Cornell University

Border Fortification and Legibility: Evidence from Afghanistan

Thursday, April 13, 2023 at 11:25am to 12:40pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

States often fortify their borders against militant threats. How do these efforts shape civilian welfare and perceptions in borderland communities? Professor Christopher Blair conceptualizes border fortification as a legibility-building endeavor. By bolstering state reach in areas of weak historical penetration, fortification enhances the government's capacity for monitoring, administration, and control. Yet, expanding state authority also disrupts traditional cross-border markets. A trade-off between security and corruption emerges in consequence. He provides evidence for this theory in a difference-in-differences framework, combining administrative records on violence and representative data from a NATO-commissioned survey fielded across Afghanistan. Fortification facilitates government information-collection, improving security provision and fostering national identification. Enhanced state capacity is countervailed by negative economic impacts. By disturbing the informal borderland economy, fortification fuels criminalization and local opposition. Civilians rely on illicit economic entrepreneurs to sustain traditional market access. Higher smuggling rents fuel official corruption and bribe-taking. The findings point to a key dilemma inherent in border fortification strategies.

About the Speaker

Christopher Blair is an incoming Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His work spans across international relations and comparative politics, with a substantive focus on the political economy of conflict and migration. The main questions motivating his research are: (1) how counterinsurgency policies impact rebel and civilian behavior; and (2) how prospective hosts respond to forcibly displaced people.

Presented by the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict StudiesCo-sponsored by the South Asia Program, and the Gender and Security Sector Lab.

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