Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Non-State Deviants in World Affairs

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Non-State Deviants in World Affairs

Article excerpt


The terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001 focused international attention as never before on the destructive power possessed by a non-state actor. Terrorist groups are, however, only one of several non-state actors whose international behaviour seriously violates widely accepted rules of conduct and may have profound political, security, economic and social implications for scores of states. Their actions consequently tend to provoke international outrage and even collective punishment. The five types of non-state deviants (or rule-breakers) in world affairs are terrorist organisations, rebel movements, mercenaries, transnational criminal organisations and dealers in conflict diamonds. The world community shows every intention of strengthening the international outlaw status of four of these groups. The exception is mercenary organisations, which might be on the verge of international rehabilitation in their rebranded identity as private military companies.


In September 2001 Osama bin Laden took terrorism to an unprecedented level of death and devastation. The spectacular terrorist attacks on prestige targets in the United States (US), which he masterminded, focused international attention sharper than ever on the destructive power at the disposal of a non-state actor. States, bin Laden impressed on the world community, had no monopoly on the use of force in international relations. Nor were states the only actors capable of engaging in seriously deviant (that is, rule-breaking) international behaviour, even of a kind that endangered world peace and security. These were timely reminders, for the events of 11 September occurred when the US in particular was so preoccupied with the threats posed by so-called rogue states that the dangerous behaviour of several non-state actors was largely overlooked. (1)

In the wake of the September attacks, terrorism was elevated to the top of the global agenda as a major threat to international security. Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda movement was at the same time designated the world's most dangerous terrorist organisation, and bin Laden became the most wanted individual. Although terrorists deserve this singular prominence and notoriety, they remain merely one of several types of non-state actors guilty of deviant conduct. Others are rebel movements, mercenaries, transnational criminal organisations and dealers in socalled blood diamonds.

While there is a considerable body of scholarly literature on rogue states, scant attention has been paid to the international rule-breaking conduct of this collection of non-state actors. As a sequel to an earlier article examining rogue countries' transgressions, (2) the present one focuses on rule violations committed by the five types of non-state players on the global stage. The rules in question are widely accepted norms of behaviour applicable to states or non-state organisations. These norms are typically enshrined in international conventions adopted by member states of the United Nations (UN).


When dealing with terrorism, the problem of definition immediately arises. The ongoing absence of a comprehensive, universally accepted definition of terrorism in all its guises is proof of this difficulty. Global consensus will remain hard to achieve as long as one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. The latter designation is of course based on the declared or attributed ends of the person or group involved. The ends - freedom from existing oppression - often justify the means, which may well involve the use of terrorism. In trying to overcome the definitional dilemma, a wide range of international actors has focused on the means rather than the ends of individuals and organisations when determining what is terrorism or a terrorist. A typical example is the US State Department's annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, which defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience". …

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