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Oct 13, 2010 | Commentary

The processes of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) are the main tools of intervention in the difficult task of transitioning from war to peace. The level of coordination that should be pursued between the two, however, is a matter of debate. Two recent papers, one by the USIP’s Sean McFate, and the other by the Clingendael Institute’s Hugo de Vries and Erwin Van Veen, disagree on the extent to which international interventions can link the two processes in post-conflict societies. 

DDR and SSR are undeniably related, in that they help establish the government as the only legitimate wielder of coercive force, but have different time-frames, scopes and ultimate goals. DDR is a short-term process seeking to integrate former combatants into the civilian economy or a new security architecture. SSR, on the other hand, is a long term process designed to create effective and rights-respecting security and justice institutions which are subject to democratic governance and oversight.

In large part, they rely on one another for success. A post-conflict scenario where former combatants are not properly disarmed or reintegrated can continue to plague the SSR process years into the future. Similarly, if DDR succeeds and the SSR process fails to live up to the society’s expectations, they may turn to non-state actors for security and justice provision.

The argument for linking the two is obvious — demobilized ex-combatants often make up a large percentage of the newly-created security forces. Likewise, the security forces often represent the most attractive form of employment available to former fighters. The size and composition of the security forces — a key consideration of SSR — can be facilitated through a DDR process that takes force targets into account. In fact, the two papers agree that a strong linkage between the two processes is desirable. They differ in their assessments of the feasibility of this linkage. McFate writes that DDR and SSR “should be planned, resourced, implemented, and evaluated in a coordinated manner,” (1) and that they are “fundamentally related, codependent, and mutually reinforcing; failing to plan and implement them simultaneously and in a holistic manner risks compromising both programs”(11).

De Vries and van Veen, on the other hand, argue that “attempts can and should be made to pragmatically link DDR and SSR processes where feasible, but that great synergies or deep linkage should not be expected nor strived for” (5). The authors focus on the near impossibility of reaching longer-term political agreements necessary for SSR in the immediate post-conflict settings where DDR typically takes place. Parties to the conflict lack the necessary time, trust and long-term perspective; state structures or bodies with the legitimacy or ability to make structural changes in the security apparatus do not usually exist yet; the vetting process necessary to ensure that only qualified staff join the newly-created security forces is “nearly impossible”; and the picture of long-term funding is usually unclear (1-2).

Because SSR is a deeply political process, recent former combatants are often loathe to agree to the loss of power and control inherent in SSR. Because of the prevailing sense of mistrust, leaders of the different parties to the conflict often “attempt to retain the ability to mobilize significant support within the newly established security forces as a way of bringing political pressure to bear…” (3) Achieving consensus on difficult SSR issues (relating to politics and power) is more easily achieved “once political tensions have settled somewhat, elites have found alternative sources of power, societal expectations and mindsets have changed, and trust between former foes and civil society has increased” (3).

Because both DDR and SSR programs are highly context-specific, it is perhaps unnecessary to put too fine a point on the subject, and the two papers do agree that more coordination is a desirable outcome in general. However, the extent to which the two processes can be fruitfully linked in practice is a key consideration. I would invite readers to share their opinions on the topic through the comments!