Demobilizing Irregular Forces

For Karen and Erin

Demobilizing Irregular Forces



Copyright © Eric Y. Shibuya 2012

The right of Eric Y. Shibuya to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2012 by Polity Press

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The History and Evolution of DDR


Disarmament: The Ephemeral Beginning


Demobilization: The Real Heart of the Matter


Reintegration: The End of the Beginning


Challenges and Conclusions





My sincere thanks to Louise Knight and David Winters at Polity Books for taking a chance on a first-time book writer, and for their understanding for the delays incurred when “real life” intruded onto my writing time. Clare Ansell and Susan Beer put the book together beautifully. I would also acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers whose comments improved this work. All errors and omissions, of course, are mine alone.

I owe a great deal to good mentors. Richard Chadwick at the University of Hawaii, Stephen Sloan at the University of Oklahoma, and Dimitris Stevis and Sue Ellen Charlton at Colorado State University. In my career, I have been blessed with supportive colleagues and engaged students. First at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and now at Marine Corps University, the men and women I have worked with have been some of the most dedicated leaders and educators I have had the pleasure of working with. I could easily name them all, but special mention goes to Chris Jasparro, Terry Klapakis, and Paul Smith, as well as Willy Buhl, Rich DiNardo, Paul Gelpi, John Karagosian, Frank Marlo, Doug McKenna, BJ Payne, Paul Pond, Erin Simpson, and Brian Yee. As for my students, I thank you for your service and for all of our discussions, which either sharpened my arguments and thinking or simply made me laugh (intentionally or otherwise) when I needed it.

Finally and most importantly, this book is dedicated to my wife Karen and our daughter Erin. They are the center of my world and I thank them for their understanding when this book inevitably pulled me away from “family time.” Thank you, I love you both. Now, let’s go play.



The early stages of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003 respectively only served to confirm what most analysts had concluded from Operation Desert Storm nearly a decade prior. Simply put, modern militaries (most especially the United States) had become so effective at waging conventional warfare that engaging them in such a manner would place most adversaries at a great disadvantage. Indeed, such concerns were expressed even before Afghanistan and Iraq.1 However, while a great deal of attention focused on the effectiveness of the United States and other modern militaries in waging and winning wars, there was a growing, parallel analysis suggesting that this greater effectiveness had not extended to the post-conflict situation. “Winning wars” was one thing, but “securing the peace” another matter entirely. Modern militaries had focused on the obvious dangers of warfighting, while post-conflict “stabilization” measures were often seen as someone else’s problem (this despite the long history of the military role in post-conflict stabilization).

While the end of the Cold War gave greater freedom of action to Western nations, international organizations such as the United Nations, and regional organizations as well (African Union, Pacific Islands Forum, etc.), the removal of the Cold War context revealed the greater complexity underlying much of these “new” conflicts. Third-party interventions could “do” more, but that did not mean they knew how to help. In fact, this ability to intervene “sooner” than in the past is further complicated by not simply the post Cold War context, but rather by the post World War II “norm” that military conquest will no longer be an acceptable way of gaining territory. Hence, military interventions today seek to stabilize post-conflict environments without “occupying” them in the political sense. This creates the paradoxical situation of an international coalition expressing commitment to spend the time and resources to assist in stabilizing a region after conflict, but also promising to leave as soon as possible.

Civil Conflict and its Aftermath

The challenge of an armed group is one of the most critical issues any state can face. Its veneer of legitimacy in jeopardy, a government must find ways to lower levels of violence and either punish the perpetrators or answer their grievances. In either case, the government must also address any passive support for the group and bring those individuals back into the fold. However, the rise of an armed force is only a symptom of a much deeper issue – the deep insecurity and lack of faith the population has in the state apparatus. This insecurity arises from two main situations. In the first case, the government security structure cannot provide for basic security from unacceptable levels of targeted violence. Phil Williams discusses this situation in post-2003 Iraq. Williams argues, “[the armed groups] originated or (where they already existed) expanded largely because of the inability of the [Coalition Provisional Authority] and subsequently the Iraqi Government to provide security to Iraq’s Shiite majority.”2 In the second case, the government security forces are themselves the source of threat to the community. In either situation, the government’s lack of ability or inclination to provide basic security is a major motivating factor in the creation and evolution of armed groups from outside the government system.

The end of the Cold War allowed for greater intervention by the international community to preserve global stability. These increasing interventions have led to an ironic situation of chronic tensions, if not conflict. Decisive conclusions to conflicts have become increasingly rare in the modern world. It is no longer acceptable, for the most part, to take territory from another country after victory in conflict. The international community either through regional or international organizations and/or coalitions has, especially in the post Cold War world, inserted itself between warring parties in an effort to bring an end to the violence. These operations hope to create “breathing space” between opposing parties in an effort to diffuse tensions, and to create the initial conditions for a peaceful society. The end of chronic organized armed violence does not lead automatically to peace; indeed, it is frequently the case that the end of “organized” or “political” violence leads simply to disorganized violence and/or criminal banditry.3 Whatever the term, it is certainly not “peace.” Third parties and outsiders can certainly contribute, but fundamentally, peace must be cultivated from within a society. The international community generally recognizes their contribution to developing this peace as having three major elements: the physical removal and/or destruction of much of the weaponry in the area, the elimination of the (quasi-) military or security force structures, and finally a process whereby former combatants are brought into the rest of the community. These respective processes comprise the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program.

Organization of the Book

This book does not intend to set out uniform “guidelines” for DDR. In fact, one of the central premises of this book is that the situations and background context of any case are too varied to suggest a universal blueprint for DDR that will work in all cases. While there are of course many valuable lessons taken from each case, this does not (and should not) establish a DDR “doctrine.” Certainly, in the United States, there is a mental bias for just such a blueprint in areas of military planning. The most recent example being the development of the counterinsurgency (COIN) manual based on the initial experiences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.4 Many scholars in the counterinsurgency field would characterize the manual as “old wine in new wineskin,”5 and indeed the COIN manual does draw from some of the classic works in the counterinsurgency literature.6 Other critics put forward the more operational concern that the emphasis placed on counterinsurgency will cripple the American military’s abilities to deal with more conventional threats.7 Both criticisms are not without merit, but are beyond the scope of this book. The COIN manual is noted here as an object lesson. While the manual establishes a “doctrine” of counterinsurgency, doctrine should not be dogma.

Perhaps even more important than “how” an action (be it COIN, DDR, or some other “nonconventional” military operation) is conducted is the question of “who” conducts (or at the very least, leads) them. There are serious considerations of “insider/outsider” issues that impact the ability of parties to intervene effectively. While most of the general precepts are the same for DDR no matter who leads the program, some differences between internal government and foreign government (or international agencies) interventions do exist, especially in terms of what practices are deemed to be culturally acceptable. This is especially true for operations such as COIN and DDR where there is great potential for the use of violence. Patrick Bishop, writing about the experiences of British paratroopers in Afghanistan, discusses an attempt to bring the tribal elders together for a meeting. Rather than voluntary attendance, the Afghan National Army forces all of the elders to attend. While the practice was heavy-handed, Bishop notes that this actually protected the elders from the Taliban, as the elders could claim that they were coerced to attend. Bishop says, “It was the Afghan way of doing things. But it was not an example that the rules the British imposed on themselves allowed them to follow.”8 What Bishop misses in his criticism is that these “rules” are not a limitation, but a byproduct of the recognition that the British cannot act in the same fashion as the Afghan soldiers because they lack the cultural legitimacy to do so. Just as in COIN operations, the cultural norms of the affected populations must be taken into account as the DDR program is implemented.

The deeper question for understanding and evaluating the impact of “Insiders” vs. “Outsiders” in DDR projects is whether similar phenomena are manifesting due to the same causes or whether different underlying dynamics are appearing in similar ways. Whoever the initiating agent is, the purpose of DDR remains the same: DDR programs must contribute to the longer-term goal of establishing a solid post-conflict peace. (This is not the same as saying that DDR must establish a solid post-conflict peace, although this distinction is not always clear.) This book aims to focus thematically on the various phases of the DDR program, rather than (as is usually the case in the academic literature) an analysis of the DDR process within a single case.

