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Warlords: Strong Arm Brokers in Weak States

Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Columbia University, Morningside Campus, International Affairs Building, Room 1512

 A book talk with Dr. Kimberly Marten, Acting Director, Harriman Institute, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies; Professor, Department of Political Science, Barnard College. This event is free and open to the public.

Warlords are individuals who control small territories within weak states, using a combination of force and patronage. In this book, Kimberly Marten shows why and how warlords undermine state sovereignty. Unlike the feudal lords of a previous era, warlords today are not state-builders. Instead they collude with cost-conscious, corrupt, or frightened state officials to flout and undermine state capacity. They thrive on illegality, relying on private militias for support, and often provoke violent resentment from those who are cut out of their networks. Some act as middlemen for competing states, helping to hollow out their own states from within. Countries ranging from the United States to Russia have repeatedly chosen to ally with warlords, but Marten argues that to do so is a dangerous proposition.


Drawing on interviews, documents, local press reports, and in-depth historical analysis, Marten examines warlordism in the Pakistani tribal areas during the twentieth century, in post-Soviet Georgia and the Russian republic of Chechnya, and among Sunni militias in the U.S.-supported Anbar Awakening and Sons of Iraq programs. In each case state leaders (some domestic and others foreign) created, tolerated, actively supported, undermined, or overthrew warlords and their militias. Marten draws lessons from these experiences to generate new arguments about the relationship between states, sovereignty, "local power brokers," and stability and security in the modern world.

Kimberly Marten is a Professor of Political Science (and a former department chair) at Barnard College, and a Member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. For the 2012/2013 academic year, she is the Acting Director of Columbia University's Harriman Institute, which focuses on Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies.


In June 2012 Marten published her fourth book: Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States (in the Cornell University Press series on Studies in Security Affairs). It investigates the relationships between local power-brokers, states, and sovereignty, making policy recommendations while arguing that today's warlords are not state-builders. Her case-studies include the tribal areas of Pakistan; post-Soviet Georgia; the Russian Republic of Chechnya; and U.S. cooperation with Sunni militias in the Anbar Awakening and Sons of Iraq programs in Iraq.


Marten's current research focuses on local power-brokers and non-state militias, asking whether and how patronage-based forces can be transformed into impersonal and professional military and police organizations. Her goal is to apply historical experience to understand recent and current cases, especially in Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority, and Georgia. Marten also has a continuing interest in the politics and security of Russia and the post-Soviet space.

Marten earned an A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Program on New Approaches to Research on Security in Eurasia (PONARS-Eurasia) based at George Washington University, and is an associate editor of International Security. She is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.