Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias

Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias

Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias

Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Militias


In this book, Ariel Ahram offers a new perspective on a growing threat to international and human security- the reliance of 'weak states' on quasi-official militias, paramilitaries, and warlords.

Tracing the history of several "high profile" paramilitary organizations, including Indonesia's various militia factions, Iraq's tribal "awakening," and Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Basij corps, the book shows why and how states co-opt these groups, turning former rebels into state-sponsored militias. Building on an historical and comparative empirical approach that emphasizes decolonization, revolution, and international threat, the author offers a new set of policy prescriptions for addressing this escalating international crisis- with particular attention to strategies for mitigating the impact of this devolution of violence on the internal and international stability of states.


In 2003, a new word entered Western parlance, drawn from colloquial Arabic— janjaweed (devil-horsemen). the term connoted a phenomenon that had suddenly caught the world’s attention: nomadic tribal bands rampaging through Sudan’s Darfur region, attacking villages and destroying the crops of the sedentary population. Notwithstanding protestations by the Sudanese defense minister that the janjaweed are nothing but “gangs of armed bandits” whom the government is unfortunately powerless to stop, a U.N. commission of inquiry documented the way these militias acted “under the authority, with the support, complicity or tolerance of the Sudanese State authorities, and who benefit from impunity for their actions.”

Groups like these are becoming ever more common on the global stage. As Mary Kaldor observes, contemporary warfare tends to involve a host of “paramilitary units, local warlords, criminal gangs, police forces, mercenary groups, and also regular armies including break away units … operat[ing] through a mixture of confrontation and cooperation even when on opposing sides.” Concurrently, John Mueller and Martin Van Creveld each argue that conventional armies are being replaced by a sundry mix of thugs and mercenaries whose allegiances to the state and adherence to long-established norms of conduct are weak.

Underlying this jeremiad is the fear that states, the entities that have been the authoritative arbiters of violence in and between societies for over three centuries, are similarly becoming obsolete. a 1999 U.N. report noted that violence is frequently perpetrated by such nonstate actors. the greatest dangers to human security—ethnic cleansing, civilian massacres, banditry, enslavement, and child . . .

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