Page 1


Volume 3 - Issue 4 April 2013

Ungoverned Spaces The Threat That Draws Us In As conflict continues to proliferate across the Middle East and North Africa, the question of how to secure ungoverned spaces becomes increasingly pressing for the future of the transatlantic community. Mali and Syria present just two of the most recent examples of how ungoverned spaces can become hotbeds of extremism that lead to widespread instability and state failure, posing a direct threat to Europe and its surrounding partners. Ungoverned spaces are not a phenomenon exclusively outside of Europe, and are often used as a weapon against NATO and its Allies. Such cases necessitate an examination as to how these spaces remain ungoverned, often controlled instead by separatist or even terrorist forces. For transatlantic security to remain stable, it is essential that NATO address these spaces as part of its future agenda. Since ungoverned spaces are often the precondition for conflict that prompts NATO intervention, NATO must do what it can to address these threats before they overwhelm the Alliance and its Partners. –Matt Bowers

Mali rebels have successfully seized much of the ungoverned territory in the north of the country (Photo: The New York Times)

Contents: After Pandora’s Box: Implications of Misgovernance and Contested Governance in Syria, and What this Means for NATO Michael Clark and Renad Mansour examine the threat to Middle Eastern and global security as a consequence of misgoverance in Syria, particularly in the Kurdish regions in the north of the country. By drawing from similar scenarios in Mali and Libya, they also explore the potential for unrest in Syria to jeopardize transatlantic security.

The Concept of Ungoverned Spaces: Development and Perspectives Ilija Djugumanov and Marko Pankovski explore the concept surrounding the term “ungoverned spaces” and how these areas have become a paramount concern to transatlantic security in the modern world. Their analysis bears implications for the future of NATO policy as they examine the various factors contributing to a lack of security in areas around the

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4



After Pandora's Box Implications of Misgovernance and Contested Governance in Syria, and What this Means for NATO By Michael Clark & Renad Mansour


ince the first stirrings of protest on 15 March 2011, the domestic situation in Syria has deteriorated catastrophically, with street-

the modelling of potential outcomes based on accumulated data all provide a sound basis for a swift and adaptable NATO response when alliance members are drawn in. As has been noted else-

level demonstrations swiftly developing into overt, armed insurrection,


and with rebellion in certain quarters

“ungoverned areas” as spaces

escalating to full-blown civil war.

completely lacking in govern-

Vast swathes of the country now lie

ance is unsound.2 Areas labelled

well outside Damascus’s sphere of

as “ungoverned” (in which for-

influence; much of the polity has

mal, strong governance has

disintegrated into spaces of weak or

disintegrated or was never pre-

contested governance. While the

sent) are in fact better concep-

exact number of internally displaced

tualised as alternatively gov-

persons is unknown, as of March

erned, under-governed, mis-

2013 over 1 million Syrians had been

governed, or of contested gov-

forced to flee to neighbouring states.1

ernance. Localised or informal

In bordering Iraq, Lebanon, Israel,

governance structures, relying

Jordan and Turkey, there is a risk of

on substratum tribal rules,

contagion. Since the Syrian Civil War

norms, laws and customs, al-

involves Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds,

ways emerge. Truly Hobbesian

Christians, and a host of smaller mi-

anarchy is hard to find. This

nority groups, it remains a potential

Assad’s decline has led to an enormous power vacuum in the

powder keg at the heart of the re-

misgoverned regions of Syria (Photo: Reuters)




article focuses primarily on two types of “ungoverned” spaces that are of particular relevance to the

gion. This article analyses the actual and potential ramifications of the Syrian Civil War for NATO, with particular re-

Syrian Civil War and to the transatlantic alliance, namely areas of contested governance and misgovernance.

gard to the notion of ungoverned spaces, or rather spaces of

Defining Contested Governance and

contested governance and misgovernance. In addition to pre-


senting the issues that such spaces inside Syria pose for the

Given the rarity of absolutely “ungoverned” spaces,

alliance’s members, this article seeks to address the matter of

our concern and focus is better directed to those spaces

contested governance proliferation throughout the Middle

where state governance structures have been subordinated,

East to assess what this might mean for NATO and suggest

either voluntarily or involuntarily, to other actors.3 Where

how consideration of these issues might inform future NATO

control over and performance of governance functions are

decision-making. Ultimately, an increased recognition and

ceded voluntarily, we are perhaps better served by talking of

awareness of incidences of contested governance and misgov-

misgovernance, while contested governance would imply an

ernance, improved information about such incidences, and

involuntary surrender of these capacities.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


Many Syrian provinces are now areas of contested govern-

Idlib province is a hotspot of the Syrian Civil War.

ance, zones in which civil conflict impedes the state in its perfor-

Hilltops, towns and villages have been repeatedly taken and

mance of its governance functions. In contested areas, the govern-

lost by both sides in the conflict, although as of early 2013, the

ance functions normally provided by the state are instead fulfilled

rebels appear to have made and consolidated major advances.

by other actors. This may represent control over the space when

His family, previously on good terms with the representatives

these other actors dominate the provision of security or certain

of the regime in the local town, has already suffered from the

levels of governance when these other actors provide education,

success of the rebels, having been stripped of land and build-

social services, or assume responsibility for infrastructure.4 Thus,

ings. With the governance of the area contested, Nazir's pre-

in areas of contested governance, the state competes with other

dicament becomes impossible; his decision-making is impaired

actors in the performance of governance functions, while other

by the complexity and uncertainty of the situation and the consequent unpredictability of where govern-

actors often compete between themselves. As has been argued elsewhere, there is also the possibility that the state deliberately cedes or ‘softens’ sovereignty

The most pressing issue in Syria for the transatlantic alliance concerns the potential for the establishment of socalled ‘safe havens’

over a given space in order to serve its

ance will lie, either in the short- or longterm. Nazir is caught in a Catch-22. It has been astutely observed that, in reference to the issue of ungoverned spaces, the fundamental questions are – or

interests.5 Such spaces, for example Syrian Kurdistan, are better

should be – more about the mode of governance than its ex-

described as misgoverned. Here, the state implements its govern-

tent; that is to say, the core questions are who is governing, how

ance in a manner that, deliberately or not, provides freedom of

are they governing, and what are the consequences of this mode

action to other actors.6 In the case of Syrian Kurdistan, the Assad

of governance?8 Such a perspective has been upheld,9 particu-

regime's policy of misgovernance has increased the room to ma-

larly in regard to the establishment of “safe havens.”10 In the

noeuvre for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and other Kurdish groups in the Kurdistan National Council (KNC). This is a deliberate act, for reasons that will be outlined below. In the following section, the problematic issues of contested governance and misgovernance in Syria will be addressed along

case of spaces of contested governance, this core problem - how the space is governed and by whom – takes on added significance. By definition, in such areas it is frequently unclear who is governing; often, even when the identity of the dominant actor is established, the manner in which governance is being implemented and its consequences remain opaque.

with the implications for NATO, before the threat of contagion

There are thus two fundamental issues for NATO with

and its ramifications for NATO are assessed in the subsequent

respect to spaces of contested governance. The first is the po-


tential for a space to be governed in a manner that provides a

Competing for Governance

“safe haven” to groups seeking to harm member states, or in-

In early 2012, a Syrian friend of the authors, Nazir7, decided to leave his family home in Idlib province, northern Syria, and seek a future in Lebanon. By early 2013, his visa had expired and he was obligated to return to his homeland. As he had not yet

deed when a space is ceded to such a group. The second concerns the uncertainty over who is accountable within a given area. Linked to this are issues of communication, diplomacy and strategy.

completed his military service, he is due to be called up on his

The most pressing issue in Syria for the transatlantic

return. Nazir now faces a terrible dilemma. If he refuses to fulfil

alliance concerns the potential for the establishment of so-

his duty of military service, he will be a deserter; in today's Syria,

called ‘safe havens’. Safe havens are areas in which ‘illicit’ ac-

'deserter' is synonymous with 'rebel'. On the other hand, if he

tors are able to establish themselves, consolidate, plan, organ-

fulfils his duty, he might shortly be involved in the bloody scenes

ize, fundraise, recruit, train, and operate.11 ‘Illicit’ actors refer

being reported around the world. Either choice has potentially

to those groups harbouring hostile intentions towards any

fatal implications for his family, because Idlib province is an area

NATO member state, as was the case for al-Qaeda

of contested governance. Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


in Afghanistan. More recently, we have seen contested

It is at this point that the second issue, namely uncer-

spaces develop into ‘safe havens’ for al-Qaeda in the Is-

tainty over accountability, must be addressed. The problem

lamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali, as well as al-

with spaces of contested governance is that, in the event of a

Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.

hostile act (for example a rocket attack on Turkey or a suicide

It has been contended that the concept of ‘ungoverned’






contradictory, in the sense that such chaotic milieus are as problematic for illicit actors as for any other actor.12 This notion notwithstanding, in Syria, the phenomenon is one of contested governance, rather than 'ungovernance’. However, it remains the case that, whether spaces are governed in a manner that provides a “safe haven” to illicit actors, or are actually ceded to such a group, the establishment of a “safe haven” requires support from both local power brokers and the local populace. Indeed, the most robust, resilient, and, therefore, threatening partnerships are to be found where there are ethnic, linguistic, cultural and/or political ties and similarities between the group and the surrounding population.13 Given the reportedly augmenting success of Jabhat al-Nusra, a faction of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)14, in Syria, and consequently its cementing dominance over swathes of territory, there is

