Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 12, 2009

Ungoverned Areas – From Pakistan to Somalia a Militant’s Migration

"A wretched hive of scum and villainy" - Obi Wan on Ungoverned Areas

"A wretched hive of scum and villainy" - Obi Wan on Ungoverned Areas

I am not the first person to use a Mos Eisley references when it comes to describing environments that are hospitable to unsavory characters. Perhaps my favourite reference was made during the cantina scene in Team America (see here – 2:30 mins in). Joking aside, ungoverned spaces/failed states will prove to be a theme during the Long War. 

This thought came from the following New York Times article written by Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger

The article reports the following:  

American officials say they are seeing the first evidence that dozens of fighters with Al Qaeda, and a small handful of the terrorist group’s leaders, are moving to Somalia and Yemen from their principal haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The reason for this migration, aside from the drone attacks are also given in the article:

Chief among them is the growth of the jihadist campaigns in both Somalia and Yemen, which may now have some of the same appeal for militants that Iraq did after the American military invasion there in 2003.

This article addresses the problem with today’s dynamics in international security: “The fact is that the chief threats to us and to world order come today from weak, collapsed, or failed states” (Fukyama, 1). If the end of history is nigh, and the world has chosen its preferred method of governance, then implementing this vision throughout the world has become extremely difficult. With vast resources being invested into failed and failing states — with little to no return on the investment — the threat these failed states pose remains, and is directed at citizens of the developed world, and at the well-being of those residing in weak, collapsed, or failed states. The threat from weak, collapsed and failed states is also growing according to Robert I. Rotberg:

Weak states, even seemingly strong nation-states in the developing world, fail with increasing frequency. The decade plus since the end of the cold war has witnessed a cascading plethora of state failure…more and more state are at risk, exhibiting acute signs of weakness and/or the likelihood of outright failure (2).

According to this trajectory, it has been and will continue to be increasingly important to understand the dynamics that create failed states because this seems to be part of AQ’s (and other groups inspired/supported/sponsored by AQ) strategy. To borrow a term from John Robb, these groups are “superpower baiting.” And, according to Foreign Policy’s “Failed States Index” for 2008, there are many red, orange, and yellow countries that would be eligible to host scum and villainy. I also imagine that other groups unrelated to AQ can use the same strategy.

Personally, I do not believe that the international community has the will or resources to nation-build in ALL of these regions. Even if the resources were there (including the esoteric knowledge required for nation-building in the aforementioned areas), the effort would be characterized by massive opportunity costs. Again, John Robb has an excellent analysis on why reversing state failure is so bloody expensive.

It seems like this migration from Pakistan to other ungoverned areas is one of the results of an asymmetric conflict. Kinda like fighting puddles of water – you stomp on one really hard and then everyone else gets wet. 

Works Cited

1. Francis Fukuyama, “Nation-Building 101,” The Atlantic, January/February, 2004.

2. Robert I. Rotberg, “Nation-State Failure: a Recurring Phenomenon? National Intelligence Council, November 2003., 1.



  1. […] Implications Should be Addressed My last entry “Ungoverned Areas” did not sit perfectly well with me because of the possible conclusions one may draw from it. […]

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