When and why are international efforts to solve transboundary river management problems successful? When and why do such efforts fail, and what does success or failure mean? With more than 260 international river basins covering 45% of the Earth's land surface, and with freshwater being humanity's most valuable natural resource, these questions are hardly trivial. Natural scientists and engineers have provided some answers, but they remain far from complete without major input from the social sciences. While technical know-how and innovation are also crucial to successful international river management, success in this context hinges primarily on political processes in which institutional arrangements are designed and implemented. This review essay maintains that social scientists have made considerable progress in this field since 1977, when a landmark book by David Le Marquand on the politics of international river management was published. This progress includes the development of theoretically better informed explanatory models and their evaluation against an increasing amount of empirical information. It provides a solid foundation for proceeding to a larger-scale research effort that involves the analysis of a larger set of empirical cases on the basis of a single explanatory model.
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