bombing of the embassy of a NATO member state), it is not immediately clear who bears responsibility. Where and to whom must communication be directed? This problem is amplified when the contest over governance is not restricted to government and rebels, but is taking place even between sub-state actors–a real possibility in Syria given the evident disagreements between Jabhat al-Nusra and the secular opposition over visions for the future. Not only does uncertainty over the source of governance impede effective diplomacy, but it also has certain strategic ramifications. If an attack on a NATO member state is launched from a space of contested governance, the water is muddied as to possible courses of action. Just as is the case for our friend Nazir, effective decision-making is impaired by the confusion of contested governance. Misgovernance as a Weapon As previously defined, misgovernance can be used as a deliberate political tool to challenge the stability and security of the transatlantic members. Perhaps the single most devastating incident on NATO

initial cause for con-

territory since the for-

cern. There remains

mation of the organization

an apparently strong

was the 9/11 attacks in

level of support from

New York, Washington,

within the local popu-

and Pennsylvania. Misgov-

lation15, and a genuine potential


ernance played a role in


this, insofar as the Taliban

under its governance


to be either directly



characterized by a relation-

subordinated to AQI control or at least to

Bashar al-Assad’s decision to grant Syrian Kurds autonomy has invigorated the

harbour and sustain

pan-Kurdish movement (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

AQ-oriented groups espousing sentiments hostile to NATO member states. Effectively, if control and performance of governance functions in parts of Syria are ceded to organisations like Jabhat al-Nusra, there is a real risk that a situation analogous to that in Afghanistan that bred the 9/11 attacks will arise. Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4

ship between its leader, Mullah Omar, and the leader of AQ, Osama bin Laden.

The regime granted a part of its territory to AQ for operations and planning. When the Taliban effectively took control of Jalalabad in the late 1990s, the group made the decision to keep the al-Qaeda leadership, which had settled in Afghanistan since exile from Sudan in 1996, intact.


Although the relationship between Mullah Omar and bin Lad-

Kurds, such as the Kirmanji dialect, historical trade and inter-

en is often over-stressed, at the very least the two shared a

marriages. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) was thus es-

similar worldview and rejected American presence in Islamic

tablished as an off-shoot of the PKK in 2003, and Ocalan re-

lands. This was further catalysed with the death of Mullah

mained the figurehead of this movement.

Rabbani, who was an opponent, albeit a marginalized one, to

When Ankara decided to begin supporting the Syrian

granting al-Qaeda sovereignty on Afghani territory. It was Omar’s refusal to extradite bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks that ultimately triggered the US-led invasion and crippled both parties. For Omar,

opposition, militarily and financially,

Assad compromised a portion of territory ... for a strategically calculated opportunity to retaliate against Turkey’s support for the Syrian opposition.

misgovernance was a political tool to solidify his own standing within the Taliban and also to threaten regional (i.e. Iran, Iraq) and international (i.e. NATO countries) ambitions that conflicted with Afghani national interests. In this case, a transatlantic response was required,

Assad reverted to an unconventional but effective weapon: misgovernance. That is, a tit-for-tat retaliation against Turkey’s destabilizing support for the Free Syrian Army by reestablishing PKK bases

in Syria vis-à-vis the newfound autonomy granted to groups like the PYD. Indeed, as soon as the central government retreated from the al-Jazira province and cities like Qamishli (al -Hasakah), PKK flags and portraits of Ocalan re-emerged.

directly drawing NATO into an armed conflict when the United States invoked Article 5 of the Charter.

Now that the Syrian Kurds have had their first feel of autonomy, they have successfully repelled both government

Another recent example of misgovernance as a weapon was when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s granted the Kurdish population autonomy over their areas along the border with Turkey. Since then, there has been a tacit agreement between Assad and the Kurds of Syria, who are free to act as long as they channel their opposition, politically and militarily, against Ankara, not Damascus.16 Assad compromised a portion of territory, not for benevolently considered minority rights, but rather for a strategically calculated opportunity to retaliate against Turkey’s support for the Syrian opposition. The newfound autonomous region has invited the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) back into Syria.

and Free Syrian Army (FSA) troops from entering their territory. This stint of misgovernance has increasingly become irreversible, in that the Kurds of Syria have become an established regional player almost overnight, striking at Ankara’a traditional pan-Kurdish anxieties. Abdul Basit-Sieda, a Syrian Kurd and the head of the Syrian National Council at the time, stated that the onus is now on Turkey to “go further and move forward” on the Kurdish issue.17 The danger lies here. Turkey has been forced to address its own Kurdish minority problem, not on its own terms, but rather, as a consequence of the destabilizing effect that Syrian Kurd autonomy has had. In other words, Ankara has been drawn into addressing issues

