Institutional change in a conflict setting: Afghanistan’s Environment Law

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This article examines the development of Afghanistan’s Environment Law to explore the politics of institutional change in a conflict-affected context. Environment was catapulted to prominence in 2002 when it was included in the agenda for reconstruction under the new transitional government. Subsequent efforts to reconstitute Afghanistan’s environmental institutions culminated in the Environment Law written by the United Nations Environment Programme and other international actors, with input from the Government of Afghanistan. The Environment Law was crafted as a model of best practice, intended to modernize Afghanistan’s legislative foundation. However, it experienced significant content drift during the ratification process. As a result, the Environment Law produced institutions that differed in important ways from those initially proposed. Capitalizing on changes made during ratification, I analyze how actors across governance scales interact to translate development models from international to domestic policy spaces. I draw on both structure- and agent-oriented explanations to argue that changes to the Environment Law reflect attempts to increase structural complementarity between global and local systems of governance and cross-scalar contests over authority in the post/conflict landscape. The data suggest that interactions between domestic and international domains provided an opportunity to challenge institutional meaning and content. Ultimately, exploring how global models are incorporated within local contexts provides explanatory power for understanding institutional development. This is important in conflict studies, where the expansion of security theory to include issues like environment has provided new opportunities for strategic intervention by international actors in managing global conflict and its aftermath.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-191
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Afghanistan
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • environmental governance
  • institutional change
  • international organization
  • post-conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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