Homeland Security

The Rise of Global “Warlords”: Violent Non-State Actors and Threat to Global Order
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Aug , 2017


Today, violent non-state actors are playing a “featured” role in the theories of international relations particularly in the domain of international law. International relations theory has always put nations interests first, with every jurisdiction covering state related matters within the “domestic” frame of the sovereign state. When “state-centric” interests began to show formidable influence in its foreign policies, the international law too began to adopt and evolve with the change. One key development to resolve the global disputes, is the formation of the United Nations, which under the Article 2 of the Charter, prohibited the use of force against any sovereign member.

The rise of “inter-state” conflict, taking a new toll over “intra-state”, followed by the fall of Berlin Walland the subsequent end of the Cold War, brought two new “elements” in the international order: the fall of “power” hegemony particularly of the West and the rise of new “combat techniques”: asymmetric warfare.

The concept of “traditional war” has virtually been absent from the “domains” of international relations – rather, the rise of violent non-state actors has “strategically and tactically” dominated national and international politics.

It is imperative for policy makers to understand the new “player” in international politics in an effort to effectively and efficiently address the threat posed by violent non-state actors to international peace and security in today’s globalization.

Defining violent non-state actors

Since, the threat posed by violent non-state actors is “significantly high”, it is imperative for policy makers to first, understand the definition and then, invite all necessary agencies and security officials to create a security policy. The focus here is on the definition of “non-state actor”,as the term is self-explanatory in theory, quite “fluid” in nature. On its foundation, a “non-state actor”is any “actor” in the field of international relations other that the state (extending to inter-governmental organization).There are theoretically, four classifications of organizations beside the state: non-governmental organizations (also known as NGOs), multi-national corporations (popularly known as MNCs), independents (actors influencing global order independently, not related to any organization), and violent non-governmental organizations.

It is important to note that, NGO’s like International Red Cross, or Médecins Sans Frontières and Multinational Corporations such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, do not come under the “domain” of violent non-state actors, as it does not pose a threat to global peace and security, making them “in-eligible” for a sanction under the United Nations Security Council resolutions. On the contrary, the active support (direct or indirect) to independent combatants or groups of violent actors, corporations,have restructured new “rules of engagement” in the conflict, participating actively in more than 90% of the conflicts of 2017.

Furthermore, there is no “real” definition for violent non-state actors in the global community today– moreover, the terms used by governments remain “inadequate” rather showcases “politicised” statements – for example, a government in conflict with armed uprising terms the militant factions as “rebels” or “terrorists,” whereas, if the conflict was directed to an international level, the government could simply term them as “freedom fighters” or “revolution groups”. To understand the definition with a neutral and impartial perspective, definition termed by the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces can be taken into account: “Military non-state actors are/ any organised group with a basic structure of command operating outside state control that uses force to achieve its political or allegedly political objectives.”

According to the aforementioned definition,terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, trans-national organised crime factions and other terror factions and organized crime cartels (Sinaloa Cartel), international pirates or even “state-supported” factions which activate “rings of fire” in an effort to destabilise security, peace and governance of another country, but lack “inadequate” support to be termed as a “state established” terror group, are all violent non-state actors.

The “perpetual” threat

It is important for policy makers to “critically” evaluate the capabilities of “non-state” actors beyond the “state-centrism”which, many policy experts have been arguing for while at the international forums, since the rise of violent non-state actors pose a grave threat to international community, policy makers continue to view the threat of violent non-state actors through the eyes of “state-centrism”. It is important to note that, international relations, as the name itself, means relations between states first, then comes the non-state actors.This is precisely the reason behind intense relationship between international relations and actors of the state, making the state an epicentre.

Furthermore, the foundations of the state depend upon its sovereignty and integrity. The ability of the state to utilise its forces domestically, also known as internal sovereignty, is one of the principle factors of a nation-hood – and the point in the chain which becomes easily vulnerable to violent non-state actors exploit. This is precisely where the violent non-state actors challenge the nations sovereignty, armed under the rebellion forces, violent non-state actors use the “internal sovereignty” of the state for their propaganda and exploit using false information, in an effort to establish control over the designated regions.

This scenario explains the “traditional” military concept of non-state actor’s propagation through the “rule book” – a military non state actor which propagates its agenda within a state and uses violent means to demonstrate its power in an effort to attract more “sympathetic fighters” – which then becomes a threat to the state internal sovereignty. There are many cases which exists even todayand many of these violent non-state actors pose a grave threat to national, international peace and securityby sheer implications in the national or “vulnerable” domestic scenario, as stated clearly in the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine.

The presence of large “violent” non-state actors not only pose a grave threat to international peace and security, but also a grave challenge to military and security agencies worldwide.The military non-state actor, based outside the state, attacks the state forces in an effort to gain control over a designated region. The concept of “traditional sovereignty” of the state is compromised, whereas the “victim state” plays the defence card against the states forcesdiminishing the principle of “non-interference clash”, opening the doors for a violent domestic internal conflict. There are three finest examples of military non-state actors’ involvementin the international relations theory, which policy makers will be able to correlate with recent “on-going” conflicts.

The first example is that of Allied Democratic Forces which had active operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 1997 and 1999 and conducted violent “crimes against humanity” in the DRC’s neighbour Uganda. The Allied Democratic Forces were based out of DRC, conducted large scale violent activities in an effort to destabilise and subsequently overthrow the “temporary” government. Since, the group operated beyond the borders of Uganda, it committed “crimes against humanity”in the Ugandan territories and posed a grave threat to international security. The issue was raised at the International Court of Justicewhich resulted in the dissolution of the Alliance.

Policy makers can take another example from the piracy off the coast of Somalia coast. In respect to this case, the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed on the threat posed by the violent non-state actors. The pirates were “loosely organized” groups based on the Somali coast, targeted any large containers/small ships sailing near the Gulf of Aden – an act considered criminal under the laws on seaswhich the international community created to address issues on seas at any magnitude.

Lastly, the example of “flourishing” terrorist factions such as Al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahedeen, Al-Shabab, not limiting to HAMAS and Hezbollah. These terror factions are motivatedand have intra-nexus with each other, in an effort to reach to any target worldwide. In the light of “violence” these factions come under the category of non-state actors, since, its organizations structure and operational mechanism makes it difficult to target and requires certain amount of efficiency from the state agencies, posing a grave threat to international peace and security.



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It is important for policy makers to find the “hidden” channels, links that connect these militant factions from each other and strategically eliminate their operational units, before they become a threat to international peace and security. Furthermore,the threat posed by international community from these violent non-state actors is challenging, both for state security agencies and to international agencies tasked to secure peace. Furthermore, the topic remains “politically sensitive” in nature particularly when any independent organization can potentially harm any nation and compromise its national security, hence making it difficult for the state agencies to differentiate the threat posed from “violent non-state actors” and those by radical “domestic” elements.

Policy makers must understand that, the threat posed by international community in the light of recent conflicts,highlights the need for a systematic comprehensive security mechanism which could be jointly created under the flagship of the United Nations Security Council to initiate a joint response from nations across the globe rather than limiting it within the boundaries of“state-centrism”.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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