A brief history explains this move. Abdullah Ocalan,

stemming from misgovernance. “What’s the difference if

head of the PKK, fled Turkey in 1979 and established political

Assad goes?” questioned head of the PYD’s External Rela-

offices and military bases in Syria, where the group was able

tions, Alan Semo, who also expressed the group’s concerns

to grow and menace Turkish stability by launching and plan-

that the “Syrian opposition are already denying the Kurds, and

ning attacks protected by their Syrian safe haven. Misgovern-

they are not even in power yet...there might be another civil

ance during this period ended when a peace deal, exiling

war, if the new regime does not respect the rights of the

Ocalan from Syria, was signed between Ankara and Damascus

Kurds.”18 This is when misgoverannce leads to contested gov-

in 1998. As part of this bargain, the Ba’athist government

ernance. The scope of this section, however, is to merely

regained governance over its territory and the threat to Tur-

suggest that the autonomy, which has been granted to Syrian

key was eradicated. Nonetheless, the decades-long presence

Kurds and has been a deliberate attack on Turkey’s sovereign-

of a Turkish Kurd nationalist group in Syria galvanized its

ty and security, has opened a Pandora’s box to the point

own Kurdish population, who share close links with Turkish

that Ankara, and other transatlantic governments for that

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


matter, will have to grow accustomed to Kurdish sovereigns

be followed elsewhere. In particular, Lebanon gives cause for

along the border.

concern; from the outset of the civil war, both the govern-

The threat of misgovernance is often a result of antag-

ment and the opposition have attempted to extend the con-

onized relations, as the two examples above demonstrate.

flict to Lebanon. We have seen skirmishes in Tripoli between

However, it led to two very different trajectories. In the first

black-flagged Salafists and resident Alawites, and roadblocks

case, misgovernance resulted in a direct attack on a NATO

and escalating tensions in Sidon between local Salafists and

country. In the second

Hezbollah. Increasingly, Hezbollah fighters appear to be in-

case, while a few skir-

volved in the conflict on

mishes erupted initially,

both sides of the border;

Turkey was able to

the party has stated that it

neutralize the threat vis-

considers the stability of

Ă -vis


Lebanon irrevocably tied

with Iraqi Kurds. It

to the future of Syria.21

helped establish a Kur-

The potential for all-out

distan National Con-

war between Jabhat al-

gress, which incorpo-


rated the PYD along

should the former move

with 15 other Syrian

into an area that the latter




Kurdish groups, which

Jabhat al-Nusra poses a significant threat to Syrian and Mediterranean stability

considers to be within its

convened in Erbil, Iraq

(Photo: Christian Science Monitor)

sphere of operations, is

under Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani in January

great. The porous border is already becoming a space of con-

2012. This was Turkey’s attempt to address the threat of

tested governance; should the regime fall, this is likely to be

misgovernance in Syria. As a result, the PYD has condemned,


at least rhetorically, the use of violence by the PKK. Turkey,

Furthermore, there is a threat that the forces that have

on the other hand, has been drawn into negotiating a long-

established and consolidated themselves in spaces of contested

term solution with its own Kurdish population. As part of

governance will go on to cause or take advantage of similar

these talks, Ocalan has begun a process of calling off PKK

conditions elsewhere in the wider Arab world (Mali, fighters

violence and Turkey is in the process of legitimizing the

from Syria moving on after Iraq, Afghan, etc.). This is based

Kurdish leadership.

on precedent since weak governance and domestic unrest is a


The Threat of Contagion

recipe for global jihadist infiltration; witness the presence of

There is a threat of contagion throughout the Middle

AQI, itself a product of the ability of AQ from Afghanistan

East, stemming from spaces of contested governance. We

and elsewhere to infiltrate themselves into Iraq. It is not a

have already seen the first symptoms of contested governance

stretch of the imagination to suppose that AQS (al-Qaeda in

along the Iraqi border with Syria, where an attack on Syrian

Syria) will move on to the next conflict zone in the Arab

soldiers seeking temporary respite in Iraq was coordinated


and implemented on both sides of the border.20 There is a risk

Contested governance may also spread through the

that such actions erode Iraq's control over its border region,

displacement of peoples; a de facto partition of Syria into areas

and opens the way for AQI to move in, establishing de facto

held by one or many opposition groups and areas remaining

control over a cross-border zone, akin to the Taliban in cer-

loyal to the Ba'athist regime would conceivably see the move-

tain areas in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands. This risk is not

ment of Alawites and their allies to the coast or around Da-

limited to Iraq; indeed, in bordering Lebanon, Jordan, Israel

mascus while Christians would likely relocate to Lebanon or

and Turkey, there is a genuine potential that this trend may

seek refugee status in Europe.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


Sovereignty and Governance in Mali

absence of viable options for pre-emptive action, NATO and its

It is perhaps useful to consider Mali as a potentially analogous precedent for Syria. As has been observed, civil conflict in northern Mali between the Bamako government and Tuareg separatists (a situation of contested governance) pro-

member states must focus on improving their ability for rapid response and adaptability to a range of different outcomes. Both contested governance and misgovernance within a space must be recognized as potential threats to alliance members.

