Violent non-state actor (VNSA) refers to any organization or armed groups that adopt illegal violence to attain its goals, thereby challenging the monopoly on violence of the state. The reason for the origin of VNSA can be attributed to the deficiencies, inadequacies, or shortcomings in the state. For instance, when the state does not provide safety, security, economic stability and the basic public services for its citizens, or certain groups of citizens, VNSA emerges. The term has been used in several papers published by the United States military. Motives of VNSAs can be either mainly materialistic, or political or ideological, or religious, or a mix of these. Mafia, ETA or EZLN, Al-Qaeda, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena are examples of VNSAs.
Whereas non-violent actors have received extensive attention in the literature, violent non-state actors have only recently attracted sustained interest. Yet, given that our era is being defined by a US-led war on terrorism, the understanding of violent non-state actors (some of which are targets of the said war) is crucial in order to ensure that sound policy responses are devised and implemented. As a new species of actors in international relations, VNSAs represent indeed a departure from the traditional Westphalian system of states in two ways: by providing an alternative to state governance and challenging the state’s monopoly of violence. Phil Williams, in an overview article, states that “violent non-state actors (VNSAs) have become a pervasive challenge to nation-states in the 21st century”.