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Nonstate Warfare: The Military Methods of Guerillas, Warlords, and Militias, Stephen Biddle

Reviewed by Lionel Beehner

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A commonly held assumption is that nonstate actors fight qualitatively differently than states. But is this true? If so, how should policymakers and war planners anticipate future war?

Political scientists tend to focus on the technology of rebellion as driven by the system, the governance of rebels, or preexisting networks. But less scrutiny has been given to what their level of institutionalization means for how they fight. We assume that insurgents will fight like, well, insurgents: using irregular tactics, hit-and-run attacks, concealment, and so forth. But what if it turns out that nonstate actors fight like state actors, or at least are moving away from their Fabian roots and adopting more Napoleon-style conventional tactics?

That is the premise of the book Nonstate Warfare by Stephen Biddle. He examines the tactics, motivations, and internal politics of nonstate actors in an age of modern warfare. Previous assumptions held that nonstate actors’ preference for irregular warfare is a function of their relative lack of military capacity or their nonmaterialist tribalist cultures. Biddle calls into question these distinct categories. Nonstate actors, we know, now possess an arsenal of precision weapons, are savvy in the ways of social and other media, and command legions of committed fighters capable of fighting conventional wars. A

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