While the term Security Sector Reform has been widely used in the post-conflict peace-building context, further clarification is needed to reveal a larger significance. The OECD's Guidelines on Security System and Governance Reform defines security sector reform as; [it] includes all the actors, their roles, responsibilities and actions - working together to manage and operate the system in a manner that is more consistent with democratic norms and sound principles of good governance, and thus contributes to a well-functioning security framework.

Nicole Ball wrote in 1998 that SSR must "integrate issues pertaining to internal security such as policing, administration of justice, and rule of law with issues relating to the armed forces, the intelligence service, paramilitary forces, and the civilian institutions responsible for managing and monitoring them." Similarly Dyland Hendrickson and Andrzej Karkoszka define SSR as "an attempt to develop a more coherent framework for reducing the risk that states weakness or failure will lead to disorder and violence. It is the transformation of security institutions so that they play an effective, legitimate and democratically accountable role in providing external and internal security for their citizens."

These definitions of security sector reform show that SSR has two different, but closely connected goals. The first one is to ensure that security sector authorities function effectively and efficiently. The second one is that these authorities have effective democratic oversight of the sectors' functions. Hendrickson and Karkoszka refer to the first as the "operational effectiveness and efficiency aspect" and the second as the "democratic governance aspect."

Operational effectiveness and efficiency: Security forces in post-conflict states need to be reformed so that the security forces fulfill their functions. A professional force with clearly identified duties and missions has to be established, together with a clear chain of command. The size of the forces must correspond to the needs of the country and excess weapons must be safely disposed of while there must also be a downsizing of any surplus personnel. Other tasks include, among others, removal of excess weapons, removing surplus officers and commanders, modernising their weapons and other equipment and providing officers and soldiers with training and the necessary education in order to improve democratic oversight.

Democratic governance: Effective democratic, civilian control of the security sector is one of the key components to democratisation. In post-conflict states, clear democratic civilian control over the armed forces must be established so that the armed forces do not abuse their power by intimidating and blackmailing civilians. If the security forces become politicised, they can be a powerful instrument of one or more political groups which want to influence their rivals. The armed forces and other security forces including police and the gendarmerie could also attempt a coup d'etat to topple the existing government. Moreover, without appropriate democratic civilian oversight budgets may be misappropriated. Corruption amongst the border police can flourish thus allowing weapons and drug smuggling. Parliamentarians also need to be provided training opportunities on how to deal with public inquiries regarding defence policy, military spending and weapons procurement for the security forces and related ministries.

Transparency over these issues must also be maintained so journalists, non-governmental organisations and concerned citizens may scrutinise the security forces and have adequate information regarding potential wrongdoing. Thus building a mechanism of good governance for managing and controlling these forces is a key security sector reform target.