from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Warlord , German also war prince , designates a military leader who controls the security sector of a part of the country independently of the state power or controls a limited area that has slipped from the state authority. In modern times, this phenomenon occurs particularly in states that have been weakened or failed by civil wars . The term, borrowed from English , was initially used to describe military actors in the Chinese civil war from 1911 (as a loan transfer from Chinese 軍閥  /  军阀 , pinyin jūnfá ).  

In English, the German term kriegsherr , which comes from recent German constitutional history, is translated with the English word warlord . In German, however, the two terms warlord and warlord are not synonymous, but are usually strictly differentiated.

An exceptional case in which the terms warlord and warlord are largely used interchangeably in German is the historiography of the old Chinese Empire , in which the local rulers, provincial princes and petty kings , who have appeared especially since the time of the Han dynasty, are often indiscriminately called "warlords." "," Warlords "or (probably influenced by the English-speaking historiography) as" warlords ".


The term was originally coined with this meaning in the context of the first Chinese republic (1912-1949), in which large parts of China were controlled by rival local rulers who did not recognize the authority of the formally existing central government in Nanjing, or only recognized it to a limited extent. Towards the end of the 1990s, the term was revived and is used today primarily in connection with trouble spots in Africa and the greater Middle East - Middle East region (especially Afghanistan ).

As a rule, the position of a warlord is not based on formal authorizations, but on the factual possibility of exercising power or rule based on the loyalty of armed groups that applies to him. A high degree of instability is characteristic of the rule of warlords, as they lack legitimacy and for this reason they are highly dependent on temporary power constellations and military successes. Warlords are therefore often primarily concerned with controlling and securing their local sphere of influence. Warlords are not to be equated with “ generals ” or commanders in chief of a regular army or an army.

A warlord can only achieve his position if the state's monopoly of force collapses, at least locally. This situation often occurs in connection with civil wars. A power vacuum, for example after a coup , a war defeat or the withdrawal of occupation troops, can create conditions under which warlords become possible. If successful, they regularly develop into “violent entrepreneurs” ( Georg Elwert ) , neglecting the originally possibly pursued political goals . Accordingly, Elwert examined the emergence of warlords from the point of view of the emergence of " markets of violence " in "crumbling states".

First Chinese Republic

In China of the First Republic , warlords were usually members of the lower landed aristocracy who had risen to the top of the civil service and who, under the rule of the National Party (Ch. Guomindang ), ruled as governors more or less independently and with their own house power over provinces or parts of China. So ruled z. B. Liu Wenhui via Sichuan , the province that joins Tibet to the east , and the Muslim-Chinese Hui governor Ma Bufang via Amdo / Qinghai . The years 1916–1927 are considered to be the actual period of the warlords. After the death of the Chinese dictator Yuan Shikai , the central government's authority fell to such an extent that it was effectively limited to the control of the capital Beijing . The warlord who dominated Beijing also provided the central government. With the Guomindang's northern campaign in 1927, Chiang Kai-shek formally unified the country under the new national Chinese government in Nanjing . In fact, many warlords just switched sides instead of actually being defeated militarily. Until the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the national government had only limited success in bringing the local rulers under control. They reacted again and again to such attempts with riots. The warlord Zhang Xueliang , also known as the "Young Marshal", even attempted to kidnap President Chiang Kai-shek on December 12, 1936.

Late antiquity

In recent historical research, some Anglo-Saxon authors such as Penny MacGeorge and Stuart Laycock refer to several Roman and non-Roman rulers as "warlords" when considering the collapsing Western Roman Empire in the late late antiquity . This term, anachronistic in itself , is primarily intended to express that it was not a question of a legally legitimized exercise of power based purely on the actual use of military force. In addition, these people did not appear as counter-emperors , but at least initially tried to fit themselves into the matrix of Roman statehood, for example by claiming the rank of army master .

In the 5th century, due to the increasing weakness of the imperial central authority, local rulers were established in West Rome who, based on military power, ruled over limited territories of the collapsing empire. Among them are Romans such as Aegidius (d. 464), Marcellinus (d. 468) and Syagrius (~ 464 to ~ 486), but also non-Romans like Geiseric and Clovis , with the latter sometimes also being regarded as army kings ; in addition, there were regional petty kings , who achieved considerable importance, especially in Britain . Some of them succeeded in building stable empires after the collapse of West Rome: These late antique "warlords" gradually became medieval kings .

In more recent research on ancient history, the term is sometimes used for other ancient military commanders in the time before late antiquity.

Warlords in the present

In the current discussion, “warlord” refers to a person who has both military and civil control over a territory. This control is not politically legitimized, but based on armed units that are only loyal to the warlord. Warlords are particularly common in failed states . Examples of countries dominated by warlords in recent history are Somalia ( Mohammed Farah Aidid , Ali Mahdi Mohammed ) since 1991, Afghanistan , the Democratic Republic of the Congo , Sudan , Syria and Libya . But other third world countries also know warlords, albeit to a lesser extent.

As a “violent entrepreneur” and sole power holder, a warlord controls a more or less regionally delimited area that is located within a national territory. This is only possible if the central state grants a warlord autonomy or, rather, is unable to enforce the state monopoly of the use of force against the warlord. That is why you can often find warlords in regions of crisis or civil war. The role of the warlord is strongly male , but in very rare cases female warlords are also documented.

