Fundamentals of International Relations Unit 5


Violent non State Actors and International Security

This unit examines the concept of violent non-state actors and their activities attempted at destabilizing global peace or that of nation-states in pursuit of their interests. This shows that not all states can boast of a monopoly of the use of force.

An assessment of the trends in the international system shows that non-state entities have played and still play certain roles in the international system. These actors have employed violence to protect or promote their interests at different points and they still threaten the maintenance of global peace and are a challenge to nation-states.

Several regions have recorded attacks from violent non-state actors. In Europe, for instance, Jihadist terrorist organizations have carried out attacks in Madrid and London and have only been prevented from further actions by proactive intelligence and law enforcement. Due to the fact that relatively few sovereign states in the United Nations can boast of a monopoly of force within their territorial borders, not much recognition has been given to this because the violent non-state actors have taken different forms in different parts of the world. These forms include tribal and ethnic groups, warlords, drug-trafficking organizations, youth gangs, terrorists, militias, insurgents and transnational criminal organizations.

In some cases these groups serve as a challenge to the state as they fight one another, while in others they either cooperate/collude with state structures. Irrespective of the forms in which they appear, violent non-state actors share certain characteristics. They are a threat to national and international security, a challenge that is far greater than the sum of the individual types of group, and that is likely to grow rather than diminish over the next several decades, as indicated by a number of analysts and commentators. However, efforts have been made to identify the major actors themselves. The Non-State Actors Working Group of the International Committee to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research amongst others, are at the forefront of identifying, categorizing and analyzing armed groups as important actors in contemporary global politics. These contribute to creating awareness that armed groups are no longer minor players in a world once dominated by states. FAS refers to these groups as ‘para-states’ because they challenge the state’s monopoly on the use of violence within a specified geographical territory, and has listed 387 organizations under this category.

As earlier mentioned, violent non-state actors differ from one another. To better understand this, one has to look at their motivation and purpose, strength and scope, funding or access to resources, organizational structure, the relationship between these groups and state authorities, and the application of violence.

Nevertheless these differences exist these groups have certain things in common; they all emerge in response to inadequacies, deficiencies or shortcomings in many states and as such seek to act as compensation for those shortcomings.


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