Transforming the Riparian Border Disputes Between Nicaragua and Costa Rica Through Environmental Peace-building: A Vision for Transboundary Collaboration in Central America

An undergraduate research thesis by Whitney O'Brien supported by IEDS.

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By linking natural resource degradation and conflict, environmental security scholars have begun to raise the political profile of environmental conservation in dispute-prone settings around the world. Linking conservation and conflict resolution, on the other hand, is a less common approach in the field of environmental security. In a world dominated by the nation state paradigm and questions of territoriality, the approach of environmental peace building uses environmental cooperation as a catalyst for political peace building between adversarial nations. While not without challenges, this conflict resolution strategy has proven effective in various parts of the world. Indeed, the common question that threads these cases together is how ecological and social factors play an instrumental role in the resolution of a territorial conflict between two nations.

This undergraduate thesis uses the case study of the shared San Juan River Basin between Nicaragua and Costa Rica to investigate the ways in which cooperation over shared riparian ecosystems might catalyze political cooperation between two adversarial sovereignties. It also considers the possibilities for shared sovereignty over a disputed zone in question. By doing so, this thesis has the power to shed light on other disputes related to sovereignty and transboundary water management. The dreams of the once-proposed Si-A-Paz International Peace Park between Costa Rica and Nicaragua seem far off in a time where the impacts of two major diplomatic disputes continue to polarize ministerial actors and tear at the fragile transboundary fabric.

The goal of this thesis, then, is to put forth a vision for transboundary collaboration in this time of troubled bilateral relations. This thesis does this firstly by analyzing different perspectives on two interrelated dispute situations and then reframing them as catalysts for future cooperation, and secondly by identifying the current environmental and peace-supporting efforts that could strengthen this future cooperation. The end product, then, are a potential transboundary collaborations opportunities that the relevant actors may consider. These proposed opportunities have the power to both answer questions of sovereignty and strengthen the environmental peace-building process for actors at multiple levels of society.

Download Full Thesis Here (Note 25MB)