Definitions & Conceptual Issues

Last Updated: April 6, 2009

What is DDR?

Prior to the 1980s, disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) was primarily considered to be a military enterprise. DDR was implemented for and by the military with the intent of decommissioning, down-sizing, and reforming formal military structures. By the late 1980s, however, the UN gradually became involved in the support of DDR initiatives, especially in the context of peacekeeping operations and the promotion of democratic oversight of military institutions. As the concept of DDR grew in the 1990s, it was applied to a variety of different contexts and regions, and generally gained traction as a vital component for the transition from war to peace.

UN definitions of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and reinsertion

Disarmament is the collection, documentation, control and disposal of small arms, ammunition, explosives and light and heavy weapons of combatants and often also of the civilian population. Disarmament also includes the development of responsible arms management programs.

Demobilization is the formal and controlled discharge of active combatants from armed forces or other armed groups. The first stage of demobilization may extend from the processing of individual combatants in temporary centers to the massing of troops in camps designated for this purpose (cantonment sites, encampments, assembly areas or barracks). The second stage of demobilization encompasses the support package provided to the demobilized, which is called reinsertion.

Reinsertion is the assistance offered to ex-combatants during demobilization but prior to the longer-term process of reintegration. Reinsertion is a form of transitional assistance to help cover the basic needs of ex-combatants and their families and can include transitional safety allowances, food, clothes, shelter, medical services, short-term education, training, employment and tools. While reintegration is a long-term, continuous social and economic process of development, reinsertion is a short-term material and/or financial assistance to meet immediate needs, and can last up to one year.

Reintegration is the process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. Reintegration is essentially a social and economic process with an open time-frame, primarily taking place in communities at the local level. It is part of the general development of a country and a national responsibility, and often necessitates long-term external assistance.

Source: United Nations DDR Resource Centre

The UN definition of disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) covers a generally agreed upon set of activities, however there remains no agreed doctrine. DDR encompasses a wide-range of activities that disarm and disband warring parties, as well as reintegrate ex-combatants into civilian life. The definition of each activity itself may vary and generally reflects different, if not divergent, conceptions that have important practical consequences. The expressions used by UN agencies, international financial institutions, donor countries, and research institutions have included: disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion, demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation, disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration, and disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration. Although the variations may provide flexibility, it risks leading to confusion, ambiguity, and contradictory and sometimes competing objectives and programs.1 For instance, concepts such as reinsertion and reintegration are often used synonymously, as are the terms demobilization and disarmament or reconstruction and rehabilitation, despite having different connotations in practice.2

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Core elements of disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration


Disarmament is a symbolic, political, and essential element of the demobilization process.3 It has taken place before, during or after demobilization. And in principle, demobilization should always include a disarmament phase. However, there have been many instances such as in Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Haiti, where the demobilization processes have not been accompanied by meaningful disarmament.4

The key steps of disarmament are:
1. Information collection (or weapons disclosures) and operational planning (often, in the past, the parties to the conflict have submitted weapons inventories which have usually been taken at face value by the UN);
2. Weapons collection or retrieval operations;
3. Stockpile management; and
4. Disposal and destruction of weapons.5

Disarmament that is primarily focused on collecting, controlling, and destroying small arms and light weapons (SALW) is known as practical or micro-disarmament6 Micro-disarmament has taken place in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Albania, Panama, Guatemala, and Mali.


Demobilization, in principle, follows the registration and disarmament of ex-combatants.7 Demobilization is both a physical and a mental process.8 The physical dimension involves the separation of ex-combatants from an armed group, while the mental aspect focuses on the ex-combatants attempt to leave behind the armed structure and join a community. Whereas the mental dimension is addressed more fully during the reinsertion and reintegration phase, demobilization programs should aim to incorporate a component that identifies former combatants with specific post-trauma needs.

The demobilization stage aims to register and count ex-combatants, establish a profile of their extended family situation, their education and work experience as well as what future capacity development may be required.9 The socio-economic data of each combatant is also gathered and analyzed to facilitate the planning of reintegration programs.

