Armed non-state actors: a brief attempt at a portrayal

The war in Afghanistan should serve as a warning about the degree to which armed non-state actors (ANSAs) now dominate the global peace and security agenda and how ill-prepared the West – indeed, the international community – is to respond to this threat. The 11 September 2001 attack on the United States by the ANSA al-Qaeda drew the US and NATO into this ill-fated military intervention and it is a ‘peace agreement’ between the US and the Taliban – an ANSA who as former quasi Afghan government the US came to annihilate – that will end it twenty years later. Despite their enormous military and financial superiority, US/NATO forces have lost the war against this militarily and numerically much weaker but determined local ANSA.

Afghanistan is not the proxy war we knew from the Cold War; neither al-Qaeda nor the Taliban are supported by competing global powers. Afghanistan is an example of a new era in which wars among states are replaced by armed conflicts with and among ANSAs. In 2018, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) listed only two minor border conflicts among states, yet fifty ongoing armed conflicts between states and ANSAs (this list includes only politically motivated armed conflicts). So, what are ANSAs?

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