What’s in a Line? : Making Sovereignty through Border Policy

Sammanfattning: The role of borders as dividers between states and markers of territorial sovereignty is central to modern statehood. Whereas the voluntary opening of a state border could therefore appear puzzling, this thesis argues that state sovereignty can be manifested either when states allow borders to become more open or more closed. To understand the relation between borders and sovereignty, the empirical focus of this study is the opening of the border between Norway and Russia through the introduction of a local border traffic permit. The sovereignty ideas attached to this border policy are analysed at two different levels: the policy making discourse at the national level and the policy-receiving context at the local level in the municipality next to the border. The empirical study draws on written material – including parliamentary debate transcripts, policy documents, and printed press – to analyse how the border policy was represented in the Norwegian public discourse in the years leading up to its implementation in 2012. The study demonstrates that the opening of the border through local visa freedom was not associated with a loss of sovereignty. At the central level, the introduction of local visa freedom was seen as a means to strengthen the economy in the border region, and to increase exchanges across the border. The expectation is that by improving local cross-border relations, the policy will strengthen Norway’s relations with Russia by securing incentives for friendly bilateral relations. In the local discourse, the main theme concerned expectations on what this border policy would mean for the growth of the local economy. Because the policy is expected to strengthen Norway’s internal cohesion and improve bilateral relations with Russia, the border policy change is seen to reproduce (rather than weaken) Norway’s territorial sovereignty. This conclusion is based on the fact that different dimensions of sovereignty are seen as mutually reinforcing and that centre and periphery are in agreement about the benefits of a more open border. The thesis concludes that we should see policies towards borders as a way to manifest and reproduce state sovereignty.

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