Power asymmetry, interstate cooperation, and riparian conflicts : explaining the U.S.-Mexico relationship over shared rivers.

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Bachelor in Arts


As conflicts over water increase due to water scarcity, it becomes increasingly important to understand how riparian conflicts can be resolved. This investigation analyzes the difficult, but successful case of water sharing between the United States (U.S.) and Mexico, with an emphasis on the 1944 Water Treaty. The literature on riparian conflicts indicates that these conflicts are solved more often than they devolve into violence, but that there are many factors that make them difficult to resolve. To understand why the U.S. and Mexico were able to cooperate and negotiate a resolution to the conflict, this investigation develops three analytical lenses informed by contemporary debates in the field of international relations. It finds that the realist lens, while depicting U.S.-Mexican relations from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, cannot explain why these countries agreed to cooperate. The liberal lens' emphasis on multilevel politics suggests that domestic politics, especially in the U.S., were instrumental in both countries' search for a negotiated solution. This lens also shows that Mexico's use of an issue-linkage strategy was a key factor in the bargaining process that led to the 1944 Water Treaty. The neoliberal lens shows that bilateral commissions can help to build trust between neighbors that share transboundary rivers and establish processes that help the parties address issues that may sour relations over these waterways.