Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Warlords Rising: Confronting Violent Non-State Actors

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Warlords Rising: Confronting Violent Non-State Actors

Article excerpt

Warlords Rising: Confronting Violent Non-state Actors

by Troy S. Thomas, Stephen D. Kiser, and William D. Casebeer

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005 264 pp. $75.00

ISBN: 0-7391-1189-2

After 9/11, the transformation of the U.S. national security environment occurred largely through the emergence of new nonstate-based global security threats: the appearance of international terrorist networks, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the recurrent phenomenon of failed states, the spread of transnational criminal organizations, and the advent of information warfare. As a result, decisionmakers, policymakers, diplomats, military leaders, and academics have all turned their attention to the subject of nonstate actors and, particularly, violent nonstate actors (VNSAs).

However, much of this focus on nonstate actors has been limited to one type: terrorists. A search on the Web site reveals almost 2,000 items for terrorism, and a similar search on produces over 81,500,000 hits. Many of the other new threats are as significant as terrorist threats, if not more so. For example, the continuing crisis in Darfur, which has drawn the attention of the world, involves both a failed state and other VNSAs, but not terrorists. Accordingly, studies that address the broad range of threats are more helpful than those with narrower focal points.

One such study is Warlords Rising, in which Thomas, Kiser, and Casebeer establish a framework for understanding VNSAs in the present security environment. The authors claim that their approach, grounded in open systems theory, frames violent nonstate actors (or violent systems) "in such a way that it is relatively easy to translate important qualitative insights into the behavior of the system into quantitative models and simulations which can be used to stress-test ideas and to flesh out such foundational work" (p. 19). The design of the framework is to improve understanding of VNSAs in order to affect their development and performance.


The authors' framework functions on the interrelated environmental, organizational, and internal operating levels. The environmental level looks at the conditions and dynamics that shape VNSA formation and development. The organizational level examines the holistic characteristics and relationships that enable VNSAs to prosper, adapt, and achieve goals. Lastly, the internal operating level focuses attention on the organization's functions and their contributions to overall performance during periods of uncontested growth and in the context of a turbulent environment. The open systems methodology, then, is a universal framework for understanding a global problem set--that of violent nonstate actors.

The second part of the study looks at the utility of traditional approaches of deterrence and warfighting, but in light of the insights gained by open systems analysis. The result is an elevated and developed understanding of the role the environment plays in shaping VNSAs, a recasting of deterrence in ecological terms--including emotional and rational factors--that offers new principles for structuring strategy and operations to defeat VNSAs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.