A brief but interesting TED talk by policy analyst Benedetta Berti about when and why armed groups (insurgents, militias, terrorists) get involved in politics and start providing social services.

She notes that war has changed: it less often involves a state fighting a state. “Of the 216 peace agreements signed between 1975 and 2011, 196 of them were between a state and a non-state actor.”

Berti notes that we, in the West, tend to think about armed groups in terms of their violence. Natural, I suppose, given that it’s the violence we mostly see on the news, and its awfulness leaves us breathless.

But she argues that our governments need to work harder at looking past the violence to understand the groups’ strengths, strategies and long-term visions. It is there that solutions might best be found.

“These groups are hybrid. They rise because they fill a gap left by the government, and they emerge to be both armed and political, engage in violent struggle and provide governance.

“What do you call a group like Hezbollah? They run part of a territory, they administer all their functions, they pick up the garbage, they run the sewage system. Is this a state? Is it a rebel group? 

We live in a world of states, non-states, and in-between, and the more states are weak, like in the Middle East today, the more non-state actors step in and fill that gap. This matters for governments, because to counter these groups, they will have to invest more in non-military tools. Filling that governance gap has to be at the center of any sustainable approach.”

Thanks, as ever, to TED for making these talks readily available under a BY- NC-ND Creative Commons licence and for going the extra mile with sub-titles and transcripts.