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Title: Dams of Damocles : between rivers, states, and geopolitics
Author: Kraak, Eelke Pieter
ISNI:       0000 0004 2744 8657
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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Theories of transboundary water politics have failed to explain the status quo in many river basins: fragile political relations between riparian states and nationalist domestic politics, as well as weak regional institutions and huge economic inefficiencies – but also an absence of wars over water. This is due to an uncritical approach to scale, power, and geopolitics. It is the purpose of this thesis to address these conceptual gaps by critically evaluating the multiple relationships between the logic of large dams and the politics of international rivers. The meaning of dams, the politics of their operation and construction, and their impact on international relations are much more ambiguous, opaque and complex than existing explanations have suggested so far. In turn, their logic influences, competes with, and contradicts the logic of river basin governance. Dams produce alternative spaces of development, energy, and state power that complement or are superimposed on existing spaces of riparian cooperation. This thesis argues that the contradictions between these spaces explains the geopolitical limbo of many international rivers in the developing world. Drawing from Foucault’s governmentality theory, the literature of critical geopolitics, and post-structural approaches to spatial scale the case-oriented research design of this thesis evaluates two geopolitical processes in contentious transboundary river basins: the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile and the operation of the Toktogul Dam in the Kyrgyz stretch of the Syr Darya River. By unpacking these processes, this thesis makes three substantial contributions to existing scholarship. Firstly, it is argued that regional river basin management is essentially a geopolitical project that contradicts the geo-economic imperatives of the dam. Secondly, power and agency in water politics is diffused far beyond the nation-state and can be understood in terms of “network effects”. Thirdly, to marry the concerns of the geopolitical and the geo-economic, I propose that the contrasting logics give rise to “geopolitical entrepreneurs” – actors who use geopolitics for wealth accumulation, legitimacy, nation-building, and other ends. While dams may provide power, wealth, and authority an allegorical Sword of Damocles is let down on the riparians.
Supervisor: Pallot, Judith; Daley, Patricia Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Geography ; Africa ; Russia and Eurasia ; geopolitics ; transboundary water politics ; dams ; Nile ; Syr Darya