State or Market: Who governs the use of legitimate force?

By: Velibor Jakovleski
Head of Research, Global Governance Centre, Graduate Institute


The State Monopoly on the Legitimate use of Force (SMLF) is the notion that the state alone has the right to use, or authorize the use of, physical force. This Weberian ideal type is widely regarded as one of the defining features of the modern state. But what happens if (and when) a state does not have a monopoly on the use of legitimate force within its borders?

On 26 March 2018, Anna Leander, Professor of International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute, presented her latest research entitled Making Markets Responsible: Revisiting the State Monopoly on the Legitimate Use of Forceduring the Global Governance Colloquium Series.

The presentation explored the transformations of SMLF as it relates to an interesting court decision (Dennis v. NRC) by an Oslo District Court. The ruling indicated that the duty of care is a legal obligation that can be borne by non-state actors. Moreover, with no explicit mention of the state, the ruling suggested a responsibilization of the market in terms of the legal duty of care.

While the decision was only made by a regional court, it already hints at the notion that SMLF obscures the ongoing transformations towards the increasing regulatory authority of private entities in governing the use of force.

There is also an increasing enmeshment between public and the private spheres of authority in security provision. That can have practical implications in the field of duty, as noted by co-discussant Raphaël Leduc, doctoral student in International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute and former active member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

When attempting to flesh out whether the state or the market governs the legitimate use of force, co-discussant Thomas Biersteker, Director of Policy Research at the Graduate Institute, suggested that we need to be aware of the processes that underlie the shift of authority from the former to the latter. Thus, we need to make the important distinction between instances where a state: delegates legitimate authority to other actors; loses authority to other actors through competitive processes; or simply abandons its authority and allows other actors to fill the gap.


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