DDR and SSR in War-to-Peace Transition


Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) have become integral components in the international community’s peacebuilding toolkit for countries recovering from internal conflict. In recent years the United Nations (UN) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations have called for more closely coordinated DDR and SSR strategies in their peacekeeping and statebuilding interventions, and emphasized the need for better planning, implementation and monitoring frameworks to make them more effective on the ground. Academic and policy research has also suggested that DDR and SSR programmes could be more closely linked, although some practitioners cast doubt about the feasibility of operationalizing a policy “link” in practice.

Debates on whether and how DDR and SSR could be effectively linked have so far been theoretical and normative in nature. The existing literature lacks sufficient empirical data taking into account the transitional context in which these processes take place. Policy-oriented research on DDR and SSR tends to prioritize supply-side considerations related to coordination, financing and programming. Less attention has been focused on demand-side considerations related to how DDR and SSR interact in local political and state formation processes after war. The main aim of this paper is thus to provide an empirical understanding of how SSR and DDR were linked in two past peacebuilding interventions in West Africa Introduction in order to identify opportunities and constraints for establishing closer practical linkages in war-to-peace transitions.

The space in which countries transition from war to peace involves complicated political processes shaped by ongoing conflicts and the negotiation and distribution of political (and economic) power, especially for control of state power. Countries in transition from intrastate warfare often lack an effective state capable of enforcing contracts or political commitments between factions. In this institutional vacuum, conflict is often resolved outside formal and institutionalized political structures. DDR and SSR interventions must be understood within this context of formal and informal negotiation processes. DDR and SSR programmes have been largely shaped by external actors seeking agreement between powerful factions at the negotiation table. However, a significant gap exists between the formal terms of an agreement and the operationalization of those terms. The terms for DDR and SSR tend to be standardized according to international norms, but the implementation phase is far from an exact science. Formal and informal agreements on the terms for DDR and SSR are often purposively vague and designed to be sorted out later depending on local conditions and the emergent nature of relations over how power vacuums are to be settled.

This paper assumes that in transitional statebuilding processes there may be incentives for central rulers to adopt (or at least seem to embrace) certain elements of DDR and/or SSR when these allow them to consolidate their domestic power and/or enhance their legitimacy internationally. DDR may influence a political process that entails shifting the balance of power from irregular factions to a recognized central state capable of establishing (and maintaining) itself as the sole political authority with the legitimacy to use force. SSR seeks to build on the gains from this shift to enhance state capacity to provide security and legitimize state rule through democratic governance, particularly the democratic civilian control of the security sector, within a larger framework of the rule of law and respect for human rights. From this perspective, this paper argues that DDR and SSR can be characterized as distinct processes with overlapping objectives on a war–peace transition spectrum seeking to restore a central state authority and reduce the power of irregular armed factions.

To understand how DDR and SSR interact within the political context of a transitional setting, this paper argues that it helps to consider how local political processes place constraints on the implementation of peacebuilding interventions. More integrated DDR–SSR strategies are likely to fail if the intervention’s logic is based on a flawed analysis of local political conditions and processes. This paper identifies four dimensions critical for post-conflict political environments in statebuilding literature, which together constitute broad parameters for taking into account how politics in a post-civil-war transition might condition or constrain opportunities for DDR–SSR synergies:

  1. The nature of the conflict, how the war ends and how this shapes the balance of forces between the warring factions (political settlement).

  2. The nature and interests of central state authority (balance of forces within the ruling coalition).

  3. The central state’s relative strength vis-à-vis the relative influence of international actors.

  4. Local capacities for change.

To test these ideas, this paper comparatively explores two West African DDR and SSR experiences. The central research questions addressed here are what role did DDR and SSR play in the local context, what was the nature of the respective DDR and SSR interventions and to what extent was a link established between DDR and SSR interventions in practice? The case studies focus on Sierra Leone and Liberia for several reasons. First, these two countries hosted extensive international DDR and SSR programmes at different times during the early 2000s as part of the global community’s response to ending civil conflicts and (re)building state institutions in the aftermath of war. Sierra Leone, and to a lesser extent Liberia, became an important testing ground for experimenting with and developing concurrent DDR–SSR interventions. Both cases feature a prominent role for DDR and SSR in the broader process of restoring central states that had essentially fragmented and collapsed. They involved different Western (UK and US) and/or regional powers serving in coordination and leadership roles at different points of time in support of SSR, making it possible to disaggregate and analyse the various roles that external donors assume and discern their actual and potential influence over policy-making and in altering power relations.

While the Sierra Leonean and Liberian post-conflict contexts can be described as “relatively benign” cases of post-war peacebuilding compared to Afghanistan or Iraq, due to the relatively minor geopolitical significance of these countries, they can tell us about how British and US-led post-conflict interventions engage in “second-order” countries. This is an important starting point to take stock of the relationship between DDR and SSR in the context of DDR and SSR in War-to-Peace Transition wider post-conflict statebuilding processes. Additionally, while the West African cases may be considered first-generation SSR programmes, the lessons from these interventions have yet to be extracted systematically. Despite the fact that this paper only focuses on two states, the analysis of these comparatively older and presumably more benign cases is empirically valuable from both academic and practical perspectives.

It is necessary to take into account the fact that the transition path adopted by these two cases was quite different. In Sierra Leone the main anti-government warring faction (the Revolutionary United Front) was defeated at the end of the war. In Liberia three irregular armed factions became the state through a negotiated political settlement that was implemented by international donors. These cases demonstrate how variations in underlying political settlements – i.e. their nature and relative degree of stability – can lead to different outcomes during DDR–SSR processes. There were a number of facilitating conditions that aided the DDR and SSR processes in both countries. Sierra Leone and Liberia did not experience a resumption in fighting after their political settlements were established in May 2001 and August 2003 respectively, but for different reasons. War fatigue was certainly omnipresent in both countries at the end of their wars. Robust UN interventions (led by large UN peacekeeping missions) and direct Western diplomatic, development and military support, along with regional commitment (from Nigeria), effectively shored up the existing political settlements and, to a large extent, sent strong signals to all parties that a negotiated peace was possible.

The rest of this paper is structured as follows. Next, a review of the emerging discourse and underlying ideas and assumptions of DDR and SSR is presented, with a discussion of recent claims about an emerging DDR–SSR nexus in some peacebuilding policy circles. This section also examines the relationship between DDR and SSR in the context of war-to-peace transitions. The discussion is then brought into focus through an examination of DDR and SSR practices in Sierra Leone (2001–2004) and Liberia (2003–2005). The conclusion summarizes the empirical evidence and considers how the DDR–SSR relationship can be enhanced in war-to-peace transition contexts.