The Legitimate Intervener

Armed Intervention in Afghanistan and the Quest for Local Legitimacy

Project leader

Lisa Karlborg

Main Supervisor

Jan Angstrom, Professor of War Studies (Swedish Defence University)

Assistant Supervisors

Louise Olsson, PhD
Chiara Ruffa, PhD
Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs, Assistant Professor

Project Period


Project Description

This research project is guided by the overarching research question: In the context of armed intervention, how does the relationship between host citizens and intervening armed forces shape perceptions of local legitimacy? It is widely assumed that unless a host population perceives an armed intervention –and the host authorities it supports– as legitimate, intervening forces will ultimately fail. Thus, bolstering local perceptions of legitimacy is of the highest strategic value to intervening armed forces. To this end, the recent quest for local legitimacy in armed interventions has fundamentally transformed the relationship between host citizens and intervening armed forces–relocating it from the periphery to the center of gravity of contemporary armed interventions. This transformation culminated with the internationalized armed intervention in Afghanistan.

Despite its assumed centrality, the relationship between host citizens and intervening armed forces to the process of bolstering perceptions of local legitimacy remains scarcely examined. This research project makes a number of conceptual, theoretical, and empirical contributions to interdisciplinary debate on legitimacy in armed interventions.

Conceptually and theoretically, it advances our understanding of local legitimacy as grounded in perceptions, and thus a subjective, dynamic and relational phenomenon. In particular, the study focuses on the relationship between host citizens and intervening armed forces, and how this relationship interacts with, and shapes, perceptions of local legitimacy. Drawing on the joint findings of this research project, it introduces the concept of a host-citizen contract, which connects perceptions of local legitimacy across macro and micro levels of analysis and the perspectives of both host citizens and key intervening authorities.

Empirically, the project fills a pertinent gap in the literature by presenting a fine-grained empirical examination of perceptions across the macro and micro levels of internationalized armed intervention in Afghanistan. It thereby explores the perspectives of Afghan citizens, as host citizens, and the United Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. Army Officers, as the key intervening actors.


Lisa Karlborg, “International Quest for Local Legitimacy in Afghanistan: A Tower of Babel?,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 24, 2 (2013): 349–69.

Lisa Karlborg, “The Ambiguous Host-citizen Contract: An Evolving Notion of Duty in the U.S. Military Quest for Local Legitimacy,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, forthcoming (2015).

Lisa Karlborg, “Humanizing Warriors? The Impact of Noncombat Interaction on U.S. Soldiers’ Sense of Duty toward Host Citizens,” working paper presented at the ERGOMAS Conference, The Open University, Ra’anana, Israel, 9 June 2015.

Lisa Karlborg, “Enforced Hospitality: Local Perceptions of the Legitimacy of International Forces in Afghanistan,” Civil Wars 16, 4 (2014): 425–48

Main Financial Support

Field research is funded by various research grants from Swedish funding agencies and scholarships.

Main Researchers and Responsible Authority

The project leader and main implementing researcher is Doctoral Candidate Lisa Karlborg. The main responsible researcher is Professor Jan Angstrom, Swedish Defence University. Uppsala University is the main authority for the project.

If you have any questions about the project, please contact the project leader:

Lisa Karlborg
Department of Peace and Conflict Research
Uppsala University
Box 514, 75120 Uppsala, Sweden
Office: +46 18 471 63 33