Asymmetric conflicts, that is, armed struggles between states and non-state actors, are characterized by the antagonists’ diverging organizational structures, which imply different preferences concerning the conduct of hostilities (Daase, 1999, p. 93). Given their relative military strengths and weaknesses and limited commitment to international law, armed non-state actors (ANSAs) tend to use guerrilla strategies or even terrorism to pursue their political goals. States traditionally frame ANSAs as ‘terrorists’, ‘bandits’ or ‘fanatics’, aiming at denying their legitimacy and ruling out any official engagement other than through law enforcement, intelligence, or the military (Bhatia, 2005, p. 14). Similarly, traditional scholarship holds that defeating ANSAs by force trumps any other form of engagement (e.g. Cronin and Ludes, 2004). Recent studies offer a more nuanced view, however, and suggest that there might be alternative ways to engage ANSAs. While non-state actors are sometimes willing to commit themselves to the principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) (e.g. Herr, 2010), other groups have de-radicalized after more or less coercive persuasion by their state antagonists (e.g. Ashour, 2009). Some scholars even argue that ‘talking to terrorists’ might mitigate violence or end terrorism (e.g. Goerzig, 2010; Toros, 2008; Zartman and Faure, 2011).
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