Civil-Military Occasional Paper 3-2014 - Survey of Australian not-for-profit experiences: Security sector reform in conflict-affected states


In the twenty years since the end of the Cold War, Australian not-for-profits (NFPs) have found a range of ways to support societies manage transitions from warfighting postures to modes of peaceful coexistence, and from military governments to civilian-led democracies. In managing the transitions, these societies have relied heavily on the expertise and relative neutrality of national and international civil society organisations. These organisations have helped national political and military leaders find and return to a path of reconciling former combatants and enemies, and deciding how to re‑establish viable security institutions that respond to civilian control and enjoy sufficient public trust. Very little information has been collected to understand the nature and scope of these experiences, however, so in 2013 the Australian Government tasked the Australian Civil-Military Centre (ACMC) to commission a survey of Australian NFP work in support of security sector reform (SSR). Specifically, SSR is understood to be a concept that ‘evolved over the last two decades to describe a range of efforts to improve the security of a state and its citizens, through an effective, affordable, accountable and transparent security sector. In all cases, but particularly for conflict-affected states, SSR is about the governance of the security sector.’

Conducted in partnership with the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the hypothesis has been that while SSR is central to any political process in societies emerging from conflict, it is a difficult space for Australian NFPs to work in. Some NFPs choose not to work on these issues, and others who do find many roadblocks. Early interviews identified that the NFP SSR-related activities are likely to be concealed behind other humanitarian or development language, can be isolated from larger political engagement and peace processes, can be very difficult to find funding for, and policy makers and practitioners are uncertain of its impact.

Seeking to identify who is doing what where, and to understand some of the risks and opportunities they confront, the author approached the research from several angles:

  • 17 Australian NFPs completed an online survey that asked about SSR and about four cases: Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, South Sudan and Timor-Leste
  • 46 Australian and international experts were interviewed
  • 25 participants attended a workshop to debate the interim findings of the research in Canberra in December 2013
  • additional NFP case studies were subsequently commissioned and included in this report.


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