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State Department Needs “Clear Guidelines” on Engaging with Nonstate Armed Groups

October 31, 2011
Council on Foreign Relations

Recent data on organized violence shows that conflicts between a state and one or more nonstate armed groups (NSAGs) vastly outnumber interstate conflicts. As a result, argues former international affairs fellow Payton L. Knopf in a new CFR Working Paper, the State Department needs clear guidelines as to why, when, and how its diplomats should conduct outreach to these groups.

From the Taliban in Afghanistan to Hamas in the Middle East, nonstate armed groups are critical players in the world's conflicts. “Little work has been done to prepare U.S. diplomats for analyzing and engaging” with NSAGs, despite their direct effect on U.S. interests around the world, Knopf writes in “Enhancing U.S. Diplomatic Engagement with Nonstate Armed Groups.” He acknowledges the challenges the State Department faces in engaging armed groups, such as a lack of institutional capacity and concerns about conferring legitimacy to terrorist organizations.

“To advance U.S. interests in a world in which nonstate actors play a pivotal role . . . the State Department should develop a formal analytical framework—rather than an ad hoc process—to plan for official engagement with NSAGs.”

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