About the authors

voked the utilisation of misgovernance as a weapon by the government. The softening of sovereignty and provision of space to groups at odds with the separatists merely exacerbated the

Michael Clark is currently undertaking doctoral research at

contest over governance in the area. Events in Libya bolstered

the University of Cambridge, focusing on the formulation and

the separatists, enabling them to massively enhance their recruitment capacity and access to advanced weaponry, resulting in their ability to launch an insurgent campaign resulting in the seizure of large

development of foreign policy towards the

In certain senses, Mali could conceivably become a repeat of pre-9/11 Afghanistan…

swathes of the north of the country. However, this only resulted in many of the vanquished groups transferring allegiance to AQIM and retaking the disputed territory. Ultimately, this drew in France, an alliance member. At the time of writing, it is still unclear as to whether NATO will eventually become involved in some way, depending on

Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi al-Ahrar Bloc. He has studied at the University of Damascus and the American University of Beirut. Renad Mansour is a PhD Candidate in

Politics and International Relations at the University of Cambridge and an Assistant Research Director at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies (IIST) in Beirut, Lebanon. He has lived and worked throughout the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

the efficacy of the African Union mission.22 Bibliography In certain senses, Mali could conceivably become a repeat of pre-9/11 Afghanistan; cycles of contested governance and misgovernance spiralling until the effects are felt by alliance members. The danger for NATO or many alliance members is that Syria might follow suit. Conclusion Civil conflicts are, by definition, incidences of contested governance, and very often involve the usage of misgovernance as a weapon; such alternative forms of governance increase uncertainty over outcomes and thus reduce the potential for good decision-making, both for those individuals within

1“Press release: UNHCR Chief: Syria refugees reach one million” UNHCR. 5 March 2013. Accessed 6 March 2013. 2

Robert Lamb, “Ungoverned areas and threats from safe havens: Final report of the ungoverned areas project,” Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (2008); Anne Clunan and Harold Trinkunas, “Ungoverned spaces? Alternatives to state authority in an era of softened sovereignty,” International Studies Association (2008); Stewart Patrick, “Are ‘ungoverned spaces’ a threat?” Council for Foreign Relations. 11 Jan. 2010. Accessed 1 Feb. 2013; Yvan Guichaoua, “Mali: The fallacy of ungoverned spaces” University of East Anglia. 12 Feb. 2013.


Clunan & Trinkunas, 5.


Lamb, 19.


Clunan & Trinkunas, 14.


Lamb, 19.


For security and anonymity, we have given the pseudonym ‘Nazir’ to our Syrian friend.


ibid., 20.


Clunan & Trinkunas.


Patrick, 5.


Lamb, 15.


Patrick, 2.


a given space and for external actors. As has been seen above, there are a number of potential issues for the transatlantic alliance inherent in contested governance and misgovernance. For an external actor such as NATO, the adverse effect on decision -making is cause for concern; it can only be counteracted by



“Press release: Terrorist designations of the al-Nusrah Front as an alias for al-Qa'ida in Iraq,” U.S. Department of State. 11 December 2012. Accessed 13 March 2013. 15 See the demonstrations of support for Jabhat al-Nusra following the US designation of the group as a terrorist organisation and a faction of AQI, both at grass-roots level and by a number of other opposition groups. 16

Escobar, Pepe, “Could a State for Greater Kurdistan be on the Horizon” Al Jazeera English. 02 November 2012. Accessed 2 November 2012.


Author interview with Abdul Basit Sieda (24 August 2012).


Author interview with Alan Semo (23 August 2012).

vastly increased data collection, with particular respect to the


details on the ground, and by modelling as many potential


scenarios as possible. In a context of uncertainty, and in the


AFP, “Jailed PKK Leader Confirms Ceasefire Call on Thursday,” Al-Arabiya English. 18 March 2013. Accessed 18 March 2013. Duraid Adnan and Rick Gladstone, “Massacre of Syrian soldiers in Iraq raises risk of widening conflict,” New York Times. 4 March 2013. Accessed 14 March 2013. Hezbollah, an-nas al-herufi lil-wathiqa as-siyasiya li-hezb Allah (Hezbollah, 2009), 130.


“Nato forces needed in Mali, says AU's Thomas Boni Yayi,” BBC. 9 January 2013. Accessed 13 March 2013.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


The Concept of Ungoverned Spaces Development and Perspectives By Ilija Djugumanov & Marko Pankovski


taining its relations with internal or external actors. Thus,

he concept of modern statehood is characterized

the state has the exclusive position to legally exercise

by four main dimensions that have emerged over


time: territory, sovereignty, population and le-

It is clear that the values of the modern state con-

gitimacy. The rise of the modern state as a dominant form

cept are constantly changing and that some of them could

of organization in international relations consequently

even be redefined. However, for the purpose of this arti-

shaped the interactions between these values. In different

cle, the aforementioned values will serve as the accepted

stages of the development of the state concept, these val-

points of reference.






meaning and signifi-

beginning of the

cance. Thus, states in

twentieth centu-

some periods lacked

ry, states devel-

the capability to man-


age all four compo-


nents at once, so those

exert their sover-

that had larger territo-

eignty across the

ries and populations

entirety of their

struggled to exercise


sovereignty and legiti-

every state, how-

macy in the entirety of



the benefits of



claimed state areas.


This was often the case because states had no

various to


employed advance-

ments, such as Russian Peacekeepers in Transnistria (Photo:

mechanisms to be physically present throughout their ter-

surveillance abili-


ritories and therefore prioritized strategically important

The process of globalization brought about numer-

areas, leaving other physical and nonphysical spaces largely

ous changes in international relations in regards to the sta-

ungoverned at the state level for political reasons. As such,

tus and concept of the state, particularly after the Second

these states would often collaborate with local power

World War. Non-state actors such as transnational organi-

structures, conceding some degree of their governance

zations, nongovernmental organizations, and multinational

over these areas. In such circumstances, states were forced

corporations emerged as new players in the international

to carefully calculate which values of the state concept

sphere alongside states. These non-state organizations be-

should be most paramount in these areas.

gan to consolidate power and exert their influence on state

Monopoly on the use of force presents another issue

policy, in many cases questioning the traditional right of

that is critical to the modern state concept. Max Webber

state sovereignty over its territory and population. Some

developed this theory in the beginning of the twentieth

organizations and multinational corporations often operate

century as a basic characteristic which defines the state. In

with more resources than many developing countries com-

order to preserve the aforementioned values, the state

bined. This allows them to impact the flow of global fi-

must have physical strength in order to be capable of main-

nance, directly effecting people around the world and un-

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


dermining the position of state governance over sectors of its territory and population.

Simply put, “ungoverned spaces” are those spaces in which the officially recognized institutions of the state can-

The definition of state sovereignty changed signifi-

not exercise their full sovereignty. Commonly, the term

cantly with the end of the Cold War as new actors

“ungoverned spaces” is understood to encompass govern-

emerged and influenced the creation of states that were

ance in both the physical (territory, institutions) and non-

often divided, small, and fragile. Such was the case in the

physical (cyberspace, banking) realms. In this article the

countries that gained or restored their independence from

term “ungoverned space” will be used for a broader expla-

the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, whose

nation that includes both physical and nonphysical govern-

governments lacked the capabilities to address the needs of


their respective populations. These countries quickly en-

The first derivative of this term will be “ungoverned

countered a rise of ethnic nationalism on the local level

areas”, according to the framework used by Robert D.

which was incompatible with the concept of the previous

Lamb, while a second derivative, “safe haven”, will be used

federation state. In this case, even though the physical

to explain real and final situations of space for operational

space was governed with the army and police forces, it

activity. To this effect, Kennet J. Menkhaus adds that un-

eventually became ungoverned and turned against the sov-

governed spaces are not representative of anarchical socie-

ereignty of the previously recognized state. Many of these

ty and should not be regarded as such. Thus, Menkhaus

new states lacked the human and material resources to

states that ungoverned spaces are characterized by their

govern the entirety of their territory. Thus, the interna-

hybrid systems of governance, which include various fac-

tional community had to cope with various new security

tors like traditional authorities’ combinations, customary

concerns arising from the fragility and turmoil within these new, states. According to Clunan and Trinkunas, this resulted in a “major expan-


“Ungoverned spaces” are those spaces in which the officially recognized institutions of the state cannot exercise their full sovereignty

sion of the United Nations’




groups, business interests, neighborhood watch groups, private security forces, and tribal self-defence units. Another concept that is im-

peacekeeping role, significant changes in the attitude of the

portant in this direction is the rise of mediated state ar-

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) towards out-

rangements when authority is ceded to local unofficial ac-

of-area missions, and the mobilization of the transnational


civil society to address emerging and festering crises”.

In a briefing at the Portuguese National Defense

The period after the Cold War allowed many non-

Institute in Lisbon, Teresa Whelan argues that ungoverned

state actors the opportunity to infiltrate the physical and

spaces can be characterized by additional equally important

nonphysical sovereignty of states. This included interna-

components: “competing governance”; “exploitation of

tional governmental and nongovernmental organizations,

legal principles”; and an “opaque area of activity”. These

as well as multinational enterprises. However, the empha-

three concepts shed new light on how the policy makers

sis in this article will be placed on ungoverned space which

should categorize the ungoverned spaces and act accord-

is used by non-state actors in order to threaten national


and international security. The continued process of sof-

Furthermore, Lamb’s theoretical framework is es-

tening state sovereignty often results in a constant trans-

sential due to the significant contribution he made to the

fer of power and resources to non-state actors. These ac-

way the concept of “ungoverned areas” are understood.

tors are becoming serious threats to international security

Lamb argues that there are almost no ungoverned areas,

as they routinely exploit fragile countries by undermining

but there are areas that are governed in a different way.

their ability to govern their own territory and using this

This distinction is important because it illustrates a new

space as a base from which to operate, recruit, settle and


orchestrate hostile activities. Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


non-government-centric perspective on the concept of

are rarely connected to a specific state entity .

ungoverned spaces, and allows for many actors to contrib-


ute to the management of ungoverned space. This dimin-

Even though most concepts and methods of action

ishes the uniqueness of states as a factor in discussion and

regarding the solution of the “ungoverned spaces” problem

collaboration as new

are oriented towards

factors come into

relationships with the

play. For practical,

actors, it is necessary

legal, and diplomatic

to address alternative

reasons, Lamb still


proposes the state as

this obvious threat to

a main subject for

international securi-




dealing with ungoverned





what constitutes a

suggests that some-

failed state is a criti-

times it is useful to

cal feature in this

avoid the state in

context. The concept

order to ascertain

of ungoverned spaces sees failed states from

more favorable results. This approach

Kosovo presents another case of an ungoverned space that the transatlantic community

is a vital lifeline

must address (Photo: European Commission)

a contemporary perspective rather than

when the official state institutions have no capacity or will-

exploring the reasons for this failure. When discussing the

ingness to deal with the ungoverned areas in their own

ungoverned spaces concept and its relation to fragile and


failed states, a comprehensive analysis of why the state is in

Scholars have discussed various approaches regard-

such a condition is necessary. One important step towards

ing collaboration with non-state actors. According to

this goal is to abandon the western modern state perspec-

Lamb, outside actors should practice collaboration with

tive on the fragile and failed states. This will allow the in-

the official authorities but this policy should not be used in

ternational community to better understand the ongoing

every situation. In this manner, Lamb recognizes dynamics

conditions in FFCS, which will be highly beneficial to poli-

in which pursuing the government can be counterproduc-

cy makers. This analysis should cover all social, economic,

tive and the efficiency in these scenarios of acting directly

and political factors alongside security. Moreover, external

with local or alternative authorities or factors. Conversely,

factors for state failure must be considered alongside inter-

Whelan argues for a more state-oriented approach in terms

nal ones. Interventions based on internal factors have failed

of the increased determination of the state to return to a

many times, and military involvement can easily lead to

satisfactory level of sovereignty.

spillover effects of violence in the broader region, naturally

Another common characteristic of ungoverned spaces is that they are often connected to “fragile” or “failed” states. This notion can be discussed from two perspectives. One is the term “ungoverned space” as a synonym for “safe haven” in the physical sense. If the term “ungoverned space” is oriented to cover both physical and nonphysical spaces, however, then it cannot be automatically connected to a fragile or failed state since illicit activities such as illegal financial transactions and cyber warfare Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4

resulting in new ungoverned areas. Accordingly, it is important to comprehensively research: -

The key factors of state failure;


Contemporary formal and informal actors;


Internal and external factors.

It is obvious that the numerous ungoverned spaces of the world pose a threat to international peace and security. Along with the aforementioned problems that arise in 10

dealing with ungoverned areas, one additional problem is

application. The constant flux of the state convolutes the

that such security concerns are not explicitly regulated

meaning and scope of the term “ungoverned spaces”. Re-

within the United Nations Charter. This situation allows

cent works by some US Defence Department policy mak-

the included non-state actors to use the concept of equal

ers gave a sound theoretical basis for the term, which re-

sovereignty of the states in the international order as a

sulted in additional publications on this subject. Even

shield for creating safe heavens. The slow pace of UN Se-

though the meaning, level of coverage, and optimal usage

curity Council procedures often serves to benefit these groups, as they have time to change their position as soon as some ungoverned space becomes a topic of

of the term vary from one

UNSC resolutions often allow only a limited range of actions, which prevents the use of full operational capabilities in order to successfully and efficiently deal with threats arising from ungoverned areas

intervention discussions in the UNSC. Furthermore, UNSC resolutions often allow only a limited range of actions, which prevents the use of full operational capabilities in order to successfully and effi-

article to another, it is important that the concept of “ungoverned areas” is starting to take its own shape in the focus of more and more

scholars and policy makers throughout the world.

About the authors

ciently deal with threats arising from ungoverned areas. An

Mr. Ilija Djugumanov is president of the Youth of the

additional issue that arises here is the state-centric concept

Euro – Atlantic Council of Macedonia (YATA Macedonia)

of the UN resolutions, which proved impractical in the

and vice-president for Public Diplomacy of YATA Interna-

case of Afghanistan when the participants in the ISAF mis-

tional. He is now preparing his thesis at his MA studies on

sion had to operate on Pakistani territory, resulting in con-

International Relations – Conflict Resolution, at a program

cerns of the mission’s legality. Borderless threats present a

by the University of Goteborg, Sweden.

phenomenon that should be analyzed and integrated ac-

Mr. Marko Pankovski holds a Bachelor of Arts in De-

cordingly into international law. Dealing with such threats

fendology at the Institute for Security, Defence and Peace

often requires actions in two or more countries, which in

at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje.

