The FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) initiative is among the recent attempts to combat deforestation and promote sustainable forest development. However, ideas about what the objectives of FLEGT are and how legality should be interpreted differ among different actors involved. Some advocate a narrow interpretation of legality that promotes a strong role of the state and focuses on law enforcement, while others advocate a broader interpretation that includes issues of participation and sustainability. These different interpretations mirror current developments in international forest governance which are influenced on the one hand by broader trends in governance, which focus on voluntary instruments, participation and marketization, while on the other hand, the nation state remains a very powerful actor. This article uses a discourse analytical approach to analyze the discursive structure of FLEGT, particularly the European Union FLEGT Action Plan and the Indonesian legality standards. Our findings show that FLEGT is first and foremost shaped by state oriented discourses that promote regulatory instruments and a narrow interpretation of legality. Sustainability and participatory considerations are present, both in the EU and in the Indonesian context, but they come in a secondary position. The article concludes by positioning these findings in the international forest governance debate and by discussing the implications of the discursive structure of FLEGT for sustainability, participatory governance and the state.