Conventional political theory holds that the sovereign state is the legitimate source of order and provider of public services in any society, whether democratic or not. But Hezbollah and ISIS in the Middle East, pirate clans in Africa, criminal gangs in South America, and militias in Southeast Asia are examples of nonstate actors that control local territory and render public services that the nation-state cannot or will not provide.
This fascinating book takes the reader around the world to areas where national governance has broken down—or never really existed. In these places, the vacuum has been filled by local gangs, militias, and warlords, some with ideological or political agendas and others focused primarily on economic gain. Many of these actors have substantial popularity and support among local populations and have developed their own enduring institutions, often undermining the legitimacy of the national state.
The authors show that the rest of the world has more than a passing interest in these situations, in part because transborder crime and terrorism often emerge but also because failed states threaten international interests from trade to security. This book also poses, and offers answers for, the question: How should the international community respond to local orders dominated by armed nonstate actors? In many cases outsiders have taken the short-term route—accepting unsavory local actors out of expediency—but at the price of long-term instability or damage to human rights and other considerations.
From Africa and the Middle East to Asia and Latin America, the local situations highlighted in this book are, and will remain, high on today’s international agenda. The book makes a unique contribution to global understanding of how those situations developed and what can be done about them.
This title is part of the Geopolitics in the 21st Century series.
Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. She is also the director of the Brookings project “Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives and UNGASS 2016” and co-director of another Brookings project, “Reconstituting Local Orders.” She is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies.
Shadi Hamid is a senior fellow in the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy. Hamid served as director of research at the Brookings Doha Center until January 2014. Prior to joining Brookings, he was director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and a Hewlett Fellow at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Hamid is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and the vice-chair of POMED's board of directors.
Harold Trinkunas is a nonresident senior fellow in the Latin America Initiative in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, and the associate director for research and senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. His research focuses on Latin American politics, particularly on issues related to foreign policy, governance, and security.