Sunday, February 10, 2013

Militias: A Literature Review
Many modern schools of thought on militias are rooted in the Theory of Social Contract. Rousseau first stressed the security contract between the people and the state or other security organ. Because  in a Hobbesian world there is no guaranteeing safety, people must sacrifice their ‘partial freedom’ for ‘secured freedom’, which is done in the form of a security contract. The state requires a monopoly on force to handle the competing pressures and forces in society; yet, the provider of secured freedom is not always the state, in fact it is often another entity such as a militia. What happens when certain interests and pressures are misrepresented or mishandled?

Genes Jones Yoroms argues that when there is an absence of democracy, rule of law, and social justice the environment is ripe for the emergence of militias. The state is not always impartial in social conflicts and thus the legitimate power of the state is called into question by social forces, often those that are misrepresented. When the state no longer benefits those who brought her into existence the national security becomes the security of the sovereign alone, and no longer the people or general will. In many modern states where militias thrive it then becomes important to focus on human security. If the state can provide the basic essentials of human security, the populace will be less likely to dissolve their security contract with state and turn to others for security. In essence when the legitimacy of the state is put into question militias materialize to challenge the state. A classic example of this in American history is the Minute Men. The people of the Thirteen Colonies did not feel that the British were operating in their interest and often directly against it, the colonists then started to question British rule culminating in the mobilization of the Minute Men as British Redcoats marched to Concord, MA in search of arms, thus starting the American Revolution.

In contemporary scholarly arenas there are three prominent schools of thought on militias, both with deep roots in the Theory of Social Contract. The first is the State-Centric Theory of Militias. In this theory there are two types of militias, First Generation and Second Generation militias. The First Generation operates in strong, robust states, and conducts itself on behalf of the state. They are largely volunteers who are community soldiers. They often commit to short-term training programs so that their day-to-day life is not all that affected. First Generation militias are defined as only soldiers on occasion and only called up in times of necessity, or when the normal state security apparatus is ineffective. Second Generation militias arise in response to state failure. While the state may be raising its armed forces to defend the general will of the people, it may also be confronting other social components not willing to concede to the general will that  guides the state. These other social forces produce their own militias and challenge the state. At a certain point the state can no longer sustain itself by coercion as much as it can no longer earn the confidence of the people. In State-Centric Theory of Militias this is due to four reasons. 1) the decision-making process of the state is no longer effective. 2) The rule of law is no longer relevant because of the absence of state cohesion. 3) The state cannot guarantee the security of its populace. 4) The supply of security form the state has become ineffective. Under these circumstances Second Generation militias thrive to challenge the state.

The Non-State Theory categorizes militias into a few groups. First there are militias that are socially guaranteed by the state to perform some functions on behalf of the state, these include community militias that identify with and operate in a certain area. There are also party militias that are raised by a certain political party who carry out the will of that party, sometimes against the interests of the state as a whole. Civil society militias are those that not associated with the prior two mentioned. Depending on the situation they can be tolerated and encouraged by the state while in other circumstances they are not. These militias can be ethnic, religious, labor, and ideological. Unlike community militias, civil society militias operate over vast expanses as well as in pockets because they are linked by forces other than a community. Overall the Non-state theory is defined by the fact that it is a private force. Following the theory of social contract, it is an illegitimate force established by groups to withstand the legitimate exercise of the use of force by the state. Non-state militias start by establishing cells for political education to raise and indoctrinate members. Their goal is often to make the state ungovernable to draw attention to their cause or plight. These militias have concrete goals and are much more organized than the militias we'll see in the next school of thought.

