The weakness of the strong: re-examining power in transboundary water dynamics

Jacob D. Petersen-Perlman*, Itay Fischhendler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This article proposes a re-examination of how power is conceptualized within transboundary hydropolitics by arguing that power has been misrepresented in the water resources literature. Overemphasis on the factors of a country’s relative power, riparian position, and technological potential to exploit the resource has led to assumptions that the non-hegemon(s) is often unable to achieve their own positive outcomes and that the outcomes of interactions between hegemons and non-hegemons are predictable and detrimental. However, it appears that there are many examples that run counter to the power narrative that employs these factors. This study argues that this overemphasis neglects hegemonic vulnerabilities, which, when included with hegemonic capacities, are much more instructive in explaining transboundary water dynamics. The sources of the weakness of the strong of the alleged hegemon originates from several sources, including interlinkages between water and non-water issues, internal and external expectations, and consideration of whether the water-related issue at hand is crucial to each party’s survival or whether the party has the luxury to survive the outcome of the resolution. These factors allow for non-hegemons to achieve more favorable outcomes and, when incorporated in analysis, provide a fuller picture of the true power balance in each transboundary water interaction. We therefore call for a reconceptualization of power dynamics in transboundary waters that accounts for structural weaknesses present within all parties.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)275-294
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature.


  • Conflict and cooperation
  • Hegemony
  • Hydro-hegemony
  • Transboundary water


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