Fragile states, emerging from violent conflict, generally have oversized armies, the presence of other armed groups, an overabundance of weapons, and a lack of civilian oversight of the security sector. Myanmar is a fragile state that has been unable to provide the basic elements of governance and control over its populations, territories, and borders which has lead to lawlessness and violence, along with violations of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Within Myanmar, there are now hundreds of anti-military Peoples’ Defense Forces (PDFs), Local Defense Forces (LDFs), and Peoples’ Defense Teams (PDTs) set up in the wake of the 2021 coup – many now under the control of the National Unity Government (NUG). These groups have small arms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines, improvised explosive devices, drones, and other war materials with the capacity to utilize them.
The present focus of the NUG is primarily upon military operations rather than post-conflict stability. There seems to be little or no serious discourse by the NUG, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), and other stakeholders that, upon any defeat of the military, how to secure post-conflict stability given the preponderance of armed groups.
These armed groups, including dissident military formations, can evolve into anti-government guerrillas, criminal gangs, and private militias after the military’s defeat. Consequently, security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (SSR/DDR) program planning must begin immediately with the military, their allied armed groups, and PDFs, LDFs, and PDTs.
The PDFs, LDFs, and PDTs in EAO-controlled areas are under the command and control of these respective EAOs and would only be subject to SSR/DDR if they submit to it.
Now must be the time to address what comes the day after the defeat of the military in regards to SSR/DDR. Unless there is a genuine reform of the security sector, there will be instability and no sustainable peace in Myanmar. There may even be possible threats to the territorial integrity and national sovereignty from neighboring countries, which may feel that its citizens are at risk, along with its strategic and economic interests, in a Myanmar with a breakdown of law-and-order.
For post-conflict stability and sustainable peace in Myanmar, it is necessary to plan and implement SSR/DDR programs to remove the threats posed by the military and other government security sector institutions. At the same time, it must remove threats posed by the EAOs, PDFs, LDFs, and PDTs to both the country and its people. SSR/DDR programs must be planned, funded, and implemented together holistically to minimize the possibility of these threats becoming reality.
SSR involves transforming components of the security sector – those institutions that protect the country and its citizens from security threats – into professional, effective, legitimate, apolitical, and accountable institutions. The work of reform broadly encompasses the creation of security sector institutions, force-structure decisions, formulation of national security strategy and doctrine, recruiting and vetting of security sector personnel, selection of security sector leadership, and a myriad of other associated security sector considerations.
SSR programs help a country to consolidate the monopoly of force required to maintain the rule of law as well as to protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity by assessing the then security sector in terms of capacity, efficiency, and relevance. These programs then support the creation of a balanced and effective security sector, informed by a clear understanding of its objectives.
SSR can reform, reconstitute and professionalize the operational security sector institutions which include military, police, intelligence services, corrections and border management, and build civilian-led security-sector structures that manage these institutions competently, such as the ministries of defense, internal affairs, and border management.
SSR also establishes transparent oversight mechanisms for the security sector in the executive and legislative branches, provides capable security-sector governance, makes it accountable to citizens, and ensures that it serves the people and not vice versa.
DDR programs help to ensure the long-term success of SSR as it moves ex-combatants into official security sector structures or assists their transition to civilian life through a three-stage process:
Disarmament: Collection, documentation, control, and destruction of small arms, ammunition, explosives, and light and heavy weapons of security sector armed actors and other armed groups to be demobilized.
Demobilization: Formal breaking up targeted command structures and the controlled discharge of active combatants from targeted security sector armed actors and other armed groups.
Reintegration: Process by which ex-combatants gain sustainable employment and income as civilians or members of a reformed and reconstituted security sector.
DDR and SSR are operationally linked, as many ex-combatants may seek employment in the new security forces that SSR programs create. With a resizing of a reformed and reconstituted security sector, it offers an important avenue of employment for ex-combatants.
With proper vetting, retraining, and civilian oversight, ex-combatants may be well placed to join appropriate security sector institutions as they are not only skilled recruits, but can also significantly alter the ethnic, religious, geographical, or ideological makeup of such institutions.
This transference from DDR to SSR occurs during the reintegration phase of DDR, making it the natural point of intersection between the two programs. If ex-combatants are not successfully integrated into civil society or a reformed and reconstituted security sector, they may mobilize again, as private militias, anti-government guerrillas, or criminal gangs, to threaten the country and its people.
Embedding DDR within SSR and fully integrating the two programs is the best way to deal with these and other related security sector challenges.
To better integrate DDR and SSR programs, they should be:
- Mandated within ceasefire and peace agreements signed by all warring parties.
- Conceived, planned, resourced, implemented, and evaluated in a coordinated manner as one as they share the same objectives of a reformed/reconstituted security sector.
- Implemented and evaluated in parallel, not serially, to rapidly transition ex-combatants into civilian life or the new reformed/reconstituted security sector, control spoilers, and contain violence.
- Funded from a common source as they are interrelated, and resource and time intensive.
SSR/DDR is centered on certain key norms:
- The security sector is apolitical with allegiance to the country’s constitution and understands that defense of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the security of individual citizens are paramount rather than safeguarding an individual leader, faction, or regime; and that it respects the rule of law, and international humanitarian law.
- All security sector institutions are accountable to democratically-elected civilian authorities, oversight agencies, and civil society. The executive branch with its relevant ministries and parliament are both willing and capable to exercise their responsibilities in managing and overseeing the country’s security institutions. Civil society organizations join the executive branch and parliament in monitoring the security sector.
- The design of the SSR process is informed by both an analysis of existing/future threats/needs and the revenue-generating capacity of the country. The shape, size, organization, equipment, training, force posture, and budget of the security sector are strong enough to maintain law-and-order, and defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, yet not threaten its law-abiding citizens.
