Background and research aims
According to dominant theories of regional cooperation, global norms and regional institutions are expected to help states to solve many different societal challenges. However, existing patterns of cooperation frequently contradict this expectation. In some policy areas, like transboundary water management, egoistic state behavior clearly undermines regional cooperation in spite of strong norms and regional institutions. In other policy areas, such as communicable diseases, cooperation has quickly deepened and become relatively strong despite the absence of dedicated regional mechanisms and rather ambiguous norms.
The failure of existing theories to account for this puzzle risks perpetuating misguided support of regional cooperation, for example in the form of Western donors who expect that developing countries should replicate the model of the EU. TRANSFORM aims to recast our understanding of regionalism by unpacking the connection between the national sovereignty understandings of political elites and their inclination to engage in meaningful regional cooperation. The key hypothesis is that fostering regional cooperation depends not so much on institution-building or the spread of global norms but on the transformation of national sovereignty understandings among regional state elites.
Applying an innovative comparative case study method straddling two regions (Africa and Southeast Asia) and several policy fields, such as transboundary rivers, disaster management, and health cooperation.