Warlords, Terrorists, and Militias: Theorizing on Violent Non-State Actors

A U.S. Marine in Afghanistan looking for insurgents.

This course examines the factors that lead to insurgencies and terrorism, as well as counterterrorist efforts. (Image courtesy of DVIDSHUB on Flickr.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Spring 2009



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Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

This course is a general overview of the recent political science literature on violent non-state actors. Its aim is to examine why non-state actors (such as warlords, terrorists, militias, etc.) resort to violence, what means and tactics they use, and what can be done to counter that violence. In that regard, the class will cover works pertaining to the production side of non-state violence (i.e. the objectives and organization of insurgents/terrorists/militias/warlords, their mobilization strategies and support base, how they coerce opponents, etc.); as well as the response that violence elicits from governments or other actors (i.e. counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism strategies, among others). Apart from introducing the basic variables and theoretical and empirical findings in the literature, this course will also grapple with questions of definition, operationalization of variables, and general methodology relevant to conducting research in this area of violent conflict. Though thematically-driven, this course will also reference cases from the contemporary battlefields of insurgency and terrorism (be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the West Bank and Gaza, Colombia, etc.) as they relate to the pertinent themes.

Related Content

Fotini Christia. 17.586 Warlords, Terrorists, and Militias: Theorizing on Violent Non-State Actors. Spring 2009. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, https://ocw.mit.edu. License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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