Foreign Policy Decision-Making and Violent Non-State Actors

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A state's foreign policy is directed toward a variety of external actors. Most understanding of foreign policy behavior, however, is derived from observations of states interacting with other states. This study examines how foreign policy decision-making during crisis differs when it is directed toward violent non-state actors. A crisis is defined as an event in which a state perceives a threat to one or more of its basic values, along with an awareness of finite time for response, and a heightened probability of engaging in military hostilities. Violent non-state actors are those non-state groups that pursue their political goals through the use of or threat to use violence. Additionally, the non-state actors of interest are those that threaten an external state's national interests in such a way that it represents a crisis for that country, necessitating some form of foreign policy response.

This study argues that because non-state actors lack many of the structural characteristics associated with a state, such as a recognized foreign ministry or the lack of trust states have in a non-state leader's ability to enforce agreements, states respond to these crises more violently than they do when responding to crises triggered by states. International Crisis Behavior (ICB) data confirms that the major response by states toward crises triggered by violent non-state actors are more violent than responses to crises triggered by states. Empirical results also show that non-state groups with more pronounced political and military structures are less likely to be responded to violently. Other factors, such as the nature of the value threatened and type of violence used to trigger the crisis, do not have a significant impact on how states respond.

This study argues that a set of international norms have emerged that help mitigate the level of violence between states and that these norms do not apply as strongly to these violent non-state groups. However, non-state groups that are able to establish institutional structures similar to those of states are more likely to lessen the level of violence directed toward them.