Theory and Society

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 169–186 | Cite as

The warlord as arbitrageur

  • Ariel I. AhramEmail author
  • Charles King


This article seeks to generate a more precise understanding of the emergence and perpetuation of warlords. First, it offers a simple, intuitive, and empirically grounded conceptual definition of warlordism. Second, it argues that the primary factor contributing to the success of warlords is the ability to take advantage of price differentials for political, economic, and cultural goods across terrains—in a word, to arbitrage. Third, it illustrates this model with a case study of Khun Sa (1934–2007), the self-proclaimed Shan freedom-fighter and “king” of Burma’s heroin trade. Finally, it suggests that the international community rethink its commitment to the norm of sovereignty in order to combat the proliferation of such non-state violence-wielders.


Burma Zomia Drug trafficking Sovereignty Arbitrage Warlord 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of International StudiesUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Department of GovernmentGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

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