GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

The Geopolitics of Making Peaceful Boundaries and Borderlands


Flint notes that a focus on boundaries (the line in the sand) may work to perpetuate conflict as boundaries definitively establish what is/isn’t part of a state’s territory and who is/isn’t a member of its citizenship. Thus, he shifts our focus to an approach that may be more productive: a focus on borders and borderlands as trans-boundary spaces of interaction. A focus on these spaces (versus a line) might open the opportunity for mutual control, use of resources, and joint economic activity along borders/borderland regions.

Of course, in order to establish a peaceful collaboration along borders, political goodwill among the parties is fundamental.

Flint (2016, p. 159-160) points to five conditions that are necessary to facilitate a peaceful trans-boundary interaction:

  1. There is no dispute over where the boundary has been established and how it has been demarcated (territorial questions are settled).
  2. The boundary facilitates flows of tourists and migrant laborers (for example) between neighboring countries rather than preventing them (trans-boundary interaction within the law is easy).
  3. Rather than being seen as a source of potential conflict, the boundary is seen as a sign of strength as commuting and joint economic projects enhance well-being and eradicate concerns of potential warfare (the boundary provides a sense of security).
  4. The basis of the peaceful boundary is mutual economic growth through interaction (e.g., shared lakes, rivers and aquifers may be jointly managed) (joint resource exploitation is possible).
  5. Emergency services and transportation logistics are created that straddle the international boundary and coordinate services to the border area (local administration is coordinated).

Likewise there are five key processes that shape a borderland (Flint, 2016, p. 160-161):

  1. Transnationalism
  2. Otherness
  3. Separateness
  4. Areas of cultural accommodation
  5. Places of international accommodation

Geopolitics of identity, integral to the establishment of a trans-boundary borderland, challenge the importance of the hyphen in nation-state. These borderlands highlight a geography of cultural groups that do not lie neatly within state boundaries, but often spill over territorial lines—woven together across the globe in networks of migration and cultural associations that intersect state boundaries.