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Transboundary Issues and Shared Spaces: An Education Resource

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About Transboundary Issues and Shared Spaces

Transboundary issues and challenges involving the shared spaces between countries are among the high priority foreign policy issues for national governments. These issues not only present unique foreign policy challenges because of their proximate nature, but, given the strong domestic components, they have active and vocal domestic constituencies. These issues are often set in the context of the natural world, as is reflected in the adage “nature knows no boundaries,” whether it is aquatic or terrestrial ecosystems, outer space, or the shared air. Moreover, especially with spaces that involve neighboring countries, the relationships tend to be complex and multi-faceted involving multiple stakeholders, including advocates, businesses, and governments. As such, politicians, diplomats, regulators, and the science and technology community are all stakeholders in this important aspect of science diplomacy.

The papers included in this reader, which have appeared in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s policy journal Science & Diplomacy, represent diverse cases of transboundary issues that cover different types of shared spaces in different regions of the world. Some highlight how the importance of a shared issue could be an opportunity for neighbors with strained relationships to cooperate for domestic purposes. Others focus on the mechanisms for building regional partnerships to address transboundary challenges. In each case, the diverse stakeholders in these countries must effectively work together—to manage their natural resources, develop their shared spaces for economic or health services, or strengthen national security against environmental pollutants or pathogens.

This reader, which includes a series of discussion questions, seeks to be a useful resource for the teaching and understanding of how scientific cooperation in shared spaces addresses transboundary issues and affects and is affected by the broader relationships between neighboring countries.


Marine and Water

Biodiversity without Borders: Advancing U.S.-Cuba Cooperation through Environmental Research by Brian M. Boom

Despite long-standing political tensions, a government-to-government agreement on the environment can help preserve U.S. and Cuban biodiversity while encouraging positive dialogue on issues of mutual interest.

Water Diplomacy: Creating Value and Building Trust in Transboundary Water Negotiations by Lawrence Susskind and Shafiqul Islam

By framing water agreements in non-zero-sum terms and building trust over time, even countries in conflict can successfully manage shared water resources for mutual benefit.


Rediscovering Eastern Europe for Science Diplomacy by Marek Konarzewski and Grażyna Żebrowska

The EU and the United States should enhance and expand scientific academic programs and build ties with countries in Eastern Europe.


SAFARI 2000: A Southern African Example of Science Diplomacy by Harold J. Annegarn and Robert J. Swap

By being flexible, parsimonious, and open, SAFARI 2000 became a transformational network that fostered equal partnerships among countries, even though the countries had varying levels of resources.


Research and Diplomacy 350 Kilometers above the Earth: Lessons from the International Space Station by Julie Payette

The International Space Station, with partners that surmount their cultural, organizational, and political differences to pursue a collective vision, serves as a model of science diplomacy.

Discussion Questions

Boom (Marine Ecosystems/Environmental)

  • What makes these particular issues amenable to U.S.-Cuba cooperation?
  • How does the antagonistic relationship between the U.S. and Cuban governments lead to challenges with scientist-to-scientist cooperation, and what policy changes would improve cooperation?
  • What other transboundary issues might also lead to enhanced U.S.-Cuba cooperation?

Konarzewski and Żebrowska (Terrestrial/Conservation)

  • How does European integration within the European Union (EU) affect the cooperation with its non-EU eastern neighbors? Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of EU engagement with its neighbors compared to bilateral (i.e., Poland-eastern neighbor) relationships.
  • What are the advantages of focusing on this type of terrestrial and conservation research?
  • How has the end of the Cold War affected transboundary research in this area?

Payette (Space/Infrastructure)

  • Discuss the geopolitical context of space, with the International Space Station as the case, before and after the Cold War. Could such a large program start today or did the development of the space station benefit from the unique circumstances of the Cold War?
  • How does space cooperation balance issues of building trust versus competition and nationalism of space exploration?

Annegarn and Swap (Air/Environmental)

  • What are some of the important lessons learned from the SAFARI experiences in terms of building regional cooperation?
  • How did regional cooperation benefit this research project?

Susskind and Islam (Water)

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of transboundary cooperation that focuses on such a vital resource as water?
  • What is the role of science versus politics in managing the transboundary space?
  • What are other regions where water diplomacy can potentially affect the relationship?


  • These papers investigate different regions and different types of spaces (e.g., marine, terrestrial, air, fresh water, space). How does this impact the nature and goals of the cooperation? How are they the same and how are they different? Does it also affect the balance between political and scientific drivers?
  • What other transboundary issues and shared spaces are instructive from a science diplomacy perspective?