Non-state armed groups (NSAGs) are standard yet versatile protagonists in today’s armed conflicts. Struggling to deal with NSAGs, the dominant international conflict responses continue to rely on a narrow state-centric perspective that views NSAGs primarily as security threats to the Weberian state, whilst disregarding other forms of order present in conflict-affected settings.

This Working Paper suggests a new framework for understanding the role of NSAGs, based on their governance embeddedness and local legitimacy. Efforts by international actors to resolve complex political and security crises involving NSAGs need to be grounded in assessments of the societal roles of these groups, and in the acknowledgement of existing local networks and forms of organization. This requires comprehensive and rigorous conflict analysis guiding interventions and, most fundamentally, a step away from some of the assumptions pertaining to the state-centric approach – particularly that of the state’s local legitimacy and its equation with governance.

Senior Research Fellow
Non-Resident Senior Fellow
Mathilda Salo