of community security, local mediation, neighbourhood watch, ‘crime stopper’ and early response mechanisms. The Organisation of American States created the International Support and Verification Commission in 1989 as a component of the regional peace settlement to oversee the demobilisation of over 22,000 Contra combatants. Its 96 peace commissions worked on mediation and the protection of human rights. Kenya created a national focal point of civic groups, provincial administration and local police commands, which documented and responded to SALW-borne incidents and helped security and intelligence committees curb its proliferation.

Challenges to this model range from leadership issues in such architectures, the inclusion of a variety of actors, the possibilities of political manipulation, and the operational difficulties of such policies in conflict-affected contexts. Some forms of security infrastructures, mostly informal platforms and non-state institutions, risk being ‘sub-national’ and ‘infra-political’ structures whereas meaningful SSR requires political and ‘supra-national’ efforts. This means that locally applied infrastructures for peace policies can contribute to meaningful SSR programming, but cannot represent a fully developed alternative approach to broader SSR strategy.

Moving Forward

SSR should be better understood as a process distinctive to each country, not as a set of orthodox blueprints to be applied without adapting its key characteristics and mechanisms. Conventional application has resulted in the modernisation and empowerment of institutions, but disregarded host contexts and values. The infrastructures for peace model has the potential to address some, if not all, of the pitfalls of SSR because of its attachment to the local setting. However, geographic limitations, ‘informalisation’ or extreme ‘localisation’ of such architectures can ill afford the requirements of SSR. SSR can be undergirded from the grassroots but many post-conflict security issues require national legitimacy. Hence, besides active informal platforms, there is a need to create institutions and structures at all local, national and regional levels to address key security challenges. Local and ‘infra-political’ platforms create horizontal interactions whereas the inclusion of state institutions and regional architectures boosts vertical interactions for security. In the context of SSR, infrastructures for peace should be understood as an amalgam of such platforms and institutions at all levels, where formal agencies legitimize structural changes and local/informal agencies undergird, sustain and help institutionalise such changes.

In conclusion, infrastructures for peace, unrestricted with respect to geographic spaces, can be a complementary framework as a mean to enable effective SSR policies. The alternative to orthodox SSR is not to dismiss it completely, but rather to develop a more organic SSR strategy—which takes into consideration individual contexts.


Safal Ghimire is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Peace Studies, University of New England, Australia. In the past, he taught Peace and Conflict Studies in the Kathmandu University and worked as a Research Officer with the South Asia Office of the Swiss National Centre for Contemporary Research (NCCR North-South)—a global research program led by the University of Bern and the University of Zurich. His research interests include security sector reform/governance, security–development nexus, post-war recovery, and national and regional security.


[1] Mark Sedra (2013) ‘The Hollowing-out of the Liberal Peace Project in Afghanistan: The Case of Security Sector Reform’, Central Asian Survey 32, no. 3: 371–387.[2] JPD Editors (2012. ‘The Evolving Landscape of Infrastructures for Peace’, Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 7, no. 3: 1–7.[3] Ulrike Hopp-Nishanka (2013). ‘Giving Peace An Address? Reflections on the Potential and Challenges of Creating Peace Infrastructures’, in Peace Infrastructures: Assessing Concept and Practice, ed. Barbara Unger et al. Berlin: Berghof Foundation.