Ungoverned Space, Fragile States, and Global Threats: Deconstructing Linkages

By Chloe A. Diggins
2011, Vol. 3 No. 03 | pg. 1/3 |

It is widely recognized that state security is no longer contingent upon a balance of power or the threat of conquering states, but global stability is now instead jeopardized by weak or fragile states. Fragile states represent chaos, disorder, and under, and their very existence threatens not only the security of the developed world, but the capitalist, consumer-driven lifestyle to which the Western world is accustomed. Of critical concern are the global circulatory flows affiliated with poverty, , and migration, which carry the potential to destabilize and undermine Western society. Mark Duffield argues that the Western humanitarian project of development seeks to manage such threats, and as such, is a neo-imperial of governance that serves to intervene and administer the underdeveloped world.1 Thus, humanitarian and economic development is an essential tool for securing, promoting, and perpetuating the Western capitalist order as it reduces poverty and encourages stability, thereby managing the unfavorable flows emanating from the underdeveloped world.

Despite this, some fragile states have resisted, rejected or subverted Western intervention and are now considered especially menacing because they ‘lack the capacity to become aid-dependant and thus a known part of the West’s sovereign frontier’.2 Due to the limited institutional and/or organizational power that the developed world can exercise in such places, as well as the lack of hegemonic influence that the West holds over local populations, these places have come to be known as ungoverned spaces. Ungoverned spaces epitomize the threat to Western security because of their incapacity to be governed effectively, or more precisely, governed in a way that is in alignment with the Western capitalist project. , drug trafficking, criminal networks, infectious diseases and illegal migrants are said to exist in and flow from ungoverned areas, and therefore containing these spaces within the Western sovereign frontier is a strategic priority for security policy. But can a space ever be truly ungoverned, or is this a normative judgement on alternate forms of governance? Furthermore, how exactly are ungoverned spaces connected to the outside world, and is the threat that ungoverned spaces pose to global security realistic or unfounded? To answer these questions, we must construct a framework of ungoverned space that establishes their social function in terms of how different actors engage with and within ungoverned space.

This paper evaluates the connection between ungoverned space and global threat.

A comprehensive literature review identifies some common shortfalls in current practice that have lead to misconceptions about the function of ungoverned space. Conventional fragile state policies tend to distort ungoverned space, in that they deny alternate governance structures, misrepresent the role of the developed world in creating ungoverned space, and fail to critically analyze the multi-directional flow of global circulation. These distortions are considered from a theoretical perspective and form the crux of the argument. This paper also deconstructs ungoverned space in order to critically reflect upon the objective and abstract qualities that shape spaces of political, social, and economic exchange. In doing so, this essay determines exactly how ungoverned spaces are connected to the outside world, and thus how (and to what extent) they may be considered a threat to global security.

The complexity of defining fragile states and ungoverned space has been noted throughout the literature.3 Though there are several useful models for evaluating weak states, there appears to be no universal agreement, and too often are the political, economic, and social composition of these states homogenized through comparison with other ‘failed’ states. In Stewart Patrick’s words, ‘definitions [obscure the] cultural legacies, historical experiences and current challenges’ of weak states.4 Essentially, the standard for comparison is ambiguous at best, and fails to account for the unique and individual context of each fragile state, especially when distinguishing between political will and governmental capacity.

Duffield employs a common conception of the fragile state that ‘denotes such things as a chronic lack of state capacity, political fragmentation and social isolation’.5 He explicitly correlates fragility with global instability, arguing that development in the fragile state context is a form of counter-insurgency. However, Duffield is not concerned with dissecting the various symptoms, conditions, and typologies of fragile states, but rather, perceives of them as embedded features within international governance. Consequently, he discusses the of policy from humanitarianism to capacity building, which is predicated upon the idea that because of ungoverned space, fragile states are vulnerable to colonization by agents of insecurity, specifically terrorists and drug traffickers. His objective is to critically examine fragile state discourse to illustrate his theory of contingent sovereignty, which holds to the idea that fragile states represent a threat to Western security.

Conversely, Patrick questions the explicit link between weak states and transnational threats, arguing that several factors should be considered before this dialectic is established.6 He notes that while most developed nations have adapted policies and diplomatic relations to account for the threat posed by weak states, little effort has been made to effectively analyze the linkages between state weakness and global threats. For example, countless variables including political, religious, cultural, and geographic factors shape the distribution of global threats, and it is therefore counter-intuitive to claim that weak states (and ungoverned spaces) represent a universal threat.7 Instead, Patrick contends that it is more productive to determine categories of failed states and how (if at all) these states may be connected to security threats, as this would afford more effective, customized responses in policy. In this sense, Patrick departs from Duffield by offering a more complex conceptualization of fragile states, but in his contention that the shift in policy focus from conquering states to ineffective ones is mirrored by the evolution from humanitarianism to securitization, Patrick is in agreement with Duffield.

There have also been several divergences in the literature on the understanding of ungoverned space. Some authors such as Duffield, examine ungoverned space only in relation to fragile states, where others, such as Anne Clunan, adopt a more critical approach, questioning the concept altogether. Like Patrick, Clunan critiques the common misconceptions that link fragile states, ungoverned spaces and global threats. Clunan explores the problematic of ungoverned space, asserting that the term implies an absence of governance or authority, thereby denying alternative governance structures that may be in place, and misrepresenting the ways that people operate within such spaces. Thus, declaring a space ungoverned is actually a ‘normative judgement on the type of governance’, or the way in which a space is governed.8

Clunan also argues that ungoverned spaces are not necessarily due to state incapacity- in many cases these areas have been created as an aftereffect of the introduction of neo-liberal policies and the increased circulation of global flows. Consequently, the Western project of promoting ‘state capacity, state building, and in some cases, state creation’ is misguided in its disproportionate emphasis on state-centric institutional reform.9 Monika François and Inder Sud offer a similar version of this argument, claiming that the large injection of funds by donor governments into fragile states is ‘ineffective in promoting the goal of state building, and indeed may undermine it’.10 Unlike Clunan, their dispute with the state-building response is not that it is state-centric, but rather that it is geared towards delivering quick and visible results instead of being concerned with introducing legitimate, long-term, sustainable social change.

François and Sud also contest that in the context of fragile states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) undermine state capacity because they implement projects and provide social services that run parallel to state-endorsed programs. In this sense, by bypassing the state and creating alternate aid distribution models, NGOs (and aid donors) actually destroy any pre-existing capacity that a fragile state may have. Duffield supports this, asserting that NGOs have become a petty sovereign power, occupying a political space within the state that is in many ways more influential than the state itself. James Ferguson contends that the outsourcing of state functions to NGOs has only further fractured the unstable and ungoverned areas of Africa, resulting in a ‘patchwork of transnationally networked bits’.11 Ferguson refers to spaces as ‘enclaves’, where some have benefited from heavy foreign investment (usually due to the presence of natural resources), and others have been entirely excluded from the advantages of . This separation of enclaves has culminated in ‘transnational governmentality’, or widespread governance by NGOs.12

Like Ferguson, Clunan introduces the idea of ‘softened sovereignty’, which is comparable to Duffield’s contingent sovereignty, in that it evokes a space where ‘territorial state control has been voluntarily or involuntarily ceded in whole or in part to actors other than the relevant legally recognized sovereign authorities’.13 However, unlike Duffield, Clunan does not specifically refer to this space as being occupied by NGOs. Bartosz Stanislawski describes these spaces as ‘black spots’.14 In his account, black spots are ‘territorial entities in which non-state actors challenge state sovereignty and gain local dominance’ and further, that they ‘remain in the grey area between formal international recognition and semi-formal central control’.15 Though Stanislawski recognizes the alternative authority structures and the unique socio-economic dynamics of black spots, his understanding of ungoverned spaces, much like Duffield, is heavily politico-geographic in that he neglects the forces that transform these spaces into abstract networks that transcend regional and national borders.

Several researchers have examined the importance of the fluidity of ungoverned space, in that it is often not limited to operating within state borders, but is connected to transnational networks of exchange. Paul Gootenberg, for example, has explored this phenomenon in relation to illicit drug flows from ungoverned spaces across state borders, which he claims are crucial to globalization theory.16 Didier Bigo also argues that global networks of and ungoverned space (in company with other globalizing forces) have eroded borders and deterritorialized the nation state, resulting in the convergence of internal and external security.17 Timothy Brown suggests that the nation state has been deterritorialized in other ways, specifically that the US-Mexican border is divided by the political sovereignty of two separate states, but is a distinct area that is in many ways economically sovereign.18 Ferguson, however, claims that territorialized foreign investment has fragmented nation states by producing secured enclaves that are connected to the global economy, while simultaneously creating marginalized pockets of ungoverned space. This is because the capital generated in secured enclaves bypasses the rest of the state, thereby excluding large sections of the population from any profit or social investment. Ferguson therefore illustrates how globalization is not expanding across contiguous spaces, but is skipping between ‘discrete points’ that represent the concentration of foreign investment.19

Suggested Reading from StudentPulse

The issue of sovereignty lies at the very heart of international aviation because all aviation relations are built upon it. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the spectacular evolution of the concept of sovereignty in the air by adopting a multifaceted approach to this issue. In the first part the concept of sovereignty under general international law is briefly explained, before defining it in the more specific framework of public international... MORE»
While in many cases it serves as a stabilizing factor in the international system, and can even be called a force for good, international law cannot be considered “law” when applied to states or state action. To be considered “law” these principles and decisions require enforcement mechanisms that go beyond... MORE»
Since the early 1990s, rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia has become a major issue for global trade and security, prompting strong responses from the international community. In 2010 alone, the collective cost of ransom money, military protection and cargo insurance as a result of piracy is estimated to have been between 7... MORE»
“Human security means protecting vital freedoms. It means protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations, building on their strengths and aspirations. It also means creating systems that give people the building blocks of survival, dignity and livelihood. To do this, it offers two general strategies: protection and empowerment. Protection shields people from dangers. Empowerment enables people to develop their potential... MORE»
Since 1989, when economist John Williamson first conceived of the economic and policy recommendations known as the Washington Consensus (Williamson, 1989), this Consensus became generally accepted as the most effective model by which developing nations could spur growth. Embracing ideals of free-market capitalism,... MORE»
Submit to Student Pulse, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Student Pulse provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Student Pulse's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP