The Section addresses the multi-faceted and complex role of the state in processes of armed conflict as well as the state-building practices and aspirations of insurgents. Political violence is intrinsically connected to the state. Not only do many militant or insurgent groups address, challenge, or seek to overturn governments, but violence is also a defining element of state practices and institutions.
Repressive reactions to oppositional movements, coercive forms of social exclusion and control, and military interventions can drive processes of escalation and radicalization. Political violence, in other words, typically emerges from interactions between oppositional groups and state actors.
Yet the notion of the state as a coherent, monolithic entity is too simplistic. What is commonly referred to as “the state” comprises networks of local and central actors and institutions, collaborating and competing in various ways, and forming alliances with business elites, social movements, or other societal groups to further their interests. The boundaries between state and private actors, legal and illegal activities, and public and private resources can become blurred or cease to exist. While, in some cases, this phenomenon has its roots in incomplete processes of monopolizing and centralizing the means of legitimate coercion, in other cases, it is the increasing privatization and commodification of security that undermines the state’s supposed control over violence. Alternative forms of governance and control emerge at the margins or in the shadows of official state institutions. Moreover, the state is also itself transformed in processes of political violence. Its legitimacy and political institutions may suffer. Ruling parties, institutions, and public discourse can radicalize in confrontation with, and in parallel with, the radicalization of oppositional movements. And over the course of violent conflicts military tasks are sometimes delegated to informal death-squads, paramilitary groups, or local “self-defense” committees, with hybrid actors emerging at it the state’s boundaries.
There is also another side to the role of the state. Oppositional groups not only challenge an incumbent government, they also seek to build a new state, by seceding or transforming the political order. Even when not able to militarily control an area, insurgent groups often seek to clandestinely control parts of a population, using forms of political mobilization, coercion, and social authority and control. Political violence, in other words, involves rebel governance as a state-building practice and some violent conflicts end ultimately with the capture of the state, or the creation of a new state, by insurgent groups.