some cases can prove problematic in regards to the norms of international law. As aforementioned, ungoverned spaces cover physical and nonphysical aspects of sovereignty. Flows of finance and information cannot be strictly related to geographic and political values that result in additional challenges for the international actors to deal with. The governance of this nonphysical space is even more interdependent and is an obligation of every concerned national or multinational actor. Governing these areas is almost equally as important as governing conventional physical areas. Financial and informational flows and developments are closely related to the development of hostile non-state actors and the level of their operational capacities. The capability to govern such nonphysical areas will largely increase the chances of managing their actions on the ground and influencing their development. In conclusion, it should be stated that even though ungoverned spaces and their relations with FCTS are rela-

Bibliography H.H., Gerth, Mills C. Wright, and Weber Max, ed. s.v. "From Max Weber: essays in sociology." (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), 77 Anne L. Cunnan and Harold. A. Trinkunas, “Conceptualizing Ungoverned Spaces: Territorial Statehood, Contested Authority and Softened Sovereignty.” In Ungoverned Spaces: Alternatives to State Authorities in an Era of Softened Sovereignty, edited by Anne L. Cunnan and Harold A. Trinkunas (Stanford: Stanford University Press), 22 Lamb, Robert D., “Ungoverned Areas and Threats from Safe Havens”, Final report of Ungoverned Areas prepared for the Under Secretary of Defence for Policy, Department of Defence, Washington D.C., January 2008, 4-10 Menkhaus, Kenet J., “Constraints and Opportunities in Ungoverned Spaces.” In Denial of Sanctuary: Understanding Terrorist Safe Havens, edited by Michael A. Innes (Westport, Connecticut/London: Praeger Security International, 2007), 69-70 Whelan, Teresa, “African’s Ungoverned Space” (paper presented at the Portuguese National Defense Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, May 24, 2006), 66 Robert D. Lamb, “Ungoverned areas and Threats from Safe Havens”, Final report of Ungoverned Areas prepared for the Under Secretary of Defence for Policy, Department of Defence, Washington D.C., January 2008, 4 Whelan, Teresa, “African’s Ungoverned Space” (paper presented at the Portuguese National Defense Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, May 24, 2006), 66-67

tively old, the term “ungoverned spaces” is still fluid in its Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 4


ATA Programs From 12-14 April, the Atlantic Council of Serbia sponsored a regional seminar entitled “Write as You Speak and Read as it is

Atlantic Voices is the monthly publication of the Atlantic Treaty Association. It aims to inform the debate on key issues that affect the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its goals and its future. The work published in Atlantic Voices is written by young professionals and researchers.

Written II” in Ruma. This was ACS’s second seminar for media

The Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) is an international non-

representatives from across the former Yugoslav republics, and

governmental organization based in Brussels working to facilitate global

was put on with the support of the British Embassy in Serbia and

networks and the sharing of knowledge on transatlantic cooperation and

the cooperation of the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade.

security. By convening political, diplomatic and military leaders with academics, media representatives and young professionals, the ATA promotes

From 18-20 April, the


the values set forth in the North Atlantic Treaty: Democracy, Freedom,


Liberty, Peace, Security and Rule of Law. The ATA membership extends to 37

Commission sponsored

countries from North America to the Caucasus throughout Europe. In 1996,


the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) was created to specifially



Security Forum. The

include to the successor generation in our work.

conference was driven

Since 1954, the ATA has advanced the public’s knowledge and

by panel discussions on emerging international security challenges,

understanding of the importance of joint efforts to transatlantic security

with a keynote address from Zbigniew Brzezinski.

through its international programs, such as the Central and South Eastern European Security Forum, the Ukraine Dialogue and its Educational Platform.

The Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar (DAYS) will take place

In 2011, the ATA adopted a new set of strategic goals that reflects the

from 5-11 July at Aalborg Air Base in Denmark. This year’s theme

constantly evolving dynamics of international cooperation. These goals include:

is “Global Actors-Global Interests”, which will encompass topics

such as Syria, the Afghan exit, drones, NATO’s role postAfghanistan, Russia, and China. Atlantic Voices is always seeking new material. If you are a young researcher, subject expert or professional and feel you have a valuable contribution to make to the debate, then please get in touch. We are looking for papers, essays, and book reviews on issues of importance to the NATO Alliance. For details of how to submit your work please see our website. Further enquiries can also be directed to the ATA Secretariat at the address listed below. Editor: Jason Wiseman Images should not be reproduced without permission from sources listed, and remain the sole property of those sources. Unless otherwise stated, all images are the property of NATO.

the establishment of new and competitive programs on international security issues.

the development of research initiatives and security-related events for its members.

the expansion of ATA’s international network of experts to countries in Northern Africa and Asia. The ATA is realizing these goals through new programs, more policy

activism and greater emphasis on joint research initiatives. These programs will also aid in the establishment of a network of international policy experts and professionals engaged in a dialogue with NATO.

The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Atlantic Treaty Association, its members, affiliates or staff.

Atlantic Voices Vol. 3 No. 4  

Michael Clark and Renad Mansour examine the threat to Middle Eastern and global security as a consequence of misgoverance in Syria, particul...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you