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

Keith Mines on Secretary Blinken’s Trip to Colombia

Keith Mines on Secretary Blinken’s Trip to Colombia

Thursday, October 21, 2021

By: Keith Mines

As Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Colombia, USIP’s Keith Mines notes there is still work to be done in implementing and expanding the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC insurgency, saying that “consolidating the peace in a place like Colombia was almost as hard as fighting the war itself.”

Type: Podcast

Global Policy

Iraq’s Election Raises More Questions Than Answers

Iraq’s Election Raises More Questions Than Answers

Thursday, October 21, 2021

By: Dr. Elie Abouaoun

Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric whose Mahdi Army followers battled U.S. forces during the years of the occupation, made big gains in Iraq’s parliamentary election on October 10. His victory could pose problems for the United States and Iran. But despite the Sadrist List’s electoral success, it is not a given that al-Sadr will be the next man to lead Iraq, or even be the only kingmaker. USIP’s Elie Abouaoun examines the outcome of the election, the electoral process and the implications for Iraq’s future.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

 Une ville du Sahel conçoit un moyen d'améliorer les réformes – et l'aide internationale

Une ville du Sahel conçoit un moyen d'améliorer les réformes – et l'aide internationale

Friday, October 15, 2021

By: Jasmine Dehghan ; Sandrine Nama

La recrudescence cette année des troubles violents dans le Sahel en Afrique – des attaques djihadistes élargies, des coups d'État ou des tentatives militaires dans quatre pays, ainsi que le nombre constamment élevé de victimes civiles – souligne que des années de travail pour renforcer les forces militaires et policières n'ont pas réussi à réduire l'instabilité. Pour réduire l'extrémisme et la violence, les pays doivent améliorer la gouvernance, et des analyses récentes soulignent le besoin particulier de renforcer le sentiment des gens que leurs gouvernements peuvent assurer la justice et trouver des résolutions équitables aux griefs populaires. Un tel changement est une tâche extrêmement complexe et une ville du Burkina Faso a élaboré un plan de réformes locales avec un processus pour gérer cette complexité.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Democracy & Governance

A Sahel Town Builds a Way to Improve Reforms—and Foreign Aid

A Sahel Town Builds a Way to Improve Reforms—and Foreign Aid

Thursday, October 14, 2021

By: Jasmine Dehghan; Sandrine Nama

This year’s escalation of violent turmoil in Africa’s Sahel—widened jihadist attacks, military coups or attempts in four nations, and continued high civilian casualties—underscores that years of work to reinforce military and police forces have failed to reduce instability. To undercut extremism and violence, countries must improve governance, and recent analyses underscore the particular need to build people’s confidence that their governments can provide justice and fair resolutions of popular grievances. Such change is an immensely complex task—and one town in Burkina Faso has shaped a plan for local reforms with a process to manage that complexity.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Democracy & Governance

In Africa, U.S. Should Focus More on Democracy, Less on China

In Africa, U.S. Should Focus More on Democracy, Less on China

Thursday, October 14, 2021

By: Thomas P. Sheehy; Paul Nantulya; Gustavo de Carvalho

Even as the United States draws lessons from its unsuccessful, 20-year effort to build a sustainable peace in Afghanistan, it is shaping policies to engage the political and economic rise of Africa. Both the shortcomings in Afghanistan and the opportunities of Africa underscore the imperative of building policy on a full appreciation of local conditions. Yet on Africa, China’s growing presence has seized Americans’ political attention, and scholars of African politics say this risks distracting near-term U.S. policymaking. A requisite for U.S. success in Africa will be to focus on Africans’ desires—which include an ambition to build their futures by democratic means.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Democracy & Governance

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