Warlords Rising: Confronting Violent Non-State Actors

Article excerpt

Warlords Rising: Confronting Violent Non-State Actors by Troy S. Thomas, Stephen D. Riser, and William D. casebeer. Lexington Books (http:// www.lexingtonbooks.com), 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, 2005, 268 pages, $75.00 (hardcover), $34.95 (softcover).

Military planners and operators understand systems. Defense in depth, carrier battle groups, and Col John Warden's five rings-to name just a few-are familiar systems to contemporary war fighters. But as the United States heads toward the sixth year of the global war on terror, representing violent nonstate actors (VNSA) as a system remains elusive to all but a few pockets of the Department of Defense. Indeed, the type of deliberate, reflective, and fastidious systems-level inquiry undertaken during the Cold War that resulted in key successes (e.g., stealth technology and network-centric warfare) has yet to transition to the terrorism field.

In Warlords Rising, authors Thomas, Riser, and casebeer seek to rectify this deficiency. Specifically, the book offers an analytical framework through which one can systemically view terrorist organizations as one category of VNSAs. Leveraging opensystems theory, the authors perceive these organizations not as unique, isolated entities but as structures that continuously transform, based on the resources available in their proximate environments. By examining terrorist groups as organizations that ingest environmental resources while producing various outputs (e.g., identity and violence), Thomas, Riser, and casebeer provide us with an inventive framework for organizing "what we know " (or what we think we know) about how VTVSAs really work.

Chapter 1 straightforwardly introduces some of the information-age challenges to the state-dominated international system that are well expressed elsewhere-particularly the netwarconcept (see, for example.John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, The Advent of Netwar [Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1996]; and John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, eds., In Athena's Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age [Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1997]). This introductory material also provides a cursory overview of open-systems theory, which forms the basis of the work. Drawing heavily on central Asia as a case study, chapter 2 outlines some of the environmental conditions that contribute to the rise of VNSAs-often postulated in other works as possible "root causes" of contentious collective violence. Chapter 5 introduces the types of agents who serve as the core VNSA actors (e.g., warlords, ethnopolitical militants, and religious militants). Chapter 6 then situates these conditions and agents within the overarching scaffolding of collective violence. Readers new to VNSA inquiry would do well to start their reading with these chapters.

For those more familiar with VNSAs, chapters 3, 4, and 7 and the appendix form the intellectual core of the book. These sections express how systems thinking can assist in VNSA analysis, from which effective counterstrategies may result. …