Hanna Pfeifer

Lebanese Hezbollah is arguably the most powerful armed non-state actor currently active. Founded as an Islamic resistance movement against Israeli occupation in the 1970s and 1980s, Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by several Western states and, since 2016, by the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Since 2015, it is known to have been involved in several armed conflicts in the Middle East, most importantly as a supporter of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, but also as a provider of military training for resistance groups in Iraq and Yemen.

At the same time, however, Hezbollah representatives have been part of all Lebanese governments since 2011 and they occupy a number of seats in Parliament. Finally, Hezbollah is also a very active provider of social and welfare services in the Lebanese South and the Beqaa.

For all of the roles it takes, Hezbollah has often been described as a hybrid organisation, which escapes established typologies of both Islamism and terrorism. The chapter, based on the author’s field research in Lebanon, seeks to explore and map the variety of recognition practices that revolve around Hezbollah. It analyses what kind of recognition Hezbollah seeks from different audiences, among them the Lebanese and transnational Shiite community, the Lebanese people, competing political parties in Lebanon, and Western and Middle Eastern states, as well as international organisations. It traces how recognition-granters react to Hezbollah’s claims and what consequences these parallel processes of recognition, non-recognition and mis-recognition have on inner-Lebanese and regional conflict dynamics.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition

In the social sciences, recognition is considered a means to de-escalate conflicts and promote peaceful social interactions. This volume explores the forms that social recognition and its withholding may take in asymmetric armed conflicts. It discusses the short- and long-term risks and opportunities which arise when local, state and transnational actors recognise armed non-state actors (ANSAs), mis-recognise them or deny them recognition altogether.

The first part of the volume contextualises the politics of recognition in the case of ANSAs. It provides a historical overview of recognition regimes since the Second World War and their diverging impacts on ANSAs’ recognition claims. The second part is dedicated to original case studies, centring on specific conflict phases and covering ANSAs from all over the world. Some examine the politics of recognition during armed conflicts, others in conflict stalemates, and others still in mediation and peace processes. The third part of the volume discusses how the politics of recognition impacts practitioners’ engagement with conflict parties, gives an outlook on policies vis-à-vis ANSAs, and sketches trajectories for future research in the field.

The volume shows that, while non-recognition prevents conflict transformation, the recognition of armed non-state actors may produce counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in intra-state and transnational politics.

Risks and opportunities for conflict transformation
Maéva Clément, Anna Geis, and Hanna Pfeifer

Many contemporary violent conflicts involve armed non-state actors (ANSAs) as conflict parties. Governments are often hesitant to enter informal talks and negotiations with ANSAs, and yet in many violent conflicts such ‘talks’ are initiated at some point. Engaging with ANSAs is considered risky. Talking and negotiating usually imply gradual steps of recognising and legitimising the counterpart. In successful cases, ANSAs can be transformed into non-violent political parties and their legitimate goals eventually become incorporated into state policy. But recognition can also backfire by creating counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in politics. In unsuccessful cases, armed non-state actors might escalate the violent struggle. At the same time, mis-recognition, which individuals or collective actors experience as humiliation, disrespect or false representations of their identity, can be seen as a major cause of political resistance and escalation.

By conceptualising the (mis-/non-)recognition of ANSAs, pointing to potential ambivalences and addressing its meaning for conflict transformation, the introductory chapter provides the broader analytical frame and contextualisation for the edited volume. It links the concept of recognition as developed in international political theory to research on ANSAs in peace and conflict studies. What forms of (non-/mis-)recognition of armed non-state actors occur in violent conflicts? Which risks and opportunities arise in processes of conflict transformation when state actors recognise armed non-state actors or, conversely, deny them recognition? The theoretical-conceptual considerations presented here draw on examples from the case studies as discussed in the individual contributions to the volume.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition