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 theirbudgets 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...
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This article first appeared in World Politics Review, 17 June 2014, and has been republished with their permission.