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Armed Non-State Actors: Current Trends & Future Challenges




Inevitably, there are gaps and inadequacies in the ability of states to face a range of both traditional and non-traditional security challenges. Ad hoc security governance networks have arisen in consequence. Many of these networks exist in the legal realm and involve cooperation between governments, the private sector, non-governmental and international organisations. They enable actors to take advantage of geographical, technological, and knowledge resources they would be unable to muster alone. The other papers in this series have focused on these legitimate networks and on many of the, as yet unanswered, questions that they pose for oversight and accountability, as well as on the ways in which they can better contribute to improved security.
This paper, however, focuses on a different kind of non-state or ‘private’ security actor: armed non-state actors (NSAs). Like their legitimate ‘cousins,’ these actors form complex security governance networks to fight threats, provide services, and guarantee their own survival, while operating largely in the illegitimate sphere. The first part of the paper analyses one type of NSAs: armed opposition groups. These groups generally operate within situations of armed conflict. The second part looks at other types of (illegal) NSAs that operate also in non-conflict situations, such as crime groups, youth gangs, and militias and vigilantes. The paper thus considers both the destructive and protective potentials of these units as security actors and suggests some ways forward.