You are on page 1of 3


Revisiting the Monopoly on the Legitimate Use of Force

Hosted by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF)

Fairlie Jensen

The monopoly of violence and the provision of security and public order are widely considered
cornerstones of modern (Westphalian) state legitimacy. It is echoed by Max Webers definition of
the state as an organization that has the legal monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. In
the course of modern state building in Europe and beyond, the exercise of legitimate violence
became the sole preserve of the state, even if there were significant and widespread derogations
from this principle. Since the end of the Cold War, however, we seem to be witnessing a rapid and
substantive weakening of the states monopoly on legitimate force for a variety of reasons,
including the privatization and internationalization of violence. This panel discussed two key
manifestations of this trend private sector and armed non-state actors activity in the realm of
security and explored the possibilities and constraints of reconstructing the public monopoly of
legitimate force.
This panel began by clarifying the relationship between the state and its monopoly on the use of
force, noting that security requires the control of the use of force and the means of violence. The
state-based international system has traditionally legitimized the states monopoly in this area.
However, today important caveats indicate the need to revisit our concept of the states monopoly
of force both in terms of the nature of the states legitimacy and the actors who have a stake in it. It
remains to be established whether a states legitimacy is an inherent quality or the product of
certain kind of state (for example democratic); equally the government-governance dynamic shows
to what extent security is no longer solely in the hands of the state but influenced by processes of
privatization both from above as from below. Both of these themes were further elaborated in the
presentations beginning with considerations of the nature of privatization from above.
Privatization of the security sector presents a fundamental challenge to the states monopoly of
force but it is by no means a new phenomenon, the first steps in this direction having been taken
during the Cold War era. It is also a process that is largely the result of state dynamics, as strong
state militaries outsource services and weak states issue invitations to private military and security
companies (PMCs and PSCs) to help them assure basic security functions. In the context of
demanding international operations, the same market forces are at work driving the demand and
supply for privatized security services as have led to the introduction of privately managed prisons
and hospitals.
Today new concerns are evolving as centers of technological innovation have shifted from the
public to the private sphere, meaning technologies with dual-use capabilities can be on the open
market before government is even clearly aware of the security implications of their various
applications; nanotechnology is a pertinent example of this.
The complexity of private sector roles in security is also increasing as private industry can be
implicated as victims, as accomplices and also potentially as partners. There are, for example,
substantial security risks associated with potential attacks on vital infrastructure, which is
overwhelmingly owned and administered by private concerns. This shows that measures to involve
the private sector in planning for security contingencies as well as the creation of safer ways of
doing business are clearly required. However, it was carefully pointed out that this need for
regulation implied generating not just new regulations but effective regulations, taking into account
the needs of the private sector while also profiting from their often exclusive knowledge regarding
the possible applications of new technologies and their dissemination. There is also a substantive
role for civil society to play in defining these issues, analogous to what we have seen in the case of
the "greening" of business; opportunities in this regard have so far been underexploited by civil
society actors.
The panel discussion complemented these comments by shifting focus to consider the implications
of privatization from below in the form of armed non-state actors (ANSAs) and their usurpation of
the weak states monopoly of force.
Resolving a fragile states tentative hold on its monopoly of force is a key issue in assuring security
at local, regional and global levels. It is also essential in meeting transnational threats and is a
natural prerequisite for Human Security. Even so much as the mere presence of ANSAs can
contribute to the perception of the state as weak and, in extreme cases, they can undermine and
even replace the state.
Starting from the base definition of actors ready and willing to use force without any formalized
association to the state, a typology of idealized ANSA profiles was presented in hope of creating
useful analytical categories that will aid in defining further research on effective counter-strategies.
Recent trends in ANSA activity were also explored, noting particularly their new tendency to
transnationalization and the dissolution of the combatant/non-combatant distinction.
The nature of fragile statehood and its role in the government/governance dynamic as well as the
need to consider the role of ANSAs in post-conflict settings, led to a brief discussion on tactics for
spoiler management in which a spectrum of options was discussed ranging from political
negotiations to coercion.
Finally, these phenomena of bottom-up and top-down privatization of the state monopoly of force
led to a discussion on the need to reform the very concept of the state monopoly of force.
Processes of globalization, the reduced legitimacy of the state monopoly of force, resulting from
international interventions and the inability of weak and failed states to exercise force, were all
identified as contributing factors in the redefinition of authority over the use of force. The idea of a
multilevel monopoly of force was posited as a redistribution of authority over the recourse to
violence across the different levels of governance from local to national to regional to global.
Rooted in a philosophy of cosmopolitanism, the system would function according to two principles:
firstly, the principle of subsidiary in all recourse to violence meaning that the lowest levels of
governance would first make their best effort to solve any dispute before turning to the upper
echelons for assistance; and secondly, the principle of normative supremacy where global values
would be firmly established as fundamentals.
A potential advantage of such a system is that local ownership of policy would receive more
attention although running the risk of perpetuating poor existing structures at the lowest levels. At
the regional level, more capacity founded on common values would have to be developed to
ensure that regional bodies could overcome the tensions caused by infighting and overlapping
responsibilities which plague their function today. Finally, at the global level, the paradox must be
overcome of an institution (the United Nations) whose legal authority to intervene in times of crisis
is based on the good of the people, yet whose internal processes are notoriously undemocratic.
Related to this is the question raised of the severe perversions that could characterize such a
system as a result of the democratic deficit of the international system and its politicized decision-
making processes.
The key theme of the panel was the need for redefinition of the states relationship to the use of
force and the role of armed non-state actors in the delivery of security. There was a general
consensus that the traditional state monopoly of power has been eroded as a consequence of both
top-down and bottom-up privatization. However, different and to some extent diverging,
suggestions were made on how to address or redress this issue. Furthermore, the potential for a
new field of law was noted as was the under-explored potential of international organizations and
civil society in determining national policy course in response to the challenges of a new kind of
state monopoly of force.