The ongoing peace process in Myanmar/Burma takes place alongside a transition from totalitarian military rule towards democracy and a rapid influx of international aid agencies and investors. This article engages with the wider debate about ‘Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration’ (DDR) programmes and argues that in the present Myanmar peacebuilding context it is highly unlikely that conventional DDR programmes will suffice to support stability and sustainable peace. This is because of the predominant focus in DDR programmes on disarmament, as a first step in the process, and on economic incentives to successful integration.
In Myanmar this DDR template overlooks key political motives behind both the causes of conflict and the demands of the peace negotiations. For six decades 20 ethnic armed organisations have fought for self-determination and have, to varying degrees, enjoyed considerable state-like control over ethnic territories and peoples. For this reason ethnic Armed Non-State Actors (ANSAs) are strongly against laying down arms before a comprehensive political settlement is reached. A core demand of ANSA leaders is a federal system that not only gives them political positions but also allows them to retain arms in the different ethnic nationalities areas.
Overall, the Myanmar situation raises the question of whether conventional DDR in some contexts should be substituted by what is now referred to as ‘third generation DDR’ or ‘RDD’ (reintegration, demobilization and disarmament). Reversing the conventional sequence, RDD begins with incentives – economic and political – for reintegration and only ends with some form of disarmament or arms control. It is increasingly realized that ‘sequencing flexibility’ may be needed to adapt DDR to particular contexts.
This article discusses integration options for the ANSAs: what ‘exit’ options do ANSA members have after decades of conflict and how do they envision their future – as armed actors, civil servants, politicians, businessmen or something else? The article draws on semi-structured individual and group interviews held in Mon and Karen states as well as in Yangon in January 2014 and on prior research. It discusses five different integration options. These consist of a combination of different forms of political, economic, civil society and security sector integration. The paper concludes by reflecting on the role of international aid agencies in the peace process, with Myanmar representing a rather exceptional case of very low international involvement.