DIIS policy brief October 2017: When armed groups provide public services; from the power of guns to civilian acceptance

from Danish Institute for International Studies
Published on 09 Oct 2017

As key players in contemporary conflicts, many armed non-state actors provide services to civilians in order to win legitimacy in their areas of control. Sometimes the civilian population comes to rely on them rather than the state for services. A more nuanced approach to engaging with armed groups is therefore vital in order to resolve conflicts.

Contemporary conflicts are characterized by the involvement of different armed groups. Many of these engage not only in armed conflicts but also in different forms of service provision for those who live within their areas of influence or control. Some armed non-state actors (ANSAs) evolve into state-like entities combining social, political and military activities.


■ Develop a nuanced understanding of ANSAs.
Although international actors tend to oppose the notion of ANSAs providing services, they are sometimes the only choice for the local community.

■ Initiate a more nuanced debate of the pros and cons of ANSA service provision, as well as the implications of supporting ANSA services financially in their areas of control.

■ Consider developing a standard of “good enough” governance on the part of ANSAs that is worthy of broad international support.