The next chapter provides a brief overview of the history and evolution of the DDR enterprise. There are some interesting lessons provided by earlier DDR cases, but the major growth in the DDR enterprise occurs in the post Cold War era, as the end of the bipolar conflict gives the international community (particularly international organizations like the United Nations and World Bank) greater freedom to maneuver. However, this subsequent increase in “peacekeeping” operations (an obvious misnomer in many cases, as there was at best only an illusion of peace in some cases) and other military interventions may have had the inadvertent consequence of ending conflict for the time being, but not alleviating the tensions between the competing parties. A group that considers “victory” as being stolen from them due to intervention may hope to continue the conflict when the intervention force leaves, and DDR is part of the process to prevent such actions from “spoilers.”

The DDR process is best considered as a symbiotic, holistic process. However, there is some analytical clarity to be gained by focusing on each part of the DDR process in isolation. The following chapters will therefore consider each component of the DDR process separately, keeping in mind the critical requirement of integrating (or more likely, understanding their points of reinforcement) DDR in practice. The next chapter will discuss the disarmament phase of DDR. It considers the various facets that go into an effective disarmament program and discusses how and why the international community in general has seemed preoccupied with this particular dimension of DDR to the detriment of the wider goal of initiating the building of a sustainable post-conflict peace environment. The great visibility of the disarmament phase is very attractive to political leaders (who can point to the program as evidence that “something is being done”) but this activity may have little to do in the end with setting the conditions for a long-term peace.

The next chapter focuses on the demobilization phase of the process. While disarmament reduces the possibility that minor grievances can quickly escalate into acts of major violence, the demobilization phase is where the process of peacebuilding moves from simply the absence of organized, politically oriented violence towards stabilization and the beginnings of reconciliation. The more obvious manifestations of demobili- zation are when combatants surrender uniforms and insignia (if they exist), and no longer view themselves as part of a larger military unit. The less obvious but more significant aspect of the demobilization process is the psychological shift wherein the former combatants leave the context and structures of their fighting groups and begin to enter civilian life. The duration of the conflict and (more individually) the length of time the combatant was engaged, directly or indirectly, in conflict can have somewhat contradictory effects on the ease of demo-bilization. Combatants who have been in combat for much of their lives may find it very difficult to leave that structure and reinsert themselves into the larger society. For many, the resistance toward demobilization and reintegration may have less to do with the desire for peace than with the fear of uncertainty. This is especially true of child soldiers, who have had little or no connection to a non-combat lifestyle. However, in other cases the overall duration of the conflict can strengthen and empower the communal desire to end the violence, a phenomenon referred to as “war fatigue.”

Perhaps most important to consider, while the disarmament phase is most often led primarily by the military, it is during the demobilization phase that the handover of control and responsibility usually shifts from the military to civilian-led agencies and organizations. This aspect has been mentioned in the literature, but considerations of the issues involved in this handover have not received the attention it probably deserves. This shift is not symbolic; it can entail a shift in resources, not to mention the potential bureaucratic confusion and clash of institutional cultures. Making this transition as seamless as possible requires people in different agencies to work together and to get to know and understand each other and their respective agencies, their mandates, and their capabilities.

Reintegration is undoubtedly the key aspect of the DDR process. Effective disarmament and demobilization are only symptoms or evidence of movement towards communal reconciliation. Demobilization only works if the combatants and the larger community find themselves in positions they consider “safe.” Reintegration, as the most difficult and important part of DDR, implies that there is a society, a community, for the former combatants to be brought back into. That society is often assumed to be some variation of the status quo ante, but if such were the case, then there would arguably have been no armed group to begin with. Reintegration is not necessarily about the previous society, but about creating an atmosphere and/or process where disagreements and grievances are addressed without violence or the chronic threat of violence. “Success” in DDR therefore takes place within the larger context of post-conflict reconciliation. Berdal notes concisely, “in the absence of political trust and a basic willingness to abide by agreements already entered into, demobilisation programmes are likely to fail, however well they are designed and financed.”9 This reconciliation is more than simply national legislation or international agreements, but perhaps even more significantly must occur at the community level. While state-to-state relations and programs may handle reconciliation at the macrolevel, community-level programs may be more important to the individuals at the grassroots, though these programs often do not get the visibility or the associated funding of national or international programs.

Successful reintegration programs are not simply “jobs programs.” Specifically, they cannot be instituted as “entitlements” to ex-combatants or seen as rewards for participating in acts of violence. The violence cannot be legitimized in that fashion. Reintegration is therefore not just about bringing the combatant back into society, but also about creating a reinforcing relationship that gives the larger society the motivation to accept the combatant. Incentives for reintegration cannot be rewards for past action, but investments for future behavior.

