USIP believes that peace is impossible without security. Our work offers a peacebuilding approach to security sector governance and reform.

Providing citizens with human security is one of the most fundamental obligations of any state. But too often, those intended to provide security, such as military and police forces, instead trigger violence or exacerbate ongoing conflicts. USIP’s work holds as fact that dysfunctional security sector actors can reform to prevent, mitigate, or resolve conflict. Our peacebuilding approach is innovative in the field of security sector reform. We delve deeply into the systemic and structural drivers of conflict and seek to resolve them.

What is Security Sector Reform?

Security sector reform (SSR) is both a political and technical process to enhance the provision of human and state security by making it more effective, transparent, accountable, inclusive, and consistent with principles of human rights, the rule of law, and good governance. It aims at transforming the system for the provision of security and justice in a polity and directly affects power dynamics. The end goal is to create a secure and stable environment for both people and the state, and to enable economic development.

Special Operations Command Africa hosted the first Women’s Leadership Forum during International Women’s Day in N'Djamena, Chad (USAFRICOM/Flickr)
Special Operations Command Africa hosted the first Women’s Leadership Forum during International Women’s Day in N'Djamena, Chad (USAFRICOM/Flickr)

Why Take a Peacebuilding Approach?

The United States government and other donor nations have long engaged with security sectors to decidedly mixed results. The United States has begun to grapple with the adverse human security consequences of some of its engagements. For example, there are new guidelines for security sector assistance in stabilization environments, new requirements for assessment, monitoring, and evaluation of security sector cooperation, and a new comprehensive government strategy—the Global Fragility Act—for tackling and preventing global conflict.  

We believe it is time for new approaches to address the challenges of security sector governance as well. USIP believes that peacebuilding approaches could break through some of the entrenched problems the field of security sector reform has faced for decades and which traditional technocratic approaches to partner capacity-building have not solved.

What Does USIP Do Differently?

USIP’s new Building Peaceful Security program adopts a peacebuilding approach to security sector reform and governance in three ways: 

  1. By supporting and empowering local actors, civil society, and governments to create effective, accountable, transparent, inclusive security sectors in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
  2. By identifying and sharing the best innovative practices in peacebuilding approaches to improve good governance of security and security sectors across the community of practice.
  3. By supporting policymakers and practitioners, both in environments affected by or at high risk of violent conflict and in donor nations, to integrate peacebuilding approaches into security support.

History of SSR Efforts at USIP

USIP has a rich history of engaging in security sector reform over the past two decades. It has leveraged its internal research capacity and network of external specialists to provide time sensitive analysis for policymakers, including papers and public events on post-Arab Spring SSR, SSR in Afghanistan, and SSR in fragile states.

In addition to providing policymakers with empirically based research and insights from the ground, USIP has engaged directly with security sector actors in conflict-affected environments to cooperatively assess and address challenges in a sustainable way. This has been exemplified by USIP’s partnerships with police academies across Myanmar, Tunisia, Pakistan, and other nations to establish and update the curriculum design so that current and future officers benefit from holistic training and education opportunities.

USIP recognizes that human security is a question that involves more than just police and armed forces. Since 2012, the Institute has engaged in justice and security dialogues in violence-affected communities, bringing community members, civil society organizations, nonstate security actors, and state security forces together in locally led initiatives to find common ground and common solutions to their challenges. The Justice and Security Dialogues have helped diffuse tensions in Burkina Faso between police and once-mistrustful members of a local vigilante group who have begun cooperating with police in controlling crime. In Dakar, Senegal, the project has improved the sharing of information between community members and police.

With its unique capacity to both build local partnerships and support policymakers in their search for peaceful resolution to today’s toughest problems, USIP has an opportunity to connect bottom-up and top-down peacebuilding efforts in the field of SSR—elevating local voices beyond their communities and ensuring that high-level decisions are responsive to citizens’ needs. USIP’s work in Tunisia includes the establishment of the Alliance of Tunisian Facilitators (ATF) as part of its goal to reduce violent extremism and address fragility in the country. The Informing Criminal Justice Reform in Libya project aims to strengthen the rule of law in Libya by filling knowledge gaps on the country’s correctional facilities and the criminal justice system in the Fezzan region. In keeping with the growing recognition that SSR means much more than just institutional reform or updating of police and military procedures, we strive to engage actors from all levels of society who have a stake and role to play in shaping peace and security.


Latest Publications

What Is Indigenous Foreign Policy? Lessons from Australia and New Zealand

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

By: Nicole Cochran;  Brian Harding

In early May, the Solomon Islands — the second largest recipient of Australian aid — signed a security agreement with China, raising concerns about the potential for the creation of a Chinese military base a short distance from Australia’s shores. Coming mere weeks before Australian elections, this announcement was widely seen by Australians as a failure of their foreign policy and helped turn national security into a high priority for the elections.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global PolicyMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Putin’s War Backfires as Finland, Sweden Seek to Join NATO

Putin’s War Backfires as Finland, Sweden Seek to Join NATO

Thursday, May 26, 2022

By: A. Wess Mitchell, Ph.D.

Only three months into Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the geopolitical ripple effects are being felt across the European continent. Motivated by Moscow’s aggression, Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO, ending decades of both states’ respective non-aligned status. Finnish and Swedish NATO accession would boost the capabilities and defensibility of the alliance. Their joining NATO is a rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has bristled over the alliance’s post-Cold War expansion and used it as a pretext for his Ukraine incursion.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Biden’s Asia Trip Seeks to Revitalize Alliances, Focus on China

Biden’s Asia Trip Seeks to Revitalize Alliances, Focus on China

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By: Frank Aum;  Mirna Galic;  Rachel Vandenbrink

President Biden made his first trip to East Asia beginning late last week, visiting South Korea and Japan, where he participated in a leader’s summit of the so-called Quad, which includes Australia, Japan and India. The president’s visit is part of a flurry of Asia-focused diplomatic initiatives in recent weeks including the U.S.-ASEAN summit, the U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue and an upcoming speech from Secretary of State Blinken, which is expected to lay out the contours of the administration’s China Policy.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Beyond the Summit of the Americas: Resetting U.S. Policy in Latin America

Beyond the Summit of the Americas: Resetting U.S. Policy in Latin America

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By: Ambassador P. Michael McKinley (ret.)

Despite the Biden administration’s efforts to outline a new, positive vision for engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, old fault lines are likely to come into play at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which kicks off in Los Angeles on June 6. Both U.S. domestic politics and governments in the hemisphere with a more skeptical view of Washington and its intentions contribute to these tensions. A new U.S. perspective is required — one that takes into greater account the region’s diversity, priorities and political complexity. Without such a shift, the perception and reality of declining U.S. influence is only likely to deepen.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Frank Aum on Biden’s Visit to South Korea and Japan

Frank Aum on Biden’s Visit to South Korea and Japan

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

By: Frank Aum

Amid a flurry of Asia diplomatic initiatives, USIP’s Frank Aum says President Biden’s trip is a chance to show the United States is committed to having a major presence in the Indo-Pacific, but that “this is not something that happens in a single summit… We’re going to have to continue to strengthen those efforts.”

Type: Podcast

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