Armed Groups is the most comprehensive text to provide a framework for categorizing the key actors that pose a threat to today’s security arena—terrorists, mercenaries, insurgents, militias, and transnational criminal organizations—and analyzing their characteristics to provide a thorough overview. Drawing on case studies, histories, and a rich, yet underexplored theoretical literature, this study presents students with the tools to methodically examine these often overlooked, but key drivers of violence in the international system.
Additionally, globalization, the privatization of force, and the return of great power competition have altered the security landscape and enhanced armed group threats. These forces have also led to an increasing overlap between conflict and crime, and a growth in the state use of armed group proxies. Coming to terms with armed groups—their objectives, strategies, internal composition, and the environment that fosters them—remains a critical task for practitioners, scholars, and policy makers alike in understanding the changing nature of war.
This second edition, updated throughout, includes new material on the importance of private military companies, the shift to sub-Saharan Africa as an important center of conflict, the return of great power politics, the increased use of social media and advanced technology, and the increasingly criminalized nature of armed groups.
PETER G. THOMPSONis a Professor of International Security Studies in the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He has developed and taught a wide range of International Relations and International Security courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. Peter also teaches in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program and prior to joining the faculty at NDU taught at UCLA, Loyola Marymount University, and Michigan State University. His research has been published in Security Studies, Asian Security, and the Annual Review of Political Science.
Importance of the Topic
What Are “Armed Groups”?
Armed Groups and International Relations Theory
2. Conflict in the Twenty-First Century
Interstate Conflict Decreasing
The “New War” Paradigm?
Role of Geopolitical and Geostrategic Factors
US Participation in Intrastate Conflicts
Armed-Group Threats to the United States
3. What Are Armed Groups?
Distinguishing Between Armed Groups and State Militaries
Common Armed-Group Characteristics
Challenging the “Nonstate Actor” Label
4. Armed-Group Archetypes
Transnational Criminal Organizations
“Commercial” Armed Groups
Evolution, “Hybridization,” and the Crime–Terror Nexus
5. Internal Characteristics
6. External Characteristics
7. Combating Armed Groups
Combating Grievances and the Environment
Military, Political, Legal, and Economic Constraints on Governments
General Countering Strategies
Combating the Armed Group
Armed-Group Adaptation and Evolution
Future Armed-Group Threats
Combating Armed Groups
Armed groups do not only exist in civil wars, but also have a huge influence on all aspects of contemporary international relations, politics, crime, and society. This book successfully balances between identifying core features across armed groups and an encyclopedic discussion of cases from around the world. In contrast to much research that is self-contained by narrowing in only on insurgents, terrorists, militias, commercial security actors, etc., Thompson shows that it is possible and beneficial for our understanding of political violence to focus on armed groups as the key analytical concept. This volume is an essential resource for anyone interested in international relations and current affairs including students, academics, specialists, and more general readership.
Thompson's Armed Groups is a comprehensive and essential resource for anyone wishing to engage in international conflict resolution. Its blend of academic depth and practical insights has been missing from scholarship to date, but is much needed as armed groups play an increasingly important role in conflicts worldwide. I will assign it in all of my classes and recommend it to mediators and peacebuilders everywhere.