Briefing Note: Frontline Negotiations with Non-State Armed Groups

by Rob Grace


The current state of armed conflict differs greatly from when the first Geneva Convention was adopted in 1864. Indeed, the first significant “test” of the Geneva Convention of 1864 was the Austro-Prussia War of 1866, a conflict that lasted just over two months.2 In contrast, in the 21st century, the world is rife with protracted conflicts, many of which are non-international in character.3 The proliferation of protracted non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) has particularly defined the post-Cold War era, and as a result, during the past two decades, non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have become increasingly significant actors with which humanitarian practitioners must perpetually engage in the field.

Aiming to assist in framing professional discussions related to frontline humanitarian negotiations with NSAGs, this document offers a brief overview of relevant academic and policy literature. This document is divided into three sections. Section I describes scholarly approaches to devising a typology of NSAGs and offers comments on the scope of humanitarian engagement with NSAGs. Section II discusses several key challenges that humanitarian practitioners have faced when negotiating with NSAGs. Section III offers concluding remarks about professional discussions on these issues moving forward.