Governing Ungoverned Spaces

Bernard Finel makes a number of good pointsover at the New Atlanticist about the Bush administration’s successfulcounterterrorism policies that nonetheless do not reduce terrorism. Inparticular, he argues that the emphasis on state sponsorship of terrorgroups tends to equate the agendas of the various actors, ignoring howstates that do fund or train terror groups usually do so for pragmaticrather than ideological reasons, often to find the groups they’vesponsored ultimately escaping their control.

Finel argues thatwe should instead concentrate on the spaces beyond states’ control thatare exploited by terrorist groups as operational bases:

Seven years after 9/11 we still do not have in place an internationallegal framework for ungoverned spaces, and as a result, we have nointernationally accepted manner of pressuring, say, Pakistan to do morein its northwest provinces. All we can do is engage in bilateralnegotiations, but ultimately there needs to be a law of ungovernedspaces that establishes the rights of the international community andobligations of states to prevent the establishment of terrorist groupson national territory. Until we have this sort of framework, we remainat the mercy of local actors who may, or may not, have any incentive toact.

I’dadd “ability to act” to that last sentence, but the point is welltaken. Obviously, this kind of approach was precluded by the Bushadministration’s unilateralist impulse, but it’s worth revisiting now.The previous emphasis on individual state responsibility might evenwind up encouraging nations to submit to an international protocol forungoverned spaces as a way of getting off the hook for what’s going onin territory that’s only nominally their own.

Of course, thisis a good idea certain to meet stiff resistance from countries likeChina and India who have historically defended national sovereigntyover international “right to intervene” agendas. But so long as theprotocol included strong sovereignty protections on both the entry andexit strategies, it would be a way of collectivizing a global problemthat for the time being we’re shouldering in often fruitless bilateralefforts.