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In an era of fragile states and rising transnational violence, international law struggles to provide mechanisms that counter global instability. Ungoverned spaces pose particularly vexing problems for international law, which remains conceptually tethered to the territorial state and mainly relies upon states and their institutions for enforcement. This paper examines the manner in which international law engages with non-state armed groups—such as terrorist organizations—that use ungoverned spaces as safe havens and bases of operation. This analysis permits an evaluation of what international law can effectively accomplish in such a context, and highlights areas of evolution in the international legal framework that permit more effective responses. In turn, this evaluation recommends policymakers adopt more holistic approaches vis-à-vis ungoverned spaces, and invites a reconsideration of assumptions that may no longer be viable given the changing international legal backdrop, most notably assumptions about what is possible through military intervention and whether international courts could be useful partners in the global struggle against terrorism.