Transnational Armed Groups and International Law

This project aims to develop and stimulate new research into how the increasingly prominent role played by transnational and non-state armed groups is changing the landscape of warfare and challenging traditional understandings of the laws of war.

As a collaboration between the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva (HEI), the project seeks to examine three discrete strands of how transnational and non-state armed groups are changing the nature of warfare and how states are responding to these new threats:

Metamorphosis of war - How does violent conflict between states and transnational non-state armed groups differ from more traditional state-based warfare? What are the characteristics of asymmetric conflicts? What is the impact of such conflicts on the law of war? In what respects (if any) do transnational and non-state armed groups heed the limitations on the means and methods of warfare set by the law of war?

Limitations of the current law of war - What means exist under the current law of war for regulating these asymmetric conflicts? How relevant to the monitoring and regulation of these conflicts is the legal definition of an "armed conflict" as delineated under international humanitarian law?

Strategic responses for compliance and international security - What diplomatic, military, and legal responses might be the most effective in coping with the challenges posed by transnational and non-state armed groups? What options exist for increasing compliance by transnational and non-state armed groups?

This initiative draws on the research capacities and local networks of both organizations to foster collaboration and discussion of the project's core research areas among the relevant policy and academic communities.

The project will develop a dedicated internet portal to provide a forum for research and networking on this topic. The objective is to share research internationally and stimulate further discussion among scholars and policy-makers in order to understand how the strategies employed by transnational and non-state armed groups, and the response by state actors, are changing the international political order. The portal is slated for launch in early 2007.

In partnership with: