While much of the extant literature has focused on the potential of international rivers to generate militarized conflict, this study builds on more recent works that examine the politics of river cooperation. The article focuses on the efforts to regulate the use of international rivers formally by the means of treaties. The theoretical framework incorporates prominent variables from the (neo)realist and neo-liberal schools of thought as well as the need for potable water and river-related geographic factors. The framework is used to generate expectations about whether riparian countries will enter into the treaties dealing in particular with the issues of water quantity and quality. Systematic empirical evaluations covering the entire world in the 1948—2000 time period confirm some while challenging much of the conventional wisdom on the topic. Specifically, preponderant power distribution, economic interdependence, democratic governance, and water scarcity all increase the chances for formalized river cooperation between contiguous riparian states. In contrast, the findings suggest that the roles of allegedly important and problematic factors such as the upstream/downstream relationship and recent militarized conflict have been exaggerated in earlier research. Cumulatively, the findings sound a cautiously optimistic note for the prospects of the spread of formal river cooperation in the less developed parts of the world.
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