top of page

DCAF Backgrounders


The DCAF Backgrounders were a series of short introductions to a range of topics related to security sector governance and reform. These topics included broad thematic areas, such as defence reform and national security policy, as well as more specific topics, such as military ombudsmen and parliamentary committees on defence and security. Each backgrounder examined the issue as it related to the broader context of security sector governance and reform, and included numerous case studies providing practical illustrations of the issues at hand.

In offering a broad conceptual overview as well as practical examples, the backgrounders were designed to cater to a diverse audience, including policymakers and practitioners, as well as academics, students, and the staff of international and non-governmental organisations. The backgrounders were meant to be also used as a tool in training activities. They ended up meeting both these objectives.

The first backgrounder appeared in 2005. Over the life of the DCAF backgrounder series, twenty-six titles were produced. All twenty-five that appeared while David Law was editor are available on this site. (Two of these – National Security Councils and SSR and Human Rights were not published by DCAF.)

In producing the backgrounders, the editor was assisted by several DCAF research assistants, primarily Oksana Myshlovska, Jamie Stocker, Theodore Coonen and Ben Buckland, who additionally  drafted the backgrounder on SSR and Human Rights.  In the drafting of several of the backgrounders, experts associated with DCAF also played a crucial supporting role.

Backgrounders were translated into as many as fifteen languages and thousands of hard copies were distributed. Downloads of backgrounders from the DCAF website could number well over 10,000 per quarter.

The original concept for the backgrounders foresaw that individual titles would be updated on an ongoing basis to take into account best practices and lessons learned from the field. Owing to resource constraints, it did not prove possible to meet this objective.

In 2015, DCAF announced that it was withdrawing the DCAF Backgrounders from its website and planning to launch a new series entitled SSR Backgrounders.


Child Soldiers

This backgrounder provides a profile of a typical child soldier, discusses how and why they are used and what has been done to reduce their numbers. It also highlights the experience of different state and non-state actors as regards the phenomenon, and proposes a number of policy options that could help counter recruitment.



Contemporary Challenges for the Intelligence Community

This backgrounder provides an introduction to the main contemporary challenges for the intelligence community. It explains how the strategic environment has changed since the end of the Cold War, identifies the main actors and issues of relevance to intelligence community, proposes ways that new areas of concern -including strategic terrorism – might be addressed.


Defence Attachés

This backgrounder discusses the development of the defense attaché’s (DA) role and examines how various, mainly Western European, countries approach the position and its reform. It describes the origins of this position are and how its main roles have changed, and also examines various approaches to the DA position and its reform in different countries.


Defence Reform

This backgrounder provides a broad overview of issues related to defence reform. It explains the main features and actors involved in a defence reform, and presents the preconditions for an optimal reform process.


Democratic Control of Armed Forces

This backgrounder examines the main features and  implications of the democratic control of armed forces. It explores various dimensions of that concept, looking at why it is important, how it is implemented and what its main functions are. It also reviews the main international norms in the area of dcaf as well as the  special challenges arising in transition and post-conflict environments.


Gender and Security Sector Reform

This background paper gives a broad overview of issues related to gender and Security Sector Reform (SSR). It explains how gender -related issues impact  on several key dimensions of SSR, namely, effective service delivery, representation, respect for human rights and institutional structures. Links to different sources on the subject are also provided.

Human Rights and SSR

After providing definitions of human rights and SSR, this backgrounder reviews the relationship between the two concepts and lists the most important regional and international human rights instruments that can have a bearing on SSR. The role of SSR in promoting human rights is discussed, as are related concepts such as human security and transitional justice in post-conflict environments.

Intelligence Services

This  backgrounder provides the reader with an introduction to intelligence services and their main activities. The paper describes the purpose of intelligence, discusses how it is produce and reviews the various types of intelligence. The standards that should govern the operations of the intelligence services are also discussed.


Military Ombudsman

This backgrounder provides an introduction to the institution and role of the military ombudsman (MO). The paper explains why MOs can play a particularly important role in countries with reforming security sectors, and discusses the examples of the German and Canadian independent MO mechanisms.


Multiethnic Armed Forces

This backgrounder provides an introduction to the concept of multiethnic armed forces. The paper explains the importance of diversity management in the armed forces and outlines a number of principles to follow in dealing with it. The backgrounder also examines the main structural approaches to multi-ethnicity in the armed forces and discusses ways of ensuring balanced representation of ethnic groups.