Economic incentives and employment programs address the more physical side of reintegration. The psychological impacts must also be addressed for reintegration to work. In terms of reconciliation as a cultural practice, many societies have traditional mechanisms that contribute to building community forgiveness. These practices are usually some variation of public announcements of wrongdoing and a call to be reaccepted into the larger society. In many cultures, women play a particularly important role in these reconciliation ceremonies, and to ignore their role and status would be a significant mistake.

In some cases, modern resources (currency, in particular) have become part of these symbolic reconciliation rituals. This can have the unfortunate effect of corrupting much of the psychological value of these practices. Rather than expressions of apology and presentations of objects of symbolic value, the introduction of currency into forgiveness practices brings about an unfortunate commodification of life and death. Where these cultural practices have power, they should be encouraged; and in societies where such traditional ceremonies no longer have contemporary value, they should be carefully monitored, if not rejected outright. “Hollow” ceremonial practices are even less valuable than no reconciliation ceremony at all.

The final chapter will look at the continuing challenges for successful DDR programs. In terms of DDR, it is not that the problems are hard to identify; it is that they are so hard to solve. Should the focus of the DDR program be on establishing security, or a larger focus on development? The UN Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS) argues that the major problem in successfully implementing DDR remains the lack of integration of all facets of DDR, but can in fact DDR be more effective by focus- ing on security issues rather than larger development problems that are outside the expertise of security forces? Can DDR agencies achieve integration in thought while focusing on specific phases in practice? How should a DDR program overcome the tendency to bias short-term projects and overemphasize funding and effort toward them (particularly weapons collection) while failing to see the possible consequences that these efforts may have for demobilization and reintegration considerations? Efforts to include “culturally sensitive” practices of forgiveness and reconciliation are good ideas, but in some cases have failed in application. This does not mean such traditional practices should be dismissed. The DDR process can only succeed if it is understood as the foundation of long-term reconciliation and it is in that fashion that efforts should be focused.

The final chapter will conclude with a short reassessment of each aspect of the DDR project and the challenges in connecting them together. How to develop a DDR process where each aspect does in fact reinforce the others, and the entire project is focused on a long-term peace, is the ultimate goal of any DDR project. While the international community today practically takes for granted the need for a DDR program in any post-conflict situation, there is a lack of evidence that DDR is in fact tied to establishing peace. In one sense, this is more about overestimating what in fact a DDR program is supposed to do, but on the other hand it also suggests the need to develop better measures of effectiveness. The power and value of DDR may not be in what it does at all, but rather in what the people believe it does. DDR provides that critical “breathing space” early in the post-conflict environment, when tensions are high and trust is lacking. If DDR provides for that brief moment of calm in that moment, that may be its greatest contribution. Taking advantage of that moment and moving further towards sustainable peace may best be considered beyond the domain of “official” DDR.


The History and Evolution of DDR

Disarmament and Demobilization have long been an obvious occurrence of war termination. One of the most comprehensive demobilization programs in the aftermath of a major war was the post World War II occupation of Germany and Japan. As Iklé notes, the goal was not simply to remove the military capability of Germany and Japan, but to shape their societies (as well as the international context) so that these nations would no longer want to wage war.1 Indeed, if one is successful in mitigating a state’s intentions of using military means to secure its interests, then one is generally less concerned with that state’s capabilities. Reintegration programs also have a long history. They are especially necessary in areas of internal conflict, to bring former fighters back into a peacetime society. In many cases, the term “reintegration” is a misnomer, as the former fighters were not ever “integrated” in the first place. (Writers of a more postmodern inclination would perhaps press the point by noting typographically the (re)integration of ex-combatants.) DDR has generally therefore been implemented in two kinds of situations: demilitarization of a defeated military force, or a war-to-peace transition in a context short of actual victory by one side.2 In the post Cold War context, the great majority of DDR cases have been the latter type.

Antecedent cases notwithstanding, formal DDR programs run by and with the international community have really been an aspect of the post Cold War world. The “peace dividend” many expected with the end of the bipolar world system did not develop. Indeed, without the overarching threat of nuclear conflict between the superpowers, many of the underlying schisms within and between nations were now able to break out into violence. In other cases, many “proxy” wars supported during the Cold War simply continued. Hubris allowed the superpowers to consider these conflicts as minor events, and the states involved no more than pawns on the geopolitical chessboard with no will or motivations of their own. No matter how “hot” these conflicts may have been, they would surely end with the removal of external support. This of course did not happen, and in some cases, the lack of a “patron” state actually resulted in an increase in violence. The armed group may have lost its source of funding and materiel, but it is also released from any moderating influence that the patron may have had on its behavior.

While the end of the Cold War may have created the opening for the conflicts to explode, the overarching norms drawn from the end of World War II meant that even military victory would not lead to territorial conquest. The removal of the constraints of the bipolar system also created opportunities for third-party intervention (the United States, regional powers, international organizations or some combination thereof) to curtail the violence. The international community in the form of the United Nations (UN) has increasingly led these interventions. The growth and development of this kind of “peacekeeping” operation has led to greater practice and scholarship on the various aspects of DDR, and efforts to identify errors and best practices from this experience has been increasing since the late 1990s. According to Hazen, there have been over two dozen DDR projects in the last two decades, although differences in categorization and definition make an exact number difficult.3 As of October 2011, the UN DDR Resource Center listed thirteen countries under their “country programmes” with ongoing DDR activities.4

The United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) published a set of principles and guidelines for DDR in December 1999. Although disarmament is usually assumed to be the first step in the process, a “Field and Classroom Guide” for DDR points out insightfully that “DDR programmes do not commence with disarmament, even though the acronym suggests [a] procedural order.”5 The experiences and lessons learned from the various DDR missions of the 1990s and into the twenty-first century gave increasing focus on the need to consider DDR more holistically. This led to the publication of the IDDRS by the UN in 2006. The IDDRS offers great insight into the DDR process and includes the experiences from a great number of cases and practitioners. However, the IDDRS document itself is symbolic of the massive problems that confront any attempt to approach DDR comprehensively and in an integrated fashion. The full document runs nearly 800 pages. A more manageable “Operational Guide” to IDDRS is available (both documents are available online), but even the Guide is over 200 pages. It is not without some irony that a guide for “integrating” the various aspects of a DDR program is actually set up for downloading in separate components for the field worker to implement. As of October 2009, there was no “easy” way to download the entire Operational Guide at once directly from the UN website (although the entire IDDRS can be downloaded with a single click).


One issue for any study of armed groups is the problem of terminology. Is there an all-encompassing term that accurately covers the various groups under consideration? The groups themselves offer no help for the scholar/analyst. Recognizing that the fundamental nature of the struggle is political, armed groups attempt to gather whatever prestige or legitimacy they can. They use a variety of titles, calling themselves “armies,” “patriotic/popular fronts,” “self-defense forces,” “militias,” and other variations on the theme. While it is understandable for groups to use these terms for political advantage, they do not necessarily aid in achieving greater analytical clarity. One example is the use of the term “militia.”

The term “militia” originally designated a civilian force raised to assist the state in times of need. This “first-generation”6 type of militia is encapsulated in several liberal democratic constitutions. The central premise of first-generation militias is that the militia owes some kind of loyalty to the government. How much loyalty, especially regarding how much control the government has over the militia’s actions, can be a significant source of tension in many cases. Some militia groups established by the state (such as in Colombia or pro-Indonesian militias in East Timor) may over time break away from government control due to disagreements over policy or approach. Some militia groups may even view themselves as preceding the state, or drawing on values or titles that helped to establish the state. The vigilante organization that patrols the border between the United States and Mexico calls itself the “Minutemen” for this reason.7 In some cases, governments have attempted to take advantage of older, more traditional practices of security/community policing in the establishment of militia groups. Understanding a militia’s identity as incorporating some loyalty to the government biases the concept of a “militia” in the direction of liberal democratic states, where the separation of state and government is less significant than in authoritarian regimes. However, if one does not connect a militia’s identity with support of a government, then the term becomes more amorphous and less helpful analytically. Alden, Thakur, and Arnold attempt to conceptualize militias “as a military force composed of civil- ians outside of a state’s formal military structure.”8 While this still can imply a connection in support of the state, they further note that “the key point of militias is that they apply violence in pursuit of their respective objectives, including both challenging established state power structures and acting in the interests of particular identities, including those of a state.”9 By this understanding, a “militia” does not have to support10