- SSR/DDR requires a high degree of sequencing and ordering of reforms as reforms in certain institutions are dependent upon parallel changes in other institutions.
- Security sector management and oversight institutions are established first; not the operational institutions, since the management and oversight institutions will direct many of the downstream decisions driving SSR/DDR at the operational level.
- A balanced mix of ethnicity and geographic region is achieved so one group does not dominate the security forces.
- A range of methods, from political and economic inducements to coercive mechanisms, is developed and utilized to confront SSR/DDR spoilers.
With this in mind, there are areas of direct applicability to SSR/DDR in Myanmar:
- Before designing an SSR/DDR plan, an end-state vision for a new reformed/reconstituted security sector is developed with stakeholders. A key issue is whether elements within the security sector, especially the military, should be reformed or reconstituted.
- Civilian governance and democratic control are implemented over security sector institutions and the development of mechanisms to exercise such control. Civilian leadership must have the capacity to understand, shape, manage, and oversee security sector policies and affairs.
- Security sector institutions are transformed into effective, apolitical, rights-protecting, and accountable institutions with their societal role redefined as protecting citizens and defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity as opposed to defending the party or person in power, or acting against the population.
- There is only a single Union-level military command to provide for the protection of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
- The role of reorientation of the military and other security sector institutions is informed through a thorough analysis of the existing/future security threats/needs of the country, the capacity it would need to face these threats/needs effectively and accountability, and the ability to fund that capacity. The findings of which are translated into a national security strategy containing operational objectives for both the military and other security sector institutions such as the police, intelligence services, corrections, and border management.
- Decisions are made on the mandate, structure and composition of the security sector to determine the numbers of personnel needed in a reformed security sector – military, police, intelligence services, corrections, border management, and other security sector forces. The reformed/reconstituted security sector is downsized of unnecessary personnel, facilities, arms, and locations, especially in the ethnic states, to meet existing/future security threats/needs of the people and a country at peace with itself and its neighbors.
- Personnel in the EAOs and the government security sector are vetted and selected, utilizing accepted objective professional criteria, to serve within the reformed/reconstituted security sector with remaining combatants demobilized and reintegrated into society. Reducing the number of all combatants is a fundamental aspect of SSR/DDR.
- There are safeguards that the majority political elite will not use a reformed/reconstituted security sector to violate the rights of other ethnic groups or unlawfully exploit their lands and resources.
- The risks of nationwide destabilization and breakdown in law-and-order in an immediate post-conflict transition period are effectively addressed when considering a total demobilization of the government security sector and then reconstituting it, instead of totally reforming the government security sector.
- The role of the security sector is well-defined in constitutional provisions with related and detailed laws and statutes to govern the functions of the security sector.
- The Union and sub-Union police forces fill the duties of maintaining internal security and domestic order without resorting to the military.
- The Union and sub-Union budgets completely cover the security sector budget with no funds coming from sources that are not transparent and accountable to the public. Civilian control of the budget, planning, and procurement are critical to the democratic control of the security sector, especially of the military. Security sector participation in business undermines the process of reform.
The foregoing provides a brief overview of SSR/DDR for Myanmar. Yet there are a number of steps which must be addressed and undertaken now before the day after the defeat of the military to prepare for the implementation of SSR/DDR.
But more importantly, they can set the stage for the immediate security stabilization to protect national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and law-and-order. In this respect:
- Identify all PDFs, LDFs, and PDTs in Myanmar for immediate command and control, and subsequent SSR/DDR, e.g., name, commanders, organizational structure, size, areas of operations, and weapons.
- Provide the basis for stability on the day after the defeat of the military by immediately implementing direct command and control over all PDFs, LDFs, and PDTs in the country by the NUG and EAOs in their respective areas on a state/region basis for law-and-order, and national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Any PDFs, LDFs, or PDTs not willing to be placed under the direct command and control of the NUG or EAOs are disbanded and disarmed…forcefully if necessary.
- Establish and deploy units of a NUG Federal Army and police force, under NUG Ministry of Defence and other relevant NUG ministries, in areas of each state/region not under EAO control, from selected/vetted PDFs. Operational boundaries are delineated with the EAOs to alleviate gaps and overlaps of command and control.
- Create an official Union level organization to plan and oversee SSR/DDR:
- Form a leadership group composed of members of the NUG and EAOs.
- Formulate an end state vision for a security sector of a country at peace with itself and its neighbors.
- Develop a SSR/DDR plan in line with the end state vision to provide a template for the implementation of SSR/DDR including provisions which must be incorporated into ceasefire and peace agreements, and a Union Constitution.
- Convert the SSR/DDR plan into reality through the oversight and management of SSR/DDR implementation.
- Identify all government security sector institutions for subsequent SSR/DDR, e.g., unit designation, commanders, organizational structure, size, areas of operations, and weapons.
- Establish vetting committees for each security sector institution and include persons from the NUG, EAOs, and where appropriate (e.g., police and corrections), civil society and women’s organizations.
- Developed vetting databases of security sector personnel for a reformed/reconstituted security sector.
The SSR/DDR process must do more than reform and reconstitute security sector institutions; it must change the mindsets, behavior, and culture of it. The security sector is thus transformed into institutions toward whom citizens go toward for protection rather than run away from fear. It is about making people feel safe.
A failure to act now can result in a “day after” scenario which could evolve quickly into a breakdown of law-and-order with Myanmar transitioning not to a period of sustainable peace, but to one of instability from a fragile to a failed state.
Moe Gyo is a political consultant and strategist working for Strategic Border Consultancy in Mae Sot, Thailand.