Demobilization involves six stages:
1. Planning: from peace to contingency planning;
2. Encampment: massing the combatants in assembly areas (in post-war situations);
3. Registration: registering of person-related data and arms;
4. Disarming: collection and control of weapons (including safe weapons storage);
5. Pre-discharge orientation: informing combatants about their rights, available services and options;
6. Discharge: formal discharge and return transport to combatants to home regions.10

This process may not necessarily include the establishment of camps and receiving areas. In cases where ex-combatants are installed in camps, they should be released before they become security threats.11 However, the duration in which ex-combatants are kept in camps depends on the security situation on the ground and the amount of funding available. Furthermore, the chronological steps and their relevance may be affected by the political situation preceding demobilization.12

Reinsertion and reintegration

The dividing line between reinsertion and reintegration tends to be ambiguous.13 Both aim to support the social and economic inclusion of ex-combatants in their communities of origin or in new communities.

Reintegrationinitiatives are long-term processes which are supposed to take place at local, national and regional levels. Many programs tend to deal only with the short-term. 14 Given the political and security objectives of DDR, some analysts suggest re-defining and limiting the R portion of DDR to only reinsertion and regard it as a bridge between demobilization and long-term reintegration.15 Others analysts would rather emphasize the intrinsic link between reinsertion and reintegration and the difficulty of distinguishing between them. According to this latter view, they form part of a seamless web of transition from military to civilian life, without a clear beginning or end. As reinsertion and reintegration proceed, the needs of ex-combatants change and call for different support measures.16

Reinsertion and reintegration programs address the specific needs of male and female adult combatants, child soldiers, women and children associated with armed groups, disabled or chronically ill ex-combatants, and dependents.17Programs attempt to address the following dilemmas: What will former combatants do after they are demobilized? Will they go back to rural life? Or will they be unemployed, with the risk of becoming criminals and future rebels? How should they re-entry into civilian life be facilitated? What education, employment, training, incentives etc., should they be given?18

Programs generally include the following steps:
1. Formulation of a national policy;
2. Support for regional implementation agencies;
3. Local level emergency aid, and transport to selected settlement regions;
4. Discharge payments;
5. Settling-in packages;
6. (Re)construction projects and vocational training.19

Support packages may include:cash payments, foodstuffs (or coupons), healthcare, clothing, housing, seeds or agricultural equipment/services, scholarships and school fees for children, counseling and vocational training, legal and business advice, job placement, access to land, wage subsidies and credit schemes.20

It is important to note that the UN definition of reintegration addresses only the social and economic aspects, while other definitions add the political and psychological dimensions. Reintegration is generally a long-term process, as it may take several years for ex-soldiers and their families to adapt to a civilian way of life. Hence a distinction is often made between economic, political, social and psychological reintegration.21 Indeed, ex-child soldiers as well as adult female and male ex-combatants are found to be vulnerable in the aftermath of conflict. They may be disabled, suffering various kinds of trauma, and experiencing problems associated with drug abuse; they often get little support to cope with their different troubles.22
Go to Democracy and Governance and Trauma, Mental Health & Psycho-social Well-being

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Defining DDR as a comprehensive vision

The comprehensive vision of disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and reintegration (DDR) considers DDR a holistic, long-term development process rather than a discrete and time-bound activity with disarmament as a logistical component. This vision of DDR has led some analysts and practitioners to suggest a new definition of DDR which focuses on finding alternatives for weapons possession and use, and improving community security by enhancing livelihood opportunities through social and economic investment in the community. This broader conception of DDR opens a range of options to violence reduction strategies that go beyond the physical collection of weapons. Moreover, it widens the scope of DDR programs beyond ex-combatants to encompass the community at large.23

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Preconditions for DDR

Analysts and practitioners have highlighted certain preconditions for disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR), including:

