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Negotiating Disarmament: Lessons Learnt from Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sri Lanka

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Nicholas Marsh
Júlia Palik

Disarmament is often characterized as a necessary condition for peace to prevail in the aftermath of civil conflicts. Yet implementation is contingent on what has been negotiated behind closed doors, a process that so far has received little attention. Without knowledge of the positions, motivations, and interests of parties involved in disarmament negotiations, our understanding of particular disarmament outcomes remains incomplete. To fill this gap, we examined negotiations on disarmament in Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines,
South Sudan, and Sri Lanka. Our findings focus on the degree of inclusivity in the negotiations, the symbolic relevance of disarmament, and the various roles of external parties in disarmament negotiations.

Brief Points

  • Comprehensive disarmament – the collection and disposal of all weapons that belong to the non-state actor – is rare and often unfeasible.

  • Disarmament is often partial because the agreement has been negotiated by elites who divide spoils between them and allow some groups to keep weapons.

  • The symbolic renunciation of violence by a non-state actor is a significant factor in negotiations and may be as important as discussions on the technical disposal of weapons.

  • Discussions surrounding weapons are highly masculinized and women and women’s groups are usually excluded from the negotiations.

  • External actors can support greater inclusion of women and civil society organizations.

  • If external actors pursue their own interests or push the adoption of disarmament methods and concepts that have been developed elsewhere, they may intensify mistrust between the conflict parties.