National Security Councils

This backgrounder explains the purpose of National Security Councils (NSCs), discusses how they are typically constituted and composed, and outlines their main functions. The prerequisites for an effective NSC are identified. Organigrams showing the particularities of several NSCs from around the world are provided.


National Security Policy

This  backgrounder provides an introduction to the concept of national security policy. It explains why states need a national security policy, what the legal basis for such policies are, and how they are structured, elaborated and implemented. The backgrounder concludes with an overview of the main principles that should guide a democratic and effective national security policy.

Parliament’s Role in Defence Budgeting

This  backgrounder introduces the role of the parliament in defence budgeting. It explains why parliamentary involvement in defence budgeting is necessary, describes how parliaments influence defence allocations and also examines how the role of the parliament in defence budgeting varies from country to country, focusing in particular on developing and post-conflict contexts.


Parliament’s Role in Defence Procurement

This  backgrounder  explains how defence procurement differs from other types of government procurement and identifies the main actors involved. It also discusses the key challenges facing defence procurement and how parliament’s role in this domain can be strengthened, with an emphasis on the issues arising in developing and post-conflict societies.


 Parliamentary Committees on Defence and Security

This backgrounder describes the typical roles of parliamentary committees on defence and security, their mandates and how they tend to differ from other parliamentary committees. Special attention is paid to the responsibilities of defence and security committees in oversight and how their effectiveness can be strengthened.


Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Services

This backgrounder outlines the role and mandate of parliament in the oversight of the intelligence services intelligence scrutiny as well as the distinct challenges arising in this area.  To illustrate some of the different approaches to intelligence oversight, the backgrounder provides an overview of the relevant committees in the US, the UK, Germany and South Africa.

Police Reform

This backgrounder provides a broad overview of issues related to police reform. It explains  the objectives of police reform and the main policing strategies that are often introduced as part of the reform process. The key challenges in the area of police reform are discussed and international norms in the area of policing are identified.


Private Military Companies

This backgrounder provides an introduction to private military companies (PMCs). It discusses the proc and cons of PMCs and the governance issues that their activities raise.  The backgrounder also examines how PMCs are regulated in different national environments, and lists the  international regulations that have been proposed for PMCs.


Security Sector Governance and Reform

This backgrounder introduces the concepts of security sector governance (SSG) and security sector reform (SSR). It examines the main features and the evolution of the SSR approach as well as the actors involved in its implementation. It reviews the arguments for a well-governed and efficient security sector as well as the roles played by different groups and institutions  in this endeavor.


Security Sector Reform and Intergovernmental Organisations

This backgrounder discusses the role of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) in security sector reform. More specifically, it  analyses how different IGOs approach SSR, both normatively and practically; how and why they cooperate with each other; the obstacles they face in the process; and the overall impact of their involvement on SSR processes.


Security Sector Reform in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

This backgrounder reviews the role of external actors in delivering security sector reform programmes in post-conflict environments. It describes the main security-related activities carried out in post-conflict peacebuilding and how such programmes are delivered. It also discusses the key factors determining the success of SSR processes during post-conflict peacebuilding.

Sending Troops Abroad

This paper considers the deployment of troops by democratic states to other states or their territories. The paper addresses two problems involved in sending troops abroad: the decision to deploy troops abroad, and the control and oversight of troop deployments once they have occurred, in particular to peace support operations. Special attention is given to the role of governments and parliaments in these processes.

States of Emergency

This  backgrounder provides an introduction to the concept of a state of emergency. It defines a state of emergency, describes its key components, and identifies the special powers that can be proclaimed during an emergency situation. The backgrounder places a particular emphasis on the essential human rights principles that must be respected in a state of emergency and discusses the mechanisms that can help guard against the abuse of emergency powers.

Trafficking of Human Beings

This backgrounder provides an overview of issues related to the trafficking of human beings. It asks who trafficked persons are, how to recognize them and why trafficking occurs. The backgrounder also discusses why trafficking is important, how it is being addressed and the main challenges associated with it.


Vetting and the Security Sector

This backgrounder introduces the concept of vetting, both  in general and as it is specific to the security sector. It explains why vetting is necessary, who is affected by it and who conducts it. The backgrounder also outlines the main techniques used in vetting  and discusses how much vetting is adequate under different circumstances.

The Way I See it
bottom of page