Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: Theory and Practice

by Desmond Molloy · November 29, 2016.

Are there any parallels between DDR and SSR when it comes to practice?  How can research in each of these two fields contribute to another? In my recent book, I investigate this cross-cutting relationship based on DDR research and practice since 1980s. 

DDR has been widely advocated for decades as an essential component of post-conflict peacebuilding. But DDR in practice has generated more questions than answers. Does it work, contributing to post-conflict stabilization and the reintegration of former combatants? Can it work better? What constitutes success? What accounts for failure? Do potential risks outweigh the potential benefits?  In a book that just came out from Lynne Rienner Publications, I have considered these questions and more, tracing the evolution of DDR theory and practice from the mid-1980s to the present.

In the book, I debate the frequent cross-cutting relationship between DDR and Security Sector Reform (SSR). While often closely linked academically, and often complementary in the field, they tend to be parallel practice areas. SSR addresses issues related to ‘right-sizing’ and restructuring of state security institutions in a new security environment. It is driven by security and budgetary considerations. DDR, on the other hand, in reintegrating redundant fighters or armed groups into civilian life, other than those that may be absorbed into new security structures, is driven by an overarching human security motivation and is deeply engaged in the broader community.

Complementarities between transitional justice mechanisms in a post-conflict environment; special courts, truth and reconciliation commissions, and DDR, hinge on the perception in society that such mechanisms will reduce levels of impunity for the perpetrators of atrocities that are inherent in the conditions of DDR programmes and associated amnesties.  The tensions relate to the concern by DDR practitioners that transitional justice mechanisms, launched early, will discourage influential leaders of armed groups from leading their cadres into the process. Further, the reticence of DDR practitioners to share with the prosecutors of transitional justice data on fighters; personal profiles, histories, etc., in light of their relationship of confidentiality with their clients, gives rise to considerable tension.

Ensuring maximum participation of women associated with fighting groups in DDR programmes has frequently been problematic. I demonstrate how awareness, careful planning and sensitization in order to optimize the gender perspective of the programme can overcome the obstacles.

At a time when the commitment of a global order in flux to the issues of human security and universal rights is at a low ebb, I assert that it is necessary to adopt a cautious approach due to threats inherent in the securitization and privatization of the practice of DDR towards for profit and zero-summed outcomes. Attempting to implement DDR in securitized environments such as in the on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have generally delivered poor outcomes.  The inherent and dynamic risks associated with the implementation of DDR pose multiple conundrums to planner and practitioner.  The success of DDR hinges on appropriately weighting and addressing these dilemmas in a dynamic way; an issue representing a common deficit in DDR implementation to date, and a requirement that does not lend itself well to for-profit motivation.  

Can DDR methodology be applied in addressing the evolving threat of Islamic violent extremism? I argue that elements of DDR practice can be adapted and applied as an aspect of a multi-faceted, full spectrum and coordinated global strategy of prevention and transformation to address the roots of violent extremism, in the long-term.