Differentiation from the term warlord

The German term warlord came into use in modern times and established itself in recent German constitutional history as a designation for the legitimate leader of a war party . As a rule, a sovereign was designated in his function as the highest commander of the military. Usually a monarch acted as warlord , in some imperial cities the members of the municipal war office were also referred to as "warlords", for example in Nuremberg . Sometimes the word also referred to a military leader who was responsible for carrying out the war as a subject or agent of the ruler.

The warlord differs from a general or military leader in particular in the power or authorization to declare war and, if necessary , to end it again by means of an armistice or an agreement of peace under international law . A warlord is therefore not a warlord whose position, which is regarded as illegitimate under international law, is based solely on the power of the factual. In the Bismarckian Constitution , the constitutional position of the warlord was the German Kaiser reserved, of the holder of the highest power of command ( command ) over the entire armed forces of the German Reich as the sole sovereign acted warlord, while the German princes with the Empire on the power refrained from being able to wage war on their own. Therefore, the emperor was referred to as the "supreme warlord" until the end of the empire.


  • Tom Burgis: The Curse of Wealth. Warlords, corporations, smugglers and the pillage of Africa. Westend, Frankfurt 2016, ISBN 978-3-86489-148-9 .
  • Kimberly Marten: Warlordism in Comparative Perspective. In: International Security. 31/3, 2006/2007, pp. 41-73.
  • Herfried Münkler : The New Wars. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-7632-5366-1 .
  • Toni Ñaco del Hoyo, Fernando López Sánchez (Ed.): War, Warlords, and Interstate Relations in the Ancient Mediterranean. Brill, Leiden 2017, ISBN 978-90-04-35405-0 .
  • Michael Riekenberg : Warlords. A sketch of the problem. In: Comparativ. No. 5/6, 1999, pp. 187-205.


  1. ^ A b Conrad Schetter: War Principality and Civil War Economies in Afghanistan. (PDF; 720 kB). In: Working Papers on International Politics and Foreign Policy (AIPA) 3/2004. P. 3 f. Retrieved November 8, 2010.
  2. Warlord is defined in the Duden as the leader of a tribe, an ethnic group that (mostly in civil war-like conflicts) has taken over military and political power in a limited area (accessed September 8, 2017). Schetter speaks of elites who, under conditions of progressive state collapse, gain control of the security sector and exploit the country for their own enrichment (accessed November 8, 2010).
  3. ^ A b Oxford English Dictionary , second edition, 1989, sv warlord , Bed. 2.
  4. jūnfá (軍閥 / 军阀) - warlord . In: zdic.net. Retrieved March 18, 2018 (Chinese, English).
  5. a b Stig Förster , Markus Pöhlmann , Dierk Walter (ed.): Warlords of world history. 22 historical portraits. Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54983-7 , p. 7.
  6. ^ Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer : China. CH Beck, Munich 1997, p. 311 (subject index : "Warlords see warlords").
  7. ^ Heinz Wagner: China. The old and the new Middle Kingdom. Complete Media , Munich / Grünwald 2008 (calls the jūnfá of the time after 1912 “warlords” and the local rulers of the earlier epoch “warlords”).
  8. See introductory David Bonavia: China's Warlords. Hong Kong 1995.
  9. See Georg Elwert: Markets of Violence. In: Georg Elwert, Stephan Feuchtwang, Dieter Neubert (Eds.): Dynamics of Violence. Processes of Escalation and De-Escalation in Violent Group Conflicts. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1999, pp. 85-102.
  10. ^ Edward A. McCord: The Power of the Gun. The Emergence of Modern Chinese Warlordism. Berkeley 1993 ( online ).
  11. See Henning Börm : Westrom. Stuttgart 2013.
  12. ^ Penny MacGeorge: Late Roman Warlords. Oxford 2002.
  13. ^ Bernhard Jussen : Clovis and the peculiarities of Gaul. A warlord at the right moment . In: Mischa Meier (Ed.): They created Europe. Historical portraits from Constantine to Charlemagne . Munich 2007, pp. 141–155.
  14. See Stuart Laycock: Warlords. The Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain . Stroud 2009.
  15. Toni Ñaco del Hoyo, Fernando López Sánchez (ed.): War, Warlords, and Interstate Relations in the Ancient Mediterranean. Leiden 2017 (on the theoretical preliminary considerations in this regard, see ibid., Pp. 1–12).
  16. Federal Agency for Civic Education: Glossary | Warlords. Retrieved May 9, 2020 .
  17. Federal Agency for Civic Education: Glossary | Violent entrepreneur. Retrieved May 9, 2020 .
  18. See Kimberly Marten: Warlords. Strong-arm Brokers in Weak States. Ithaca / London 2012, p. 4, with reference to Bibi Aysha in Baghlan, Afghanistan.
  19. a b Warlord. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 11 : K - (V). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1873, Sp. 2276 ( woerterbuchnetz.de ).
  20. Warlord . In: Former Academy of Sciences of the GDR, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences (Hrsg.): German legal dictionary . tape 7 , issue 10 (edited by Günther Dickel , Heino Speer, with the assistance of Renate Ahlheim, Richard Schröder, Christina Kimmel, Hans Blesken). Hermann Böhlaus successor, Weimar 1983, OCLC 832567164 , Sp. 1549–1550 ( adw.uni-heidelberg.de ).
  21. ^ Wilhelm Deist: Kaiser Wilhelm II as Supreme Warlord . In: Wilhelm Deist : Military, State and Society. Oldenbourg, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-486-55920-6 (paperback), ISBN 3-486-55919-2 (fabric), p. 2.