Sandhurst Trends in International             Conflict Series Symposium 3

Key questions to be explored might include:

  • How do violent non-state actors affect the social, political, and economic dynamics of conflict?

  • Can any meaningful distinction between economic and political motivations still be sustained in categorising contemporary violent non-state actors in conflict?

  • How has International Humanitarian Law responded, or failed to respond, to the proliferation of violent non-state actors in conflict? How might its scope and coverage be practically improved?

  • How do violent non-state actors use information technology to shape and influence conflicts?

  • How do states interact with violent non-state actors in conflict?

  • How do violent non-state actors affect post-conflict zones? How are they de-mobilised or emerge after conflict?

2018: Violent Non-State Actors in Modern Conflict

                          Thursday 15th November, 2018

                       Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Recent conflicts such as those in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly characterised by a pluralisation of irregular and privatised forms of violence. These actors include, among others, warlords, mercenaries, terrorists, transnational organised crime groups, foreign fighters and Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs). They are in a complex and multi-faceted relationship with states, which often involves various degrees of autonomy and dependency. While some pose a direct challenge to the state, others are in a complementary and symbiotic relationship with it. As such, violent non-state actors are both competing and cooperating with state actors in modern conflicts. Their hybrid nature therefore raises questions with regards to how best to understand these actors, as they often escape neatly defined categorisations. For example, in modern conflicts the lines between terrorists and organised crime groups, irregular and regular forces, as well as economic and political motivations to fight, are increasingly blurred. As a result, ‘new’ and ‘old’ types of violent non-state actors are defining elements of modern conflict and shaping its political, social, legal and economic configurations. The extreme complexity of 21st century conflicts thus requires a more integrated approach between military and civilian actors in order to respond more effectively to its challenges.


As a consequence, in the third of the Sandhurst Trends in International Conflict series hosted by the Department of Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the nature and roles of violent non-state actors in modern conflict will be critically examined. This symposium aims to generate a conversation to better capture and quantify the diverse approaches to studying these phenomena, the conceptual challenges to categorising these actors and the practical implications for shaping conflict dynamics in their legal, economic, social and political dimensions. 

Given our emphasis on the development of further and better links on the academic-military interface, this symposium aims at bringing together scholars and practitioners to address the role of private and public actors in contemporary conflict and we invite submissions and participation from both communities.

Keynote address

By Professor Mary Kaldor (LSE)

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