Conflict contagion via weapons proliferation out of collapsed states

Kerry Chávez, Ori Swed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Weberian definition of the state as the legitimate monopoly on the means of violence links arms to national power. In practice, the monopoly entails exchanging capital for arms to equip security forces with weapons of war. We examine what happens to these arms when a state collapses. Focusing on Libya, we explore the regional diffusion of small arms and light weapons ejecting out of the power vacuum in the wake of its breakdown. Before the 2011 uprising, the Libyan armed forces were considered one of the best equipped in Africa. When the regime collapsed, the country became the hub of an illicit arms market supplying rebels and extremist groups across the Sahara-Sahel and Middle East. We argue that upon collapse, a reversal of a specific, key aspect of state-making obtains in which uncertain and opportunistic nonstate actors with a sudden surplus of scavenged weapons exchange arms for capital. Using United Nations documentation on illicit arms smuggling and georeferenced Uppsala Conflict Data Program information on substate violence, we examine the links between state collapse and regional substate violence. We find that this exogenous material boost has been critical in the rise of violent groups and their consolidation into regional threats.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSmall Wars and Insurgencies
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • SALW
  • State collapse
  • conflict diffusion
  • illicit trafficking
  • insurgency
  • terrorism


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