Hydropolitical Complexes and Asymmetrical Power: Conflict, Cooperation, and Governance of International River Systems

  • Jenny R. Kehl Rutgers University

Abstract

Hydropolitical complexes are emerging to negotiate water-sharing policies that promote politicalstability, regional security, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability. Yet interstatedisputes are occurring within most hydropolitical complexes, and weak riparians are oftencoerced to agree to water-sharing policies that adversely affect them. This research examines thestrategies weak riparians use to assert leverage in international river basins with asymmetricalpower, and the success of those strategies in achieving cooperation versus conflict. Grounded inthe theoretical framework of hydro hegemony, hard power, and soft power, this study uses crossnational analysis to test the effects of geographic, military, political, economic, technological,and external influence on water governance in eight international river systems. The resultsdemonstrate that weak riparians mobilize the assets and capacities of external actors, such asdonor countries and the World Bank, to increase their leverage within hydropolitical complexes.The study finds that strategies to balance hard power are largely ineffective; they fail to achievecooperative water-sharing arrangements and often exacerbate conflict. In contrast, strategies tobalance economic power and soft power, such as market access and political legitimacy, aremore successful in promoting cooperation and preventing conflict in hydropolitical complexes.
Published
2011-02-26
How to Cite
Kehl, J. R. (2011). Hydropolitical Complexes and Asymmetrical Power: Conflict, Cooperation, and Governance of International River Systems. Journal of World-Systems Research, 17(1), 218-235. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2011.429
Section
The World-Historical Imagination: Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century in Prospect and Retrospect