In depth: A borderland lens on hubs of protracted conflict

Taking a closer look at conflict, security, and violence at borders between countries

This publication was written by Annette Idler, Natasha Leite, and Yadaira Orsini.

Borderlands are the space where the nexus between economic development, conflict, crime, politics, and identity is at its most dynamic and where proximate drivers of conflict interact with deep structural issues such as poverty, marginalisation, and climate change. They are places of opportunity but also of heightened risk. Evidence suggests multiple non-state armed groups are increasingly operating across borders and benefitting from cross-border illicit economies. They are connected through flows of people, weapons, and resources, and their operations are becoming more networked, less traceable, and more pervasive both in the Global North and South, impacting state-society relations across the world. Such a complex environment makes these cross-border conflicts more resistant to resolution through negotiated settlements.

This unique set of characteristics pose a considerable challenge for policymakers whose current suite of policy responses are predominantly confined to state-centred approaches, and therefore ill-equipped to deal specifically with borderlands. Borderland characteristics and the increasingly transnational nature of conflict defy the traditionally state-centric ‘rules of the game’ by which most organisations and country structures operate, creating a significant challenge for engagement that has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way.

This paper sets out to meet this challenge by introducing a new epistemological approach to borderlands and hubs of protracted conflict that can enhance our understanding of the dynamics in such contexts. It aims to promote a useful framework for academia, practitioners, and policymakers alike to engage in these particularly complex environments.


Dr Annette Idler is director of studies at the Changing Character of War Programme, senior research fellow at

Pembroke College, and senior research fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University

of Oxford.

Natasha Leite is the regional security and governance coordinator for DRC/DDG in east Africa and the Great Lakes.

Yadaira Orsini is a political scientist who heads up OPM’s Conflict, Security, and Violence team.

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