Power Asymmetry and Negotiations in International River Basins

in International Negotiation
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Abstract

Realist thinkers traditionally argue that when the upstream state is the river basin's hegemon, cooperation is least likely to materialize. Conversely, when the downstream state is the basin's hegemon, cooperation is likely to ensue, yet the agreement is often imposed and shaped along the interests of the stronger party. Implied in both scenarios is that the otherwise weaker riparian, in aggregate power terms, is not in a position to achieve its aims and satisfy its needs in an optimal fashion. Its capabilities are inferior to those of its adversary. In effect, it has little alternative but to accept the desires of the stronger riparian. By considering a set of international water agreements and hydro-political contexts, this article challenges the realist conception of power in international river basins. Particularly, it demonstrates that otherwise weaker states may influence the hydro-political context and subsequent international agreements. Cooperation, in general, materializes when both states, but particularly the stronger state, realize that benefits can accrue from coordination and joint action. In other words, to harness the river in an efficient manner, cooperation must ensue and the downstream state's participation is important. Even when the benefits to cooperation are not clear, i.e. when the upstream riparian does not foresee immediate economic incentives to cooperation, coordination may still be attained through the manipulation of incentives (or strategic interaction).

Power Asymmetry and Negotiations in International River Basins

in International Negotiation

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