• Kilian Spandler

TRANSFORM: Regional Cooperation and the Transformation of National Sovereignty in the Global South

Regional cooperation is often promoted by both academics and politicians as a way for states to address important development challenges. However, the willingness to cooperate on different issues varies greatly across different policy fields. The TRANSFORM project seeks to understand these divergences by studying how different states connect ideas about national sovereignty to initiatives for regional cooperation.


The research project speaks to different stakeholders in international development cooperation. State and non-state actors from the West are currently funding thousands of regional cooperation projects around the world. This support can be counterproductive when donors design their aid policies based on their own experiences and ideas of regional integration. Taking the EU as a blueprint, they often assume that states will cede their sovereign power if only there is sufficient demand for transboundary solutions. However, when we look at the way African and Southeast Asian states have addressed challenges like communicable diseases, natural disasters and the management of river resources, the expectation that strong institutions and global norms will push governments to cooperate is not fulfilled.


Due to different historical legacies and the lasting influence of colonialism, political actors in the Global South may have different understandings of national sovereignty, which is why Western recipes for the promotion of regional integration rarely work. Whether or not states engage in meaningful regional cooperation depends on the way in which political elites communicate about the state’s purpose and responsibilities. The project explores these connections by analyzing and comparing transboundary cooperation mechanisms in various parts of Africa and Southeast Asia.


The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council (2019-2022) and carried out in collaboration with Prof. Fredrik Söderbaum at the University of Gothenburg.


Current working papers and publications can be found on the ResearchGate project page.


Cargo trucks board a ferry on the Mekong River in Ban Houayxay, Laos. Photo: Simon Berger


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