Counterinsurgency in Ungoverned Areas


Mike Innes, a civilian staff officer over at SHAPE, has recommended a paper by Robert D. Lamb, entitled Ungoverned Areas and Threats from Safe Havens, which was prepared for the US Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy: “this is probably the best work I’ve seen on the safe haven/sanctuary issue. It keeps a tight focus on the physical dimensions of the problem, and although I don’t agree with all of the author’s analysis, I concede its sharpness. Well worth a look.”


Individuals and groups who use violence in ways that threaten the United States, its allies, or its partners habitually find or create ways to operate with impunity or without detection. Whether for private financial gain (e.g., by narcotics and arms traffickers) or for harmful political aims (e.g., by insurgents, terrorists, and other violent extremists), these illicit operations are most successful — and most dangerous — when their perpetrators have a place or situation that can provide refuge from efforts to combat or counter them. Such places and situations are often called safe havens, and potential safe havens are sometimes called ungoverned areas.

A key component of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, stabilization, peacekeeping, and other such efforts is to reduce the size and effectiveness of the safe havens that protect illicit actors.

Agencies in defense, diplomacy, development, law enforcement, and other areas all have capabilities that can be applied to countering such threats and building the capacity and legitimacy of U.S. partners to prevent ungoverned, under-governed, misgoverned, contested, and exploitable areas from becoming safe havens.

To do this effectively requires careful consideration of all the geographical, political, civil, and resource factors that make safe havens possible; a sober appreciation of the complex ways those factors interact; and deeper collaboration among U.S. government offices and units that address such problems — whether operating openly, discreetly, or covertly — to ensure unity of effort.

This report offers a framework that can be used to systematically account for these considerations in relevant strategies, capabilities, and doctrines/best practices.

Check out the paper here.


Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “Counterinsurgency in Ungoverned Areas”

  1. staillat Says:

    Very interesting. This issue is not well studied in the current literature about COIN although it is a very important one, considering the growing difficulty to act in the “gray zones” where sovereignty do not exist no more and where legitimacy of foreign forces (especially western ones) are difficult to establish.
    Stéphane TAILLAT
    PS: and please have a look on my last post (in English) on a connected subject.

  2. Mike Says:

    Stephane, I checked out the posts on your site. Nice work. The bits on GEOINT-COIN are right on the money – I pasted one of them into the blog on my own site.

    There has been plenty of work done on the black holes/grey zones/ ungoverned/ungovernable places, spaces, etc. Although it’s pretty inchoate as a “field”, some really good work has been published – see, eg. Rex Brynen’s out-of-print book Sanctuary and Survival: The PLO in Lebanon (Westview, 1990).

    Conceptually, the problem pops up across scholarly disciplines, and appears in scales varying from the macro-physical realm of state and community to the micro-cognitive dimensions of identity, belief, motivation, intent, and what have you.

    No surprise, then, that a broad-stroke intellectual history of sanctuary in war and peace has yet to be done. Fortunately, the curious persist with PhD research. :)

  3. staillat Says:

    Thanks Mike :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: