Recent scholarship highlights the multifaceted nature of non-state armed movements, raising important questions about their internal politics and their governance of territory and civilians, i.e. their ‘domestic’ politics. What has received little attention, however, are the ‘foreign’ affairs of non-state armed groups. In times where civil wars are increasingly internationalised and non-state armed groups conduct sophisticated diplomacy with states, international governmental and non-governmental organisations and other non-state armed groups, this paper attempts to address this shortcoming by asking fundamental questions about the nature of rebel diplomacy: How do rebel diplomats conceive of their international environment and meaningful action that can be pursued in relation to it? How does the internal dimension of rebel groups, including armed group fragmentation, and their domestic sphere, including their relations to civilians, shape their foreign relations? In addressing these questions, we propose a conversation between the literatures on non-state armed groups in Comparative Politics with Foreign Policy Analysis in International Relations. While the latter is traditionally concerned with state-to-state interactions, we argue that it makes for a useful starting point for understanding the foreign relations of non-state armed groups that command territory and conduct themselves as de-facto states. The paper draws on long-term field work on ethno-national rebel movements in Myanmar, particularly the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Karen National Union (KNU), to explore and elucidate its main arguments.
Dr David Brenner is Lecturer in International Relations at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he researches and teaches on political violence and violent political orders. His first book Rebel Politics: A Political Sociology of Armed Struggle in Myanmar’s Borderlands is forthcoming with Cornell University Press in 2019. The research monograph is based on ten months of fieldwork inside the Kachin and Karen rebellions. Forwarding a relational understanding of rebellion, it analyses how revolutionary elites capture and lose authority within their own movements and the ways in which these internal contestations drive dynamics of war and peace against the background of wider political transition and geopolitical transformations in Southeast Asia.
Please note that this is a collaborative paper with Dr Jurgen Haacke and Prof Chris Alden, both at the London School of Economics.
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