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Article Restricted

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Political Geography

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Many analysts are concerned about territories subject to state failure becoming safe havens for terrorists. In this article, I apply this logic to maritime piracy syndicates and their ship hijacking operations, and argue that a focus on the geographies of state failure can help us explain why pirates' behavior varies between failed and weak states. Analysis of a dataset of hijacking incidents suggests that state failure is associated with less sophisticated attacks, while state weakness encourages more sophisticated attacks. Through case studies of the process by which pirates carry out their attacks in East Africa and Southeast Asia, I argue that it is the differences in political and economic landscapes that influence how pirates embed their operations across territory, and thus how they carry out their operations. Notably, because they do not have to worry about enforcement, pirates in failed states can engage in time-intensive kidnappings for ransom, while only weak states provide the markets and transportation infrastructure necessary for operations where ships and cargo are seized and sold for profit. These findings suggest that weak states might actually be more problematic for international security in some respects than failed states.