DDR – “Fit for Purpose?” – Countering Violent Extremism & The Human Security Agenda in Force Operations

The opinions expressed below were first presented by Dr. Desmond Molloy at the Demobilizing and Disengaging Violent Extremists (DDVE): 
Practical Experience from Somalia validation exercise of the UN DDR in an Era of Violent Extremism: Is it Fit for Purpose? On June 4th 2015. The below is based on the 1st presentation to which Dean Piedmont was present, and considers dialogue and reflection between Dean and ‘Des’ prior to posting.

After twenty years as an officer in the Irish Defence Forces, and various UN missions, ‘Des’ remains a DDR practitioner/scholar who has contributed to the evolution and operationalization of innovate approaches to ex-combatants and armed gang member DDR in many recent post-conflict and rule of law strengthening environments. His work in Haiti was instrumental to the genesis of “2nd Generation” DDR approaches. He facilitates at numerous international DDR seminars and publishes on related matters. Des is currently Programme Director with The Nippon Foundation in Myanmar.

While DDR was initially envisaged as an aspect of SSR in post-conflict stabilization, greater emphasis rapidly evolved regarding the necessity to prioritize a people centered approach as the focus moved onto socioeconomic reintegration of participants. Demobilization phases include the removal of the fighter from the armed structure; more importantly the change in mindset that converts a fighter to a civilian.

As practitioners found themselves in a “non-classic”, other than post-conflict, or non-permissive environments they clung to human centered principles as embodied in the Human Security Agenda. This is largely a qualitative overarching philosophy that guides practice. The difficulties of attempting to carry out DDR while maintaining this “people centered” approach during robust military (or Force) operations came to a head in Haiti in 2006 where DDR practitioners assumed a confidential client relationship with gang members and leaders, while the peacekeeping mission wanted information on locations to engage on force operations. In Afghanistan attempts to implement DDR in contributing to SSR during counterinsurgency operations came to a head when human security motivated actors, providing what they considered humanitarian support found themselves targeted with the humanitarian space progressively narrowing in Taliban laden Helmand Province.

Today various attempts at disarmament and disengagement in Somalia are stark examples of conducting DDR in active conflict and force operations, a tendency that is becoming more the ‘norm’ than the ‘anomaly.’ The tensions concerning the centrality of the human security agenda in UN interventions persists and remains increasingly salient in the “3rd Generation” DDR environment. To abandon the Human Security Agenda in the context of DDR in force operations in an era of Violent Extremism (VE) exposes the field of DDR in non-permissive environments to the increased threat of its absorption into the portfolio of for profit operators and military actors for a primarily civilian led initiative. The absence of Reintegration in the proposed nomenclature DDVE (Demobilizing and Disengaging Violent Extremist) makes this apparent.

In an ongoing war, there is little humanitarian space as regards disengagement, particularly that mental transformation from fighter to civilian. Further, can it be expected that a government fighting for survival will not release major human intelligence assets to the oversight of any international organization espousing a human rights approach. This incongruence affects issues central to DDR, namely accountability, transparency, trust and a minimum guarantee of security. So the question, is there scope for compatibility and reconciliation between national security and human security approaches?

Since 2001, the overarching philosophical framework for DDR, guiding every decision; from program design to implementation and dynamic adjustment on a daily basis, has been the Human Security Agenda; from Sierra Leone, Haiti, Somalia, CAR and in Nepal to 2012. The newest incarnation of DDR is comingling with VE, and countering violent extremism (CVE). Current thinking in DDVE is devoid of the Human Security Agenda launched by UNDP in 1994 in favor of perceived national security imperatives. While UNDP is stepping away from DDR as a thematic area as demonstrated in its Strategic Plan for 2104-2017, the UN no longer owns the concept. Human security is beyond the UN, adopted by Civil Society, by the NGO and humanitarian sectors and remains relevant. It is time for the UN reconsideration the rumor of the death of human security or it may find itself struggling some distance behind humanitarian progress. For practitioners in DDR, the human security agenda should remains an overarching philosophical guide, especially in non-permissive environments.

In addressing DDR and CVE greater consideration must be given to the need for it to be addressed from a multidimensional perspective inclusive of Reintegration; a global approach at the UN, regional engagement and at community and national level. Civil society must be facilitated and empowered to address VE in developing normative environments at a local level part and parcel to the New Deal. Efforts must be made to disaggregate the threat of network mobilized VE so that it can be addressed and focused on at local levels. A lighter footprint is required while recognizing the role that Western hubris has played in creating the organizations currently promoting VE. The Institute for Islamic Strategic Affairs (IISA) in London advocates for Islamist Led DDR (IDDR) in places such as Libya. This may be a good place to start.

As regards the way forward, emerging policy must be highly flexible to permit case specific pragmatism in addressing disarmament and disengagement in offensive operations whether in addressing voluntary participation, some type of rule of law approaches such as parole or restorative justice. Regarding the roll of DDR in the aftermath of “successful” offensive operations; generally this is called a post-conflict environment, which is exactly what ‘classic’ DDR was designed to address. Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow, at The Brookings Institution and author of the recent UN supported publication on disengaging end demobilizing violent extremists essays, DDR in the Context of Offensive Military Operations, Counterterrorism, CVE and Non-Permissive Environments and DDR – A Bridge Not Too Far: A field Report From Somalia, nails the most important consideration for the UN when contemplating engagement in DDR during Offensive Operations, including in the case of VE;  “The international community needs to judge very carefully at what point it’s engagement in suboptimal processes still has more positive impact and humanitarian conditions and conflict mitigation than negative effect”.

While laying the foundations for our broad policy parameters we must allow for pragmatic context specific responses grounded in the Human Security Agenda. The principles enshrined therein need to be reaffirmed at a policy level as the overarching guiding philosophy in the context of DDR and CVE.

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