chapter  2
14 Pages

Complex terrains: unrecognized states and globalization: Matan Chorev


The policy and theoretical conundrums posed by unrecognized states – territorial entities that possess many of the attributes associated with the modern nationstate but devoid of international recognition as independent sovereigns – are derivative of the broader yet fundamental questions about what James Rosenau calls the ‘underlying nature of world affairs’ (2002: 261). The forces of modernday globalization have revolutionized the modes of production, communication, and conflict in ways that have elementally reshaped the contemporary system of nation-states. Power has shifted. New political spaces have emerged. Destructive forces heretofore the sole reserve of states now rest in the hands of individuals. This seemingly dramatic restructuring of global politics is not unique to the modern era. Indeed, the evolution of sovereignty makes up the central narrative thread of modern political history (see Bobbitt 2002: xxx).1 As Rosa Ehrenteich Brooks contends, ‘the idea of a territorial state as the locus of authority, within a system of formally equivalent similar states, is of recent vintage’ (2005: 1169). Nevertheless, the currents of globalization and the concomitant shifts in the patterns of modern conflict have raised the consciousness of scholars and policymakers about the fragility of the modern state and its impact on the nature of the international system. Robert Rotberg’s warning is illustrative of the mainstream discourse: ‘in a modern era when national states constitute the building blocks of world order, the violent disintegration and palpable weakness of selected African, Asian, Oceanic, and Latin American states threaten the very foundation of that system’ (1996: 2).2 The 11 September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States raised the threat of weak and failing states to a top-tier national security issue. The 2002 United States National Security Strategy states that ‘weak states . . . can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states’ (National Security Strategy of the United States 2002: iv).3 Nine years after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attack, the US and its allies remain consumed by the threat emanating from the group’s safe haven in the ungoverned tribal frontier straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.4 The stark bipolarity of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ states, however, is misleading. As the phenomenon of unrecognized states demonstrates, the central geostrategic fault-lines in today’s world run through murky waters of contested sovereignties that do not fit neatly on the state strength continuum. In spite of the emergence

of new and distinct socio-political cartographies, much of the academic discourse remains plagued by the deeply entrenched ‘conceptual jails’ (Rosenau 2006: 22) of political science, encumbered by a ‘territorial trap’ (Agnew and Corbridge 1995: 79) and, in John Ruggie’s words, ‘reposed in deep Newtonian slumber’ (1998: 194). The scant attention to the phenomenon of unrecognized states is emblematic of this hidebound approach. Yet, as will be demonstrated, even within the unrecognized state literature, scholars operate largely within the ‘state in-all-but name’ construct. This chapter seeks to redress this shortcoming by highlighting the divergent impacts of globalization’s underpinnings on the emergence, survival, and viability of unrecognized states. It will argue that the ‘logic’ of unrecognized states as well as their internal dynamics and statecraft are a consequence of, or at least amplified by, globalization, and will demonstrate that a failure to account for this ‘logic’ imperils policy mitigation approaches.