Next-Generation Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration

Next-Generation Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration
Photo: Central African Republic solder, Birao, CAR (photo by Wikimedia user hdptcar licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license).
The notion of disarming, then disbanding and rehabilitating former soldiers in the aftermath of conflict is as old as war itself. Tens of thousands of soldiers were voluntarily disarmed and returned to their villages after the Roman-Etruscan wars, and similar practices have followed virtually every conflict since. The expectation has always been that these activities can prevent a relapse of warfare, and potentially kick-start the long road to reconstruction. In recent times, the concept has assumed a kind of orthodoxy in the peace, security and development community. Bilateral and multilateral donors such as the United Nations (U.N.) and World Bank have shown a keen appetite for supporting such processes immediately following the implementation of cease-fires and peace agreements. No fewer than 60 disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) initiatives have taken place around the world since the late 1980s. Most of these were launched in the wake of violent international and civil wars following a definitive victory of one of the parties, or as part of an internationally mandated peace support operation. A first generation of DDR initiatives emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. These programs were intended to help bring protracted civil wars raging across Latin America and Southern Africa to an end. Their focus was on promoting security and stability and reducing the chances that wars could restart. The modus operandi was comparatively straightforward: It involved cantoning and decommissioning senior military personnel together with rank and file soldiers, thus breaking their command and control. Owing to the emphasis of these early DDR schemes on formed military units, whether soldiers or rebels, it was clear who was eligible for reinsertion and reintegration assistance. After receiving modest benefits and possibly a pension, the erstwhile warriors were expected to return home to their original communities as civilians. In some cases, they were welcomed as “heroes” on arrival. In others, they were stigmatized or worse. The scope, scale and success rate of the programs in this first wave of DDR varied considerably from place to place. In the wake of vicious civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa, such programs achieved some success, particularly if gauged by the extent to which they prevented the recurrence of armed conflict. While far from perfect, DDR processes were remarkably orderly and carried out with military-like precision. In other cases, however, the outcomes were less positive. DDR schemes in Cambodia, Haiti and the Philippines in the 1990s failed to collect sizeable numbers of weapons or demobilize fighting forces, much less stem a return to political violence. Predictably, over the years, DDR programs began subtly changing in line with the evolution of wider peace, security and development agendas. When the mandates of United Nations peace support operations began expanding in the late 1990s and 2000s, the policies and practices of DDR changed alongside them. With time, the United Nations announced that a second generation of DDR had arrived. Very generally, DDR activities underwent a shift from a narrow preoccupation with ex-combatants—“spoilers,” in the vernacular—and reductions in national military expenditures to the much broader goals of building lasting peace, promoting reconciliation between erstwhile soldiers and communities, and establishing durable social institutions and economic livelihoods. Put simply, proponents of this second generation of DDR were preoccupied both with achieving security in the short term and creating the conditions for longer-term development. Second-wave DDR programs became especially common following nasty wars in West and Central Africa, the Balkans and parts of Southeast Asia. Many of these settings were experiencing rolling internal conflict, where soldiers, drug-addled rebels and civilians were often conflated. Cease-fires and peace agreements were seldom effective in arresting chronic violence. These conflicts also exhibited regional or transnational dynamics and were increasingly sustained by crime networks dealing in illicit minerals, timber, drugs and arms. Notwithstanding some important successes, first- and second-generation DDR interventions were only rarely effective in reducing collective violence, much less generating lasting socioeconomic opportunities for former combatants, their families and their communities. Part of the reason was that the underlying nature of organized violence was fundamentally changing, resulting in, among other things, an explosion in the number of armed groups on the ground. But instead of rethinking the diagnosis, many DDR proponents advocated for more of the same medicine. As a result, DDR continued being prescribed in a range of settings where it failed to yield progress. Not surprisingly, DDR programs began stretching on for longer periods of time, and their budgets soared. In many cases, DDR programs expanded the caseload of “beneficiaries” by relaxing eligibility criteria to include not just soldiers, but also “associated members” of fighting forces and “dependents” of former combatants. And with few obvious returns on such programs, a kind of wary pessimism began to take hold, with some policymakers questioning the utility of the entire DDR enterprise. Over the past five years, a third generation of DDR appears to be in the ascendant. At the heart of this “new” approach is an acknowledgment of the central place of macro- and micro-level politics in shaping DDR design, planning and implementation. For DDR to be effective, local elites—not just soldiers, rebels and militia—must be involved in the process from the beginning. In places like Central African Republic, Libya, Mali and the Niger Delta, DDR-type activities are being reconceived as an ongoing political process rather than as a stand-alone technical enterprise. DDR planners are also cautiously revisiting the role and potential of conditionality to ensure political settlements stick. DDR is thus being reimagined as a highly complex bargaining process connected fundamentally to local conditions on the ground. It is also connected in complex ways to peace negotiations and robust peace operations, justice and security sector reform, and peace- and state-building. Recent examples of third-generation DDR interventions can be detected in Haiti, following the installation of the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After DDR efforts in both countries stalled, alternative strategies were considered, including so-called community violence reduction. While the real impacts of these measures are still being closely examined, their lessons are nevertheless spreading throughout North Africa and the Middle East as well as South and Southeast Asia. In these and other environments, third-generation DDR processes may be justified on the basis of conventional peace processes, but they are also being contemplated and applied outside of them. When DDR is reconceived in this way, it can be selectively applied in the midst of armed conflicts, and not just after them. Consequently, they share many characteristics with interim stabilization measures. Mapping DDR Trends While DDR is not necessarily a discipline or field of inquiry in its own right, the study and practice of it has expanded considerably over the past three decades. Though initially a relatively modestly sized community of specialists with expertise in international relations and political science, the community of DDR specialists has widened to include experts from across the social sciences, from ethnographers to economists. Much of this expansion was inspired by policy and programming concerns expressed in multilateral and bilateral policy arenas. Action-oriented researchers frequently imparted “lessons from the field” in the academic environment, including at international conferences. Likewise, practitioners have also in some cases been encouraged to invest in evidence-based policy and programming, thus advancing the exchange. The DDR field could therefore be characterized as a classic research-practice feedback loop—a fully iterative and dynamic exchange between analysts and practitioners. More recently, scholarly attention to DDR has evolved toward testing assumptions, undertaking comparative assessments and breaking new disciplinary ground. A growing number of academics are investing in statistical assessments drawing on studies with large-n samples and more experimental design, with examples from Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, South Asia and the South Pacific. Specifically, researchers have begun to examine large numbers of DDR interventions from 1989 to the present to examine the factors accounting for successful DDR programs, and the statistical strength of those programs’ contribution to war recurrence or nonrecurrence, homicide reduction and reintegration success. This expansion in research mirrors, in part, a widening of engagement in DDR by multilateral and bilateral development agencies, foreign policymakers and policy think tanks. What some of this research shows is a range of common characteristics that connect otherwise disparate DDR experiences across time and space. There are also new developments that raise fundamental questions about the future trajectories of DDR. For example, from 1990 to 2010, roughly two-thirds of DDR interventions took place in Africa, with the remainder in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeastern Europe, Central and South Asia and the South Pacific. Some of these were multi-country interventions, owing to a preoccupation with potential spillover effects of armed conflict. For its part, the African Union has responded by upgrading its DDR capabilities. Since 2010, however, there has been a spread of the DDR programs to the Sahel, North Africa and the Middle East, as noted above, which is in part a reflection of where regional and civil conflicts have started to accumulate over the past decade. And from Afghanistan to Iraq and Somalia, there is also a real concern with the contagion effects of extremist “foreign fighters” and radicalized mercenaries moving to other theaters of conflict. The rise of Sunni fighters in Syria and Iraq operating under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is one of many preoccupations confronting the international community. In the meantime, there has also been a steady professionalization of the DDR enterprise. Following the promulgation of the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS) in 2006, DDR programs have converged around a set of agreed policy guidelines. Numbering more than 700 pages, these standards advise everything from approaches to collecting and analyzing data to ways of ensuring national ownership over DDR. They also provide recommendations on the sequencing of DDR interventions as well as appropriate implementation modalities including systems for management and monitoring. Taken together, they are a technocrat’s dream. As a result, after being announced, many DDR programs are rapidly outfitted with a coordinating body, typically a national commission, to give strategic direction and issue policy priorities. Another basic assumption underlying the IDDRS is that the necessary preconditions for DDR exist, and that the political will for the exercise is adequately expressed in a signed peace agreement. As practitioners have found, this is not always the case. Over the past two decades, DDR programs have become increasingly fused with the wider recovery and reconstruction strategies adopted in countries affected by fragility and conflict. Specifically, DDR is increasingly enmeshed in the stabilization and state-building agendas of bilateral aid agencies, even if this interconnection is not always explicitly acknowledged. While in principle this can reinforce the broader peacebuilding and development goals, it can also generate contradictions. In some cases, DDR is pursued in parallel with counterterrorism and counternarcotics initiatives, as in Afghanistan, Colombia and South Sudan. Observers may (correctly) perceive DDR as part and parcel of a wider political agenda. In other instances, DDR may be used as a vehicle to substitute for critical investment in recovery and reconstruction. Expectations of what DDR can realistically achieve are in some cases expanding far beyond what’s reasonable. In what amounts to a case of extreme overstretch, DDR is on some occasions being pursued as a means of social, economic and political engineering, with designs on consolidating democratic and civilian control over the security sector. Notwithstanding these lofty aspirations, on the ground, DDR practitioners across all three generations acknowledge that most, if not all, aspects of DDR are negotiated and decided in the context of highly localized political and economic expediencies. An intensely contested period of bargaining, rather than soaring expectations set from above, defines the parameters of a DDR program, and agreement on basic political preconditions is fundamental to the exercise. While some of this negotiation takes places in the “formal” domain—among donors, national state representatives and agencies—much occurs informally, out of sight of the international aid community, among project implementers, former commanders, combatants, community elites and others. The negotiation of DDR is often stop-and-go, contentious and rarely satisfactory to all parties involved. Although there appears to be consensus on the imperative for DDR from Colombia and Haiti to Afghanistan and Libya, there are still many outstanding questions about how this ought to be pursued. Many DDR practitioners still disagree over the ultimate goals of the exercise, the correct sequencing of interventions, how wide the selection criteria for beneficiaries should be set, metrics of success (including effectiveness and efficiency), and how best to reconcile “security” and “justice” imperatives. Not surprisingly, the labels and terms employed in DDR practices are also freighted with political connotations. For example, in certain circumstances, the concept of DDR is strongly rejected in favor of less “securitized” terminology. Maoist fighters in Nepal and Moro combatants in the Philippines have repeatedly rejected the discourse of DDR. Specifically, they argue that talk of disarmament is tantamount to surrender, something many armed groups are loath to concede. In these and other settings, it might be better to speak of putting weapons beyond use rather than disarmament, decommissioning rather than demobilization, and of normalizing relations rather than demobilization and reintegration. Opportunities and Challenges In spite of new prescriptions and guidelines, including guidance aligned with international humanitarian and human rights standards, decision-makers are still grappling with the conceptual and operational implications of DDR in the 21st century. A particularly tricky issue relates to the question of young people associated with radical and terrorist groups. How does one reach out to "disengage" al-Shabaab in Somalia, Jihadi fighters in Syria, Taliban remnants in Afghanistan or Boko Haram elements in Nigeria? The presence and labeling of individuals potentially involved in "terrorist" and "criminal" activities is raising new legal and operational dilemmas for DDR planners about when, how and with whom to engage. Some practitioners are understandably preoccupied with the legal implications of assisting individuals who occupy the murky zone between ex-combatant, religious warrior and hardened criminal. And while norm-setting exercises such as the IDDRS can offer useful signposts, they only take the security and development communities so far. Fortunately, there are indications that U.N. agencies and others are moving away from formulaic and template-driven thinking. After decades of experience, there is widespread acknowledgment within and outside the aid world that each DDR intervention must be prepared, negotiated and administered according to the specific, and dynamic, circumstances on the ground. A recurring dilemma for DDR planners and practitioners relates to the issue of effective "targeting" of assistance. While it is generally accepted that in DDR operations the ex-combatants receive an initial reinsertion package, or “transitional safety net,” there are questions about whether assistance should be extended to family members, dependents or associates over the long term. Many experts question when individual assistance is effective, and whether community- or area-based solutions are more appropriate. After years of individualized assistance to former combatants in many parts of the world, community-oriented solutions seem to be generating a positive net effect for both combatants and the villages to which they return. There is some evidence that area-based DDR efforts in DRC, Burundi, Ethiopia, Haiti, the Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan have also yielded some important dividends, though surely more research is needed. Another concern of DDR specialists relates to the sequencing or ordering of discrete activities. Indeed, second-generation DDR advocates have emphasized the importance of reinsertion and reintegration, as opposed to disarmament or demobilization, as a constructive point of departure. In other words, DDR programs that offer clear short-term entitlements up front, including social and economic benefits, may generate the necessary incentives for eventual demobilization and, possibly, disarmament. This inversion of the DDR formula, or in some cases the separation of the "R" from the "DD," has been attempted in various settings, especially those where strong gun cultures persist, such as Afghanistan. They have also been attempted in the wake of negotiated peace agreements where provisions exist to put arms beyond use, as in Northern Ireland. Perhaps most interesting, certain lessons related to the prevention and reduction of violence outside of war zones are now being applied in post-conflict settings. And while empirical evidence of the micro-determinants of success remains comparatively thin, some of these initiatives—whether gang violence prevention, youth rehabilitation or environmental design interventions—potentially complement and reinforce conventional DDR strategies. An oustanding question is how to apply these innovations in unstable contexts featuring incomplete DDR and, more specifically, partial reintegration. Alongside interim stabilization measures, these newer armed violence prevention and reduction efforts offer a new frontier for experimentation. Ultimately, for DDR to thrive in the coming years, it will need to adapt to better support the transition of armed groups into peaceful ones and successfully engage situations marked by tenuous peace or simmering violence. The good news is that DDR is growing up. Over the past decades it has in some cases helped build confidence and trust and bought the necessary time and space for the underlying conditions to ripen, and for more conventional stability and recovery-related activities to take hold. For it to fully mature, however, greater investment and attention to measuring outcomes is warranted. Robert Muggah is the research director of the Igarapé Institute and oversees research and policy at the SecDev Foundation. He is also a senior advisor to the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations and the World Bank, and has authored several books and articles on DDR, including “Stability Operations, Security and Development” (2013, Routledge) and “Dealing With Fighters in the Aftermath of War” (2009, Routledge). The author would like to thank Dean Piedmont, who has worked on DDR programs in Africa and Asia from 2002 to 2008 with the United Nations and NGOs, for his contributions to this article, as well as colleagues in the U.N. Department for Peacekeeping Operations and the U.N. Development Program for their critical reflections.

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