The Network Science Center is initiating a new project supporting the Army Studies Program that will use breakthroughs in network analysis to enable deployed organizations to better understand how the complex political machine inherent to the Ungoverned Spaces functions, and the potential consequences of their decisions.
Jeff Julum a new member of the Network Science Center Research Staff has authored a series of blog posts defining the challenge and illustrating why a network approach is the best method to assist policy makers and decision makers on the ground.
In wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris, an insightful analyst on MSNBC was commenting on the development of one of the terrorists. He had been radicalized in the French prison system, an institution which “has surprisingly little police presence”. This comment highlights the importance of one of the newer and invaluable theoretical frameworks in networking and social science — that of Ungoverned Spaces. In traditional security analysis, there was an assumption that states, non-state actors, and/or other institutions “controlled” all spaces capable of hosting a threat. While not entirely true, the model was basically accurate. Even “lawless” places, like Pakistan’s frontier states on the border of Afghanistan had tribes and clans imposing their own form of control. However, globalization and rapid technological change have created a need to add nuance to the old model.
A potential Future Operating Environment
There have been attempts to define ungoverned spaces. One of the more comprehensive ones comes from a 2008 Department of Defense report. It defines an “ungoverned area” as:
“A place where the state or the central government is unable or unwilling to extend control, effectively govern, or influence the local population, and where a provincial, local, tribal, or autonomous government does not fully or effectively govern, due to inadequate governance capacity, insufficient political will, gaps in legitimacy, the presence of conflict, or restrictive norms of behavior… the term ‘ungoverned areas’ encompasses under-governed, misgoverned, contested, and exploitable areas as well as ungoverned areas.”[i]
This definition is good, especially the introduction of contested and exploitable areas. In the example of the French prison system above there is no doubt the government controls the prison itself, but there are spaces inside that prison that are not fully controlled and, indeed, exploitable.
In an insightful article published on the Small Wars Journal web site this past fall, Daniel Fisher and Christopher Mercado expand on the definition above to discuss competitive control as way to better evaluate these ungoverned spaces. They point out the tremendous benefit in looking at how government, criminal organizations, and/or institutions compete for control of space at any given time. A good example of this is parts of inner cities in America. Yes, government provides infrastructure and security (police and fire services), but the lack of strong state presence leaves a power vacuum that is often filled by gangs and drug cartels. However, the vacuum is not complete. If the state deems threats serious enough they can mobilize enough resources to more completely feel the void, it is simply a matter of priority.
Fisher and Mercado point out another valuable aspect of ungoverned spaces, the role of technology. The internet, mobile phone technology, and social media have created a new void for threats to take advantage of. From organizational coordination to the raising and distributing of funds, threats have more ability than ever to hide and strike when they are ready. A person or group can only physically hide and disguise themselves in a limited number of ways. There is no end to virtual identities, anonymous accounts, and hidden or “dark” networks.
The Ubiquitious Mobile Phone Tower in the Developing World
No matter how we define them, however, one thing is certain. Ungoverned Spaces will be an increasing problem for states in the 21st century. The complexity of changing technology and a shrinking planet make that a certainty. That’s why the Network Science Center is creating innovative frameworks to not only assess, but scientifically measure the factors involved in mitigating the threats from ungoverned spaces. Using cutting edge network analysis tools, our goal is to identify and deal with threats before they become a problem.
[i] Lamb, Robert D. (2008) “Ungoverned Areas and Threats from Safe Havens – Final Report of the Ungoverned Areas Project.” Prepared for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning.