Disarmament – what’s the point?

by Thammy Evans · February 5, 2013.

I have long held the belief that the patchy success of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes is largely because there's little point having the D and the D if there's no meaningful R. In other words, you can disarm and demobilise a fighting youth as much as you like, but if youth are not able to find a sustainable means of reintegrating back into society and most importantly into the workforce and the economy, then they will go back to guns and to making a living how they know best and how circumstances allow.

Preaching this mantra, as is my wont, to those seated at my table at a working dinner in post-crisis country X last month, I was a little surprised to find that the DDR programme officer seated to my left also thought there was little point in disarmament. Having been asked by my local counterparts earlier during the day for case studies and programme plans of successful weapons collections programmes in other countries, I was hoping this DDR officer would be able to point me in the right direction. Instead he told me there was no point in carrying out weapons collection programmes in X-land right now. His reasons were numerous:

"In a country with the sort of long leaky borders you find here, people can re-arm themselves within ten days if they really want to" he said. "Handing in weapons, especially for cash incentives, just helps the arms trafficking trade, because people will simply keep coming back to hand in another weapon a few days later for another payment."     

"No, no," he continued, "a weapons collection programme is often just another money-laundering scam for corrupt officials. It has a cathartic effect on the people and the government, and is especially soothing for foreign do-gooders and development agencies. It lulls everybody into a false sense of security, without really getting to the crux of the problem. Don't kid yourself, weapons collection programmes are not the panacea of DDR."

That all too familiar maxim these days 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people' (but as Eddie Izzard notes "the gun helps") comes to mind. Knowing that removing the need to resort to violence is the elusive way forward, I asked him how, in his opinion, to get to the crux of the problem. He listed his top three priorities for what, he felt, needs to be a multi-faceted approach:

  1. Reinforce (possibly pre-existing or traditional) alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, including transitional justice, as well as the courts;
  2. Restore confidence in the police and local security;
  3. Regionalise the solution by working with neighbouring countries in order to minimise the resupply of illicit arms and tighten border controls.

That's no small order. But it does have the hallmarks of endurance and sustainability. It's not enough to confiscate weapons (although it helps) — the reason to use weapons needs to be defused. When people resort to violence, the state needs to be able to intervene effectively, and with the trust of its citizens. Finally, no state stands in isolation when it comes to stemming the flow of violence and conflict.

And I still add a fourth point:

   4. Revitalise the economy and, importantly, the labour force; for idle hands work mischief. 

Discussion

Victoria Walker
Feb 26, 2014 3:29:39 PM

Hi Thammy, 

Very late in getting to this, but I wanted to comment nonetheless. 

I am not surprised by the scepticism about DDR. It is (like SSR) an incredibly political process that has often been treated solely as a technical exercise. 

  • Should you ask an individual or group to give up the one thing that gives them security (real or perceived) before there is a a social contract that they trust in and can therefore buy into? 
  • Should you disempower potentially vulnerable individuals before you have mechanisms in place to make those who hold the monopoly of violence accountable? 
  • You cannot tackle everything, so where should the funding priorities lie: creating a secure environment (more likely to focus on the strong, young males, who are the most likely to return to arms), or a just environment (the most vulnerable groups: women, children, disabled, who are least likely to return to arms)?

On the subject of vulnerable groups, it is also very important to think of the wider community that is affected by the conflict. There was a really innovative approach (for the time) used in Aceh, Indonesia - a 30 year civil war that finally resulted in a peace agreement in August 2005 (and has so far lasted, although there are still of course many challenges to overcome). IOM commissioned a psycho-social report to inform their programming and the results of their surveys were very sobering. Just to extract a few statistics.

  • 78% of the total sample report lived through combat experiences.
  • 41% of the sample report had a family member or friend killed, and 33% reported having a family member or friend kidnapped or having disappeared.
  • 45% reported having their property confiscated or destroyed, and 33% experienced extortion or robbery.
  • 65% of men (and 45% of women) reported being forced to watch physical violence against others.

Sadly there are many more such statistics. The report is available here: 

http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/maryjo_good/files/good_m_pna1.pdf

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