The understanding of the differences in what a state and nonstate actors are and do in the Global South is augmented if we historicize these categories. In particular, the category of the nonstate actor is best understood when contextualized in the project of the state in which such actors operate. Building on established critical approaches, it is necessary to interrogate the a priori assumption that distinctions that frame as exclusively distinct categories of state and nonstate actors hold blanket validity for understanding politics in the Global South.
A meaningful understanding of how an actor’s influence—regardless of category—is enhanced when placed in a context, and where analysis addresses strategies and actions and their effects. To this end, an actor is defined as an entity with two characteristics: it is able to develop preferences and goals, and it is able to mobilize individuals and material resources in their pursuit. Presenting the benefits of contextual analysis shows how a focus on actors’ “sovereign potentialities” (i.e., attributes such as control over territory, service provision, generation of markers of identity, and the international recognition that an actor has and through which it can impose change on its context and environment) allows for a clearer understanding of what constrains or enables actors qua actors.
One way to explain the analytical purchase of this argument is via a novel reading of Hezbollah and of Lebanon’s politics, which is the party’s anchoring context. This makes it possible to analyze the profound effects of Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon and regionally through its alliance with Syria (and Iran), its appeal to a wider Arab audience, and its confrontation with Israel. Special attention is given to Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon, its involvement in the 2012–2013 Qusayr battle in support of the Syrian government, and its decision-making during the 2006 Israel War. This discussion will highlight Hezbollah’s state-like and non-state-like sovereign potentialities, and the factors that limit or enable its strategies in different contexts.
The concept of strategic culture has become widely used in the field of international relations, primarily in the context of efforts to explain the distinctive strategic behaviors of states through reference to their unique strategic properties. Despite this, a great deal of confusion remains regarding what strategic culture is, and how it may be used in the context of academic research. Two problems produce this confusion: much strategic culture literature continues to conflate culture-as-ideas with the behavior and artifacts through which those ideas become manifest, and strategic culture scholars have incorporated within their definitions of this concept overly narrow assumptions about where strategic culture may be said to exist.
To address these weaknesses in the literature, strategic culture is redefined as consisting of common ideas regarding strategy that exist across populations. This definition is narrower than many because it defines culture as common ideas rather than as ideas plus behavior (or as ideas plus artifacts). This matters not because it solves the methodological challenges faced by those who seek to study ideas, but because it forces us to confront these challenges directly in the context of efforts to understand the different ways that patterns of ideas may produce patterned behavior. This definition is also broader than many because it refuses to dismiss the possibility that common ideas related to strategic matters may exist across populations that are not bounded by the borders of existing countries. The rationale for such an approach is simply that one ought to look and see how common ideas are in fact distributed across populations, rather than assume that patterns will conform to taken-for-granted political units.