States and international organisations struggle with constructive ways of engaging non-state armed groups, such as rebels, militias, paramilitaries, and warlords. Their traditional rules of engagement focus on state actors as dominant actors in the international system, and underline the national integrity of states. In doing so, they fail to attend to the non-state nature of armed groups, and as a result their measures do not take full effect. Accordingly, the fear of conferring legitimacy on armed groups drastically limits states’ successful engagement of armed groups. This situation has given rise to a number of specialised international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) that aim at direct dialogue with armed groups. Their goal is to transform contemporary conflicts involving armed groups through negotiation and mediation, by creating peace processes with armed actors, and by introducing internationally accepted norms and standards into their behaviour.
In this way, international non-governmental organisations make a contribution to international conflict management and resolution that needs to be reflected in the policies and priorities of states and international organisations. INGOs’ expertise in the field has the capacity of supporting as well as supplementing official policy where it displays shortcomings. At the same time, INGO’s approaches contain limits and weaknesses. This research paper analyses the capacities of specialised INGOs in engaging armed groups and examines the potential for their involvement in national policy making. Understanding their potential contribution to official policy allows for the development of a more comprehensive strategy for engaging non-state armed groups utilising all available resources.