Is the time ripe for DDR in Myanmar?

In late 2015 a nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was signed between the government of Myanmar and eight of the 15 rebel groups active in the country. Although seven armed groups (including the largest insurgent forces) refused to sign the NCA, the ceasefire was a welcomed step in the current peace process. The process was launched by the civilian government that came to power in 2011 following decades of military rule, and is the first, since 1963, to invite all armed groups to participate.

The history of armed conflict in Myanmar is complex at best and will not be discussed at length here. Suffice it to say that the conflict dates back to colonial rule when the British divided the country according to ethnicity. Efforts of unification were abruptly halted when Aung San, a leader of the Burman ethnic group (father of Aung San Suu Kyi), who had led the country to independence, was assassinated, and the military government came into power. Many ethnic groups ended up taking up arms and demanding autonomy. Conflicts over vast natural resources have also contributed to continued disputes.

The NCA signed in October includes a political roadmap that outlines the next steps of the peace process, including the convening of a political dialogue. It is indeed quite unlikely that any ethnic armed groups would have signed a ceasefire agreement if the government did not assure them of political discussions in the future. Hence, the political dialogue remains decisive for achieving a negotiated settlement and resolving the protracted ethnic conflict and root causes thereof, and thus for the future of the country. There are however multiple outstanding issues in the NCA, which may prove to be stumbling blocks for upcoming negotiations. The question of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) is one such issue.

DDR has for long been a contested topic in Myanmar, and has even been argued to be a “non-negotiable”. During talks between the government and armed ethnic groups, the government has maintained that military integration would mean disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, while armed groups (who are willing to consider DDR), have advocated for a more holistic approach that would encompass security sector reform (SSR). Some armed groups have however expressed unwillingness to accept any kind of “reintegration” with the military (the Tatmadaw), and are highly suspicious of any such efforts. This is not unfounded, seeing that history has demonstrated that giving up weapons without a comprehensive political settlement is likely to lead to significant grievances. In the 1950s, plans for armed groups to exchange “weapons with democracy” ended in failure.[1] For other groups like the powerful Karen National Union (KNU), “never to surrender weapons” is one of the most important rules of the group. This naturally makes any negotiation on DDR challenging. But some kind of DDR is necessary for the peace process to succeed, and in this regard a discussion on DDR will need to be included in the political dialogue that is scheduled to follow the signing of the NCA. Disarming the armed groups and reintegrating the former fighters into civilian life is crucial for nation-wide security and stability. But without clear DDR objectives, transparent negotiations and a clear implementation plan, Myanmar risks spiraling back into conflict.

As SSR has wider implications than DDR – in that it includes a range of reforms such as judiciary- and police reforms – DDR could be used as a tool for a broader SSR that might also be more attractive to the armed ethnic groups that are suspicious of DDR efforts. Stay tuned for another blog on this particular topic and other alternative DDR options for Myanmar!

By Helena Gronberg

[1] http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/12308-ddr-and-the-peace-process-in-myanmar.html

2 thoughts on “Is the time ripe for DDR in Myanmar?

  1. Helena rightly points to a classic DDR ‘dilemma’ being faced in Myanmar. This is focused largely on the sequencing of a DDR effort, pointedly D-D-then-R. In what is called ‘classic’ or 1st Generation DDR lasting from around the late 1980s until the early 2000s this was less of an issue as DDRs were governed by comprehensive peace settlements(1). These occurred most notably in Southern Africa and Central America. Countries like Angola, Mozambique, Guatemala and Nicaragua are notable examples. In the mid-2000s both the promulgation of the global policy guidance known as the Integrated DDR Standards (http://unddr.org/iddrs.aspx), as well as the 2nd Generation DDR in Peace Operations (http://bit.ly/1VAsflY) simultaneously, and respectively, cemented policy around historic best practices and lessons learned while also calling for a new policy construct based on lessons being learned. Part of this new policy call includes flexible sequencing for D-D-R.

    While security sector reform (SSR) and/or security sector integration (SSI) is in play when discussing Myanmar, on the face of it this un-necessarily conflates issues related to a negotiated political settlement, and while more complex issues are at stake, the basis of Helena’s argument is one of DDR sequencing and political dialogue. As such, there is nothing inherent to SSR or DDR that requires disarmament prior to negotiating terms in a political settlement.

    At issue is the fact that 7 of the 15 armed groups is not parties to the NCA as pointed out. The reasons for such exclusion, willful or otherwise, are as important to understanding the terms for SSR and DDR, as they are for the preconditions to undertake SSR and DDR. Are the conditions that are being established precluding bringing parties to the table? The question is relevant for armed groups, as well as government actors. Disarmament as a precondition for negotiating peace is quite dissimilar to sequencing D-D-R once a settlement is signed. Both require varying degrees to trust in the peace process, and both requires a certain type of entry points for negotiation assuming both parties are willing to do so. This can include incremental disarmament, arms management and verification programs and the like as part of a peace settlement. Disarming armed groups prior to getting them to the peace table is likely to be more difficult.

    The above discounts armed group’s unwillingness to be included in any SSR/SSI process that would use DDR as a tool for implementation. As Helena points out, Myanmar’s conflict includes ‘root causes’ and ‘grievances’ related to deep ethnic divisions. In such cases, the very notion of a DDR effort must be challenged – “Is Myanmar Ripe for DDR?” is a suitable question.

    The question then becomes is DDR the appropriate tool, program, policy and/or approach for durable conflict mediation and peacebuilding in Myanmar. If issues of autonomy are being pursued as part of a larger SSR, Rule of Law (RoL) and Governance agenda, then we must consider that references and pushes on the DDR issue too early in the peace process may ‘cause harm’ by stalling already fragile peace processes.

    In this regard, Myanmar may wish to look to its neighbors both regionally and beyond for examples of ‘DDR-like’ processes that are facilitating peace through approaches that include armed group ‘decommissioning’ as was considered for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines, or the ‘normalization of relations’ as is being considered in the Brussels Agreement between Kosovo and the Serbian Civil Protection Corps (CPC). These convey a certain degree of dignity, recognition, respect and legitimacy on armed groups where DDR is often perceived by groups undergoing disarmament as the equivalent to defeat, loss and failure. In some cases this may include cultural, political and personal emasculation.

    In all instances, Helena does point us in a direction that is relevant and warrants further analysis and consideration.

    By: Dean Piedmont
    Director
    PRSG & the Countering Violent Extremism Initiative

    (1)The use of the term ‘classic’ or 1st Generation DDR is used by Adjunct Professor Dean Piedmont in at the Studley Graduate Program of International Affairs at the New School in the ‘DDR in Contemporary Peace Operations’ course. The conceptual framework juxtaposes DDR through 3 successive generations. The first deals with a ‘Statebuiding Era’ for DDR, the second is DDR in an ‘Age of Development’ while the third in ‘Political DDR’ typified by ongoing conflict in asymmetric settings with violent extremist (VE) groups. Currently DDR is in its 3rd Generation, though this is not where Myanmar sits in this construct.

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