A third modern theory surrounding militias is known as the Fluid Theory, this school of thought primarily focuses on non-state militias. Fluid militias develop as a result of social and economic conflagration in the state and are generally defined in terms of the characteristic traits of their members. Their objectives are often not clear and use crude forms of terror to express their demands. A good example is the Revolutionary Force in Sierra Leone where rebels had no focus but to cause mayhem to the the general public. Under this lens there are three primary types of militias, mercenarian-militias, vigilante-militias, and criminal-militias. Mercenarian-militias are groups of armed men whose purpose could be for war-profit in addition to fighting for a cause. Criminal militias are mostly juvenile delinquents; they are often brought into these organizations and have little idea what they are fighting for. Criminal militiamen are brought up in a weak society and can become rapid defenders of a cause they may not totally believe in. In Nigeria they are the Area Boys, Yan Daba and Yan Banga. Vigilante-militia involves a security contract between them and the community they are defending. They arise to depend their community from a certain threat. Unfortunately they often turn into criminal militias besides the mandate given to them by their community to keep vigil. The armed groups that classified under the Fluid Theory can be state-created but more often emerge as opponents of the state.

Based on the Theory of Social Contract these three theories have emerged in modern scholarly circles, and continue to dominate the debate while their other less prominent theories that are given less attention.

 Further Reading:
Ake, C. (1992), in Julius Ihonvbere, (ed.) The Political Economy of Crisis and Underdevelopment in Africa: Selected works of Claude Ake, Jad Publishers, Lagos.
Francis, David J. Civil Militia: Africa's Intractable Security Menace? N.p.: Ashgate Pub, n.d. Print.


  1. This is going off of the question I posed in class on Tuesday, I'm still somewhat unsure of what kind of groups would fall into the various categories of militias. For example would the mafia be considered a criminal militia? Would drug cartels be considered non-state militias or criminal, or a combination of a few? I understand that this subject has many facets, but I guess my primary inquiry is: are criminal organizations with access to weapons considered militias?

  2. To answer your question the criminal organizations that you referenced are not criminal militias because they are enduring organizations and do not come and go as militias do. Drug cartels meet many if not all the criteria of a standing army. They are often fully operational commercial enterprises as their members generally operate full time and do not have another job unless it’s associated with the cartel. The mafia is the same way. Their members are fully dedicated to their crime network and only take up another occupation if it acts as a cover up for their illegal activities. Mob families are families because they are full time organizations that bring together generations of family members and individuals, marking a highly active, long-term organization. A characteristic that is absent from criminal militias.

    Criminal militias, especially those composed of juveniles emerge in areas that are racked by economic crisis, parental breakage, and urban decay. Mafias and drug cartels are produced by a demand for illegal goods and often operate similarly to many commercial entities. Criminal militias conduct spontaneous raids and bring chaos to communities, and they are not involved in the long-term trade of illegal goods. Their members are usually young and are easy recruits for religious, ethnic, and ideological causes. This is especially true in Africa.

    A good example of a criminal militia is Yan Daba, which operates in Nigeria. They thrive in areas of weak governance, their recruits are mostly juveniles, and they regularly conduct raids to support themselves. Check out the link below for a more in depth profile on the group. I hope this answers your questions.

  3. You mention that Revolutionary Force of Sierra Leone mainly wanted to cause mayhem. That sounds like it could also fall under the label of terrorist organization. Is there any crossover between militias and terrorists? If so how much?

    1. While terrorist organizations and militia do crossover there are some distinctions between groups like the Revolutionary Force and terrorist organizations. Terrorists usually have a clear target and purpose. For Al-Qaeda its Western countries, and the purpose of the organization is to target those clearly defined enemies. Terrorist organizations also will spend a tremendous amount of time and energy in planning and executing their attacks on targets. The Revolutionary Force doesn't necessarily have as clear of a target and purpose, and their attacks certainly do not have the level of planning that 9/11 did.

      With that said both these groups have the common goal to produce chaos and fear. Terrorist organizations also may hire militias to conduct their bidding, and their actually members might not be full time terrorists and do have other functions in society. So while some terrorist organizations do operate almost as full time armies, many are also more fluid and similar to a non-state militia with a political or ideological purpose.


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