Here is Part II of ‘Ungoverned Space: American Foreign Policy’:
UGS Implications & the Crime and Terror Nexus
Just by seeing the list Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and warlords and Islamists in Somalia, it does not take long to see how UGS has affected the US’s security and policy. As Greenstock exclaims, these ungoverned spaces are local issues comprised of local actors, however these local issues have proven to have worldwide implications, as 9/11 and 7/7 dramatically showed, and are therefore vitally important for the global community to address. Greenstock elaborates;
“People who reject the traditions of their society or resent the way they find the world treating them move out to the extremes and find that they’ve got an advantage there; in fact, two advantages. One is that the world is freeing up and allowing a greater choice in what people do. That is good if people obey the law, not so good if they don’t. Second, those who do not want to obey the law or the rules of the international community find that they can accumulate weaponry in the hands of a small number of people that is more powerful than it has ever been.”(5)
Al Qaeda could easily fit into this description. When government’s fail to provide security and basic goods and opportunities for their citizens and some of these citizens choose a life of crime or terror, it can be very dangerous for us, because although the origins of their motivation are local, globalization is exploding that outward.
Failed and failing states featuring ungoverned territories dot the globe. Take a quick glance at the US foreign policy landscape; it is dominated by failed or failing states. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, and many more are all central to our foreign policy and national security. The thought of any one of these states collapsing keeps policy makers up at night. UGS creates several problems for the international community and for US interests. UGS has proven to lead to human and drug trafficking, mass migration, humanitarian crises, piracy, regional instability, and of course can provide sanctuary for terrorist and criminal operatives. When UGS creates or foments these types of occurrences, the US in one way or another is called into action and its chosen action can lead to unintended and tragic consequences, as the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia showcased. In fact, over the last twenty years a large majority of US military actions have been in what can be categorized as failed states with UGS.(6)
The most crucial part of US security interests in regards to UGS is the threat of criminal and terrorist elements reaching our shores or vital allies and interests abroad. The US National Security Strategy stated that ‘if left unaddressed, regional conflicts can lead to failed states, humanitarian disasters, and ungoverned areas that can become safe havens for terrorists,’(7) and therefore must be avoided or at least contained. In concurrence, the US National Strategy to Combat Terrorism stated that one of its most vital short-term priorities was ‘to prevent terrorists from exploiting ungoverned and under-governed areas as physical safe havens.’(8) Ungoverned spaces have strong links to criminal and terrorist behavior and elements and in many ways they all feed off each other. London Police Commissioner Ian Blair, former Chief of the MI6 Richard Deerlove, and British Home Secretary John Reid have all made references to the connections between criminality, terrorism, and UGS. John Reid states this point emphatically;
“Now if I just say something briefly on the crime side. It would be naïve to look at terror as a threat which is independent of the other challenges we face in the world. It is international – and organized crime very often supports and fuels the actions of terrorists. And only by addressing all of these issues can we defeat the terror threat.”(9)
When one combines these with the observations of Greenstock, clear links between crime, terrorism, and ungoverned space emerge. For example, there are numerous cases of unemployed youth finding sanctuary in international criminal and terrorist networks. In many cases these youth and their criminal/terrorist networks move beyond the borders of their own states, and have come into conflict with US national interests and citizens.
When space opens up there is an opportunity for profit and criminal/extremist elements have usually proven to be quicker than lawful participants in filling it up. Reid specifically discusses the effect new commodities create in opening up new venues for profit, some legal, some not. Bootlegging, identity theft, credit card fraud are just a few examples of crime adapting to changing technological commercial advancements. Of course, the situation becomes a lot more serious when the people that fill this gap have more sinister motives than just money and profit. Terrorists have used theft, fraud, and technology to help them commit atrocious acts. The 9/11 attackers used identity fraud and raked up thousands of dollars on credit cards to assist them in their task.(10) They were able to obtain some of these things in the United States, utilizing small gaps where the US government was not omnipresent. The perpetrators behind the Madrid bombers made their living selling drugs in the city before they moved on to terrorist acts. Tamara Makarenko, an expert on the connections between transnational organized crime and terrorism, argues that there is a growing nexus between the two activities and groups and lists eight areas of congruence: both utilize network and cell-based structures, have activities that cross national-regional-transnational divides, require safe havens, take advantage of diaspora communities, use similar targeting, deployment, intelligence, counterintelligence techniques, have a program of government and public relations, and both have an absolute dependence on external sources of funding.(11) The exploitation of ungoverned space is easily seen in these areas of criminal/terrorist connections. Of course not all criminals are terrorist, but terrorists inevitably utilize the same space, gaps, and tools as criminals, whether it be in purchasing a fake passport, trading for weapons, or hiding from the authorities. Areas which are not governed effectively provide ample opportunity for both criminal and terrorist elements to thrive and prosper.
The US government is not naïve to the connection between crime and terrorism. Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky makes a dramatic claim of the link between the two in ugs;
‘Corrupt states attract terrorist operatives, just as they attract money launderers, drug and human traffickers, and other international criminals. In weakening people’s faith in government and limiting economic opportunities, corruption also breeds resentment that can at times, provide a fertile recruiting ground for violent extremist ideologies. This resentment and the ensuing political instability can create other dangerous security problems even in the absence of a specific terrorist threat.”(12)
Indeed, the US State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations features 14 terrorist groups that are well-known narco-traffickers.
 Greenstock, Jeremy, “Globalization or Polarization: Where Are We Heading?” International Relations, Vol. 21, No. 103, 2007, pg. 106.
 Thomas, Troy, “Control Roaming Dogs: Governance Operations in Future Conflict”, Military Review, Jan/Feb 2006, pg. 80.
 United States National Security Strategy, March 16, 2006, pg. 2.
 United States National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, September 5, 2006, pg. 2.
 Reid, John, “Crime and Counter-Terrorism Opportunities and Challenges,” Milstein Lectures, June 20, 2007.
 Ibid, pg. 17.
 Makarenko, Tamara, “Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime: The Emerging Nexus,” 2002, pg. 8.
 Dobriansky, Paula J., “Promoting a Culture of Lawfulness,” US State Department, Remarks at Georgetown University, September 2004.