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Imperial ontological (in)security: ‘buffer states’, international relations and the case of Anglo-Afghan relations, 1808–1878

Bayly, Martin J. (2015) Imperial ontological (in)security: ‘buffer states’, international relations and the case of Anglo-Afghan relations, 1808–1878. European Journal of International Relations, 21 (4). 816 - 840. ISSN 1354-0661

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Identification Number: 10.1177/1354066114557569


This article offers a new perspective on ‘buffer states’ — states that are geographically located between two rival powers — and their effect on international relations, with a particular focus on the imperial setting. The article argues that such geographic spaces have often been analysed through a structuralist-functionalist lens, which has, in some cases, encouraged ahistorical understandings on the role of buffer states in international affairs. In contrast, the article offers an approach borrowing from the literature on ontological security and critical geopolitics in order to access the meanings that such spaces have for their more powerful neighbours. The article draws upon the case study of Afghanistan and Anglo-Afghan relations during the 19th century and finds that, in this case, due to the ambiguity of Afghanistan’s status as a ‘state’, and the failure of British policymakers to establish routinized diplomatic engagement, Anglo-Afghan relations exhibited a sense of ontological insecurity for the British. These findings suggest previously unacknowledged international effects of ‘buffer states’, and may apply to such geographic spaces elsewhere.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2014 The Author
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2015 11:28
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2024 13:51
Projects: Studentship
Funders: War Studies Group (Defence Studies Department and War Studies Department), King's College London

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