This article argues that there is a close link between security sector reform (SSR) and state building. Focusing on UK approaches to state building and SSR, it argues that these are an extension of liberal models containing a number of assumptions about the nature of states and how they should be constructed and that any analysis of SSR approaches needs to be seen within a broader framework of the international community, which tends to see the replacement of ‘dysfunctional’ societies as desirable both for the people of those states and for the international community. As a result, state building has largely been carried out as a ‘technical-administrative’ exercise focusing on the technicalities of constructing and running organisations rather than on the politics of creating states, leading to a lack of overall political coherence in terms of where SSR is, or should be, going and of what kinds of state are being constructed. Politics is frequently cited by practitioners as representing a set of obstacles to be overcome to achieve SSR rather than a set of assumptions about actually doing it. The effect of development and security policies working closely together in insecure environments is an overarching emphasis on security at the expense of the harder, more long-term process of development.