Quasi-States Are Roiling the Global Order

Quasi-States Are Roiling the Global Order
Houthi supporters protest against U.S.-led airstrikes on Houthi missile and radar installations, in Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 12, 2024 (AP photo).

At a time when great power competition is all the rage, and debates over multipolarity versus unipolarity dominate academic and policy discussions regarding the current global order, it is notable that the drivers of many of the core security challenges in the world today are not, in fact, states. From Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen, to Taiwan and Kosovo, the world is dotted by “quasi-” or “de facto” states, defined formally by international relations scholar Lucas Knotter as “political communities that manifest forms of statehood in international politics but lack international legal recognition.”

Quasi-states range from entities that are essentially fully sovereign states in all but name, such as Taiwan, to territory whose sovereign status is still widely debated, such as Somaliland. It is easy to view these entities as geopolitical oddities in a world dominated by formal nation-states, an interesting side show to the real matter of international politics. 

But such a view is a mistake, especially now, when one could argue that contestation by and over the status of de facto states is a major driver of international relations in today’s world. Consider that, according to data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Project, conflicts involving nonstate actors are a key reason that the world is presently witnessing a level of conflict not seen in 80 years. While some of these conflicts involve traditional rebel groups, such as the March 23 Movement, or M23, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, others are the physical manifestation of a bigger philosophical and conceptual debate: What is a state? And who deserves to be treated like one?

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review