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"In Central Asia, as in much of the developing world, the warlord is returning triumphant while the state withers in its arbitrary, post-colonial borders. Transnational dynamics at the sub-national level are interacting to create regional incubators for violent non-state actors (VNSAs). Some VNSAs already pose a real, direct challenge to state sovereignty and regional security."

Lords of the Silk Route


A "state" has a legitimate monopoly on the use of force. In his lecture Politics as a Vocation (1918), the German sociologist Max Weber defines the state as a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

Many of these non-state militant outfits are labeled as terrorists. Terrorism should not be confused with insurrection; if it were the same, all those who fight oppression would be labeled as terrorists. One of the more damaging cliches making the rounds is that "One man's terrorist is another's Freedom Fighter." The principle targets of terrorists are innocent civilians or unarmed officials who are killed in order to terrorize populations or goad the government into unwarranted repression. Terrorism may be the weapon of the weak, a prelude to insurrection or insugency, but most militant outfits fail to graduate to these higher levels of struggle.

In practice, entities recognized as states typically have fixed boundaries that normally exhibit only minor variations on a time scale of decades. States typically have populations of millions of people. Although states are not immortal, they typicallly persist for many decades, if not for several centuries. At the dawn of the Third Millenium, there were approximately 200 such states in existence.

The various militant outfits collected here as paramilitary groups are not states, though many of them would like to become states. They range in scope from small terrorist groups to rather large insurgencies. In contrast to states, they either control no territory or assert influence over a range of territory that changes with time, and typically have a "population" measured in thousands not millions, and typically consisting of the actual armed militants, and their immediate dependents.

The hundreds of militant outfits labeled here as "para military" groups are kindred to but distinct from the dozens of Para-States, which generally actually do have defined territory, and all the othet attributes of statehood, apart from diplomatic recognition by other states.

These militant outfits seldom persist for more than a few decades, as militants are killed faster than they are recruited, or as initial enthusiasm fades. And unlike the states which are their enemies, there does not seem to be any upper limit to the number of these outfits, a number which has kept growing in recent decades.

There can be no "complete" list of para-military groups. There are small numbers of large outfits and larger numbers of smaller outfits. The generalized linear model and particularly the logistic model are widely used in diverse fields. Suffice to say it looks like a smooth curve that ramps up quickly at one end, but then levels off in a long, asymptotic approach toward its maximum value on the far end. The theory of the Long Tail is that the modern digital culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. At one time Google made most of its money off small advertisers (the long tail of advertising), and eBay is mostly long tail as well - niche and one-off products. And so it is with militant outfits.

One might arbitrarily set a lower cutoff of 100 members for five years, which is probably a fair accurate description for the most part. But even brief reflection will disclose that this creates as many problems as it solves. How to count the numbers, how to measure "membership", and so forth.

It must be said, however, that modern lists are much larger than those of the late Cold War, and seem to include much larger outfits. Group profiles from the 1980s were pretty breathless about outfits with a few dozen members that had lobbed a few handgrenades or mounted a few kidnappings - there was a time long ago and far away when Carlos the Jackel was a name to be conjured with. By the year 2010, any outfit that was not able to field at least a battalion of hundreds of combatants was hardly likely to warrant much of a glance.

Possibly the lists have grown so slowly that the growth has been unremarkable, or possibly observers are too busy with the present crisis to reflect on longer term trends. But over the past half century there has been roughly an order of magnitude growth in the scope of the para-military militant threat to the established world order.

Some of this is observer effect, that as the terrorist threat to the West has grown, long standing militancy threats in places like India have become more evident to Western observers. The explosion of global media in the new millenium has made global militancy more readily visible. But there are a number of factors that suggest that the growth in militancy is not simply an observer effect.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 01-05-2021 13:39:51 ZULU