Demobilizing and Disengaging Violent Extremists

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    UNU Office at the United Nations
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    Project Manager :
    Siobhan O'Neil

    The last decade has seen a marked increase in large-scale civil conflicts and the human suffering that they inevitably cause and exacerbate. In response, the United Nations Security Council has authorized a slew of peace operations – at record troop levels and cost and with more expansive mandates than previous interventions. Increasingly, the conflicts to which peacekeepers are deployed are internationalized and intractable. Peace operations deploy to situations in which there is no clear peace to keep. Peacekeepers often find themselves, civilians, and the peace processes they are trying to promote targeted by violent extremists, criminal networks, and spoilers. Moreover, these conflicts are becoming magnets for foreign terrorist fighters and inspirations for ‘lone wolves’ to carry out terrorist attacks far from the theatre of conflict. Demobilizing, disarming, and disengaging armed actors in these complex conflict situations is proving challenging. Yet, the UN’s Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) practitioners are already building new solutions in an attempt to address these challenges in the field. Sometimes these solutions are succeeding; sometimes they are not; and sometimes the problems lie outside the scope of existing DDR mandates and practice. There is a risk that a gap will emerge between strategy, doctrine, and guidance on one hand, and practice on the other – a gap that only expands the space available to non-state armed groups and violent extremists to exploit, spoil, and defeat the peace processes promoted by the United Nations. Additionally, with the rigid distinction between DDR in the field and ‘countering violent extremism’ (CVE) in other contexts, the larger policy framework for the UN’s role in setting norms and leading practice in demobilizing and disengaging violent extremists has not kept up with bottom-up, tactical innovation in the field. In an effort to address this gap, in early 2015, UN DPKO’s DDR Section (DDRS) and the United Nations University (UNU) launched a collaborative research project to identify and analyze field-level innovations in DDR; consider their relationship to current CVE practice; and build momentum towards a policy framework that allows the UN to play a constructive role in demobilizing and disengaging violent extremists both in peace operations and elsewhere.