The territorial trap, triadic critique of state as actor in IR/IO theorization

Considering the most recent framing of my research question, the two cases will help to illustrate how domestic policies have shaped transboundary water governance processes. Both of these examples come from Furlong (2006), and challenge the triad of the regime approach’s territorial trap, inherent in IR/IO theorization of the water discourse. The first example challenges the notion of the severance of domestic and foreign policies, while the second exhibits the triad simultaneously.

First, during the apartheid era, South Africa was not invited as a participant into the precursor to SADC – the Southern African Development Coordination Conference. After apartheid ended, South Africa adopted water policies (constitutionally upheld) that enshrined water as a human right, and endorsed the “decentralization of water provision while keeping it under national control” (Furlong 2006, p. 446). With the inclusion of South Africa into SADCC, the domestic water policies of South Africa – especially the privatization of water – “shifted to an internationally favoured neoliberal model that includes full-cost pricing as a step toward potential privatization and public-private partnerships” (Furlong 2006, p. 446). Here, the domestic policies in South Africa influenced the approach the SADCC (and the SADC after) took towards water governance in the region.

The second example is in the Okavango delta. Botswana, as the downstream riparian, intended to develop hydroelectric dams on the river. International environmental pressure halted these developments, challenging the sovereignty of the riparian nation. Following the change of development plans for their part of the basin, Botswana signed the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, in part to “stave off development on the Okavango by the other (upstream) basin states” (Furlong 2006, p. 446). This allowed the Botswana government to appear as the environmental ‘good guy’, in “response to its lack of sovereign ability to pursue its own” developmental plans in the face of both international and domestic pressure (Furlong 2006, p. 446). Their change in domestic policies, after a challenge to their sovereignty, then influenced governance processes in the delta amongst the riparians.

Agnew and Corbridge’s (1995) triadic critique of the state as actor in the IR/IO model is relevant to my own approach. If domestic policies are shaped by sub-state actors, this challenges the notion of the state as the container of society. If these domestic policies are then influential in international governance processes, this challenges the notion of domestic and foreign policies being severed. If absolute state control over a fixed unit of territorial space (a river) is challenged by international governance processes (a basin organization), then sovereignty as complete state control no longer holds.

What theorization can explain these occurrences? As Rathgeber (1996, p. 49 cited in Furlong, 2006, p. 442) states, “in situations of scarcity, decisions about access to and use of water involve actors at the intergovernmental, governmental, regional, community, and household levels and often become highly politicized”. This appears to be an argument for multilevel governance, and a shift from the regime approach that holds to the tenets of the territorial trap. But, it does not address the geographical scale at which to address water related challenges. Multiple scales of actors can be included in decision-making processes, but at what geographical (spatial) scale do you address the actual water challenge? Is it a watershed approach?

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