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Queen's University

Centre for International and Defence Policy

Understanding the Formation, Motivations, and Strategies of Non-State Armed Groups

J. Andrew Grant


This research project examines the political economy of non-state armed groups (NSAGs), with particular emphasis on identity formation dynamics, motivations, and strategies, and speaks to my interest in the distribution of authority between and across state and non-state actors. The project traces its origins to my earlier work examining rebel groups engaging in the trade of conflict diamonds, such as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone and União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) in Angola, and informs my current work on pirates and other NSAGs in Somalia's coastal communities. This distribution of authority has changed since the end of the Cold War, as major shifts in world politics have effectively altered the rules of engagement for NSAGs. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc has dramatically reduced overt state support for armed groups, especially in serving as proxy forces. The events of 9/11 have further altered the way in which states distinguish – or fail to distinguish – between armed rebellion and terrorism. In the wake of the War on Terror, some armed groups have fallen victim to shifts in the policies and strategies of their target governments. In some cases, a shift in norms and perceptions has resulted in intensified military pressure on these armed groups. In other cases, changes in the international system have resulted in offering armed groups a 'seat at the negotiating table' or even government posts in a transitional government. I have observed that the ways in which armed groups have chosen to respond to these changes provide important insights into how they operate. NSAGs have also splintered due to inter-group competition over territory or influence while others have cooperated to the extent that they have 'joined forces' with other belligerents. Some of these armed groups have managed to survive for a considerable period, weathering shifts in the international political scene, adjustments in state behaviour and strategies, and internal struggles over objectives or leadership (e.g., the case of Libyan rebel groups). Such theoretical questions have led me to edit a book entitled Understanding Order, Cooperation, and Variance among Non-State Armed Groups (under review) and write scholarly papers on the political economy of NSAGs. For more information, contact Professor Grant...

Robert Sutherland Hall, Ste 403
Tel: (1) 613.533.2381
Fax: (1) 613.533.6885