Non-state actors revisited

Non-state actors revisited

Much has been written on the markers of failed and failing states. One such marker that has been ignored for a while is: what governments do with non-state actors in their territory? Their behaviour towards such players, ranging from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to terrorists, is a good indicator of their governance capabilities.

In most well-run countries non-state actors with positive ideas, such as NGOs, are considered partners while terrorists and other groups are kept in check, if not eliminated altogether. In failed states, they are often an alibi for not doing anything or even for abetting strategies to terrorize neighbours.

On Wednesday, WikiLeaks, an organization that specializes in leaking sensitive government documents worldwide, released an analysis by the Central Intelligence Agency in February on the subject titled “What If Foreigners See the United States as an ‘Exporter of Terrorism’?" The paper highlighted some cases in which US citizens had participated in terrorism-related activity abroad. These cases included those of the Pakistani-American David Headley who conducted surveillance for terrorists in Mumbai.

The paper raises concerns on how US’ foreign partners may change their behaviour and cooperative attitude if more US citizens continue to participate in these activities. It looks at the reasons for the emergence of this trend and the harm to US interests if this continues or gets amplified.

The candour of the paper when seen together with US’ governance capabilities can leave little doubt that it will take steps to arrest this pattern. This is in marked contrast to other, mostly developing, countries that just raise their arms and say they can’t do anything about non-state actors. The large number of such players and the rudimentary governance tools available to them may prevent these countries from doing anything meaningful. In today’s chaotic world this appears to be a lame excuse especially if such elements unleash terror on other countries.

While it is often considered impolite or even aggressive to question the right of states to exist, it does raise a serious question: What should the international community do with such countries when they pose peril to millions of people in other countries? Imperialism as a solution is dead, but a better answer is yet to emerge.

Non-state actors: partners or troublemakers? Tell us at