  • The signing of a negotiated peace agreement that provides a legal framework for DDR. Yet, some would notice that DDR is rarely part of a signed peace or ceasefire agreement.24 Moreover, in many post-conflict situations, the parties that have agreed to a ceasefire or peace agreement neither trust each other nor have the capacity to design, plan and implement DDR. This explains the necessity of further conditions.
  • Designing credible guarantees on the terms of agreement: Addressing only the grievances over which a war was fought will not be enough to convince combatants to accept and implement a peace settlement. Indeed, the greatest challenge to designing a treaty is how to encourage warring parties to shed their partisan armies and surrender conquered territory even though such steps will increase their vulnerability. Some scholars like Barbara Walter argue that groups that obtain third-party security guarantees for the demobilization period following the signing of an agreement, and internal political, military, or territorial guarantees, will more likely implement their settlements. If an outside state or international organization is not willing or able to provide such guarantees, the warring factions will be more likely to reject a negotiated settlement and continue war.25 At the same time, external actors should be perceived by all sides to be impartial, neutral, and credible.
  • Trust in the peace process: parties to a peace agreement or ceasefire may mistrust each other or may be unable to implement a DDR program due to lack of capacity to design, plan and implement the program. Strong political leadership on the part of all political and warring factionsas reflected in commitment, realism, and pragmatism-is thus a crucial factor for successful design and implementation of DRPs [demobilization and reintegration programs].26
  • Willingness of the parties to the conflict to engage in DDR: Both the leaders involved in the peace negotiations and their field commanders need to be prepared to assume responsibility for implementing the peace agreement, including the DDR process, to exert the leadership necessary for its implementation.
  • Inclusion of All Warring Parties: Ideally, all groups party to a conflict need to be included in a DDR program and disarm at the same time. Otherwise, it is easy for one party to resume fighting and take advantage of another groups disarmament status.
  • Agreement on a policy framework and establishment of an organization to oversee DDR. There needs to be consensus on the broad outlines of a policy framework for DDR, as well as on an organization that will oversee DDR implementation. The political agreement should include clear eligibility criteria for participation in the DDR program, definition of realistic goals and timetable for implementation, and the creation of credible responsible institutions.
  • A minimum guarantee of security. This is generally linked to a clear international commitment to the peace process. Successful DDR process requires the support of key international actors in developing mediation mechanisms and exerting coordinated political, economic and security pressure for implementing DDR in the context of the broader peace process. Two mechanisms that are frequently used are: 1) high level security commissions to support implementation of DDR or broader security provisions of peace agreements and 2) bilateral or multilateral security forces backed by the necessary mandate and political will on the part of the international community to employ them to enforce the peace agreement. 27
1. Beatrice Pouligny, The politics and anti-politics of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, Centre dEtudes et de Recherches Internationales Sciences Po/CNRS, Secrtariat Gnral de la Dfense Nationale (France) and Program for strategic international security studies (Geneva) (2004), 6.
2. Robert Muggah, "The Anatomy of Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration in the Republic of Congo," Conflict, Security & Development, 4, no.1 (2004): 29.
3. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, A/60/705 (2006), para. 9(f),4.
4. Pouligny, The politics and anti-politics of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, 5.
5. Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards, United Nations Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Center.
6. United Nations Secretary General, Supplement to An Agenda for Peace, (New York: United Nations, 1995).
7. UNDP, Practice Note on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants (2005), 43.
8. Demobilization, in IDDRS, para. 1.
9. UNDP, Practice Note on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants, 43.
10. Colin Gleichman, Michael Odenwald, Kees Steenken, and Adrian Wilkinson, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: A Practical Field and Classroom Guide (German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), The Norwegian Defence International Centre, Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, and Swedish National Defence College, 2004), 15.
11. Nat J. Coletta, Markus Kostner and Ingo Wiederhofer, The transition from war to peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1996), 18.
12. Pouligny, The politics and anti-politics of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, 5.
13. Nicole Ball and Luc van de Goor, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: Mapping Issues, Dilemmas and Guiding Principles The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael (August 2006).
14. Pouligny, The politics and anti-politics of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, 6.
15. Ball and van de Goor, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: Mapping Issues, Dilemmas and Guiding Principles, 3.
16. Coletta, Kostner, and Wiederhofer, The transition from war to peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, 17.
17. The UN approach to DDR in IDDRS.
18. Alex de Waal, ed., "Post-conflict demilitarization," in Demilitarizing the mind: African agendas for peace and security (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002), 147.
19. Pouligny, The politics and anti-politics of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, 6.
20. Demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR): Reintegration support programs, Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
21. Ibid.
22. Pouligny, The politics and anti-politics of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, 9-10.
23. UNDP, Practice Note on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants (2005): 11.
24. Peter Swarbrick, Avoiding disarmament failure: the critical link in DDR. An operational manual for donors, managers, and practitioners, Small Arms Survey (2007), 19.
25. Barbara F. Walter, "Designing Transitions from Civil War: Demobilization, Democratization, and Commitments to Peace," International Security 24, no. 1 (1999): 129-130.
26. Coletta, Kostner, and Wiederhofer, The transition from war to peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, 7.
27. The UN approach to DDR, in IDDRS; Ball and van de Goor, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: Mapping Issues, Dilemmas and Guiding Principles.

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