Engaging an armed actor in dialogue can help support the transformation of its power base from coercion to consensual authority. However, such shifts are neither uniform nor linear, not least in relation to the respective experiences of state and non-state actors.
Regime change in Indonesia began with a state that had comparatively strong international legitimacy but weak local legitimacy – a recognised sovereign entity whose domestic political authority was hotly disputed. Suharto’s demise, provoked by massive popular pressure for change, led to the opening up of the political system. By contrast, armed opposition groups’ struggle for recognition often refers to internal and social legitimacy for their justification, and many armed groups actively seek international recognition as a strategic objective.
But the trajectories of both state and non-state actors involved in transitions out of violence commonly imply engagement in some form of structural or political reform. For states, this often involves constitutional or military reform, the introduction of power-sharing mechanisms or human rights guarantees, as well as elections. Non-state groups are often required to dismantle their arsenals (unless struggle leads to independence, such as in South Sudan or East Timor) and participate in formal governance through democratic politics and reintegration into the security sector – hence some of the problems with peace in Lebanon due to Hezbollah’s continued existence as an autonomous militia within the state apparatus.
The transformation of non-state armed actors is challenging as it implies a significant change in mindset to join a political order or security system (albeit reformed) that they had previously fought as illegitimate – and to gamble on being able to mobilise future support for their political project as a guarantee for retaining some level of power or political authority. Hezbollah seems stuck somewhere in the middle of a transition process as the prospect of decommissioning equates to a loss of relevance in terms of defending Lebanese sovereignty against Israel and, more recently, Salafist jihadist groups in Syria.
The trajectory out of violence takes a different path for urban gangs. The El Salvador case study describes how gang members, while pursuing a path to social reintegration as a core condition of the truce, have also sought to maintain their distinct identity. The social legitimisation of the truce is understood as a necessary condition for breaking the cycle of criminal violence, including by the gangs themselves, and the implementation of the truce has paid increasing attention to efforts to enhance its local legitimacy.