Golden Gate University Law Review


Philip Hirsch


In this article, I examine environmental, social and legal issues associated with Mekong hydropower development in three main arenas. Each of these arenas takes discussion beyond the nation state, and in so doing I argue that the framework for the Mekong River Commission, which is designed to balance interests of riparian states, is quite limited. The first sense in which decision making in Mekong development goes beyond the nation state is the most obvious, in that the international nature of the river, which flows through six countries, raises transboundary issues of water sharing, fisheries management and other resource and environmental management questions. The second sense in which influence is exerted beyond the nation state is that the Mekong Region has become subject to multifarious international influences, mostly in the name of development (in place of Cold War geopolitical and military intervention), both by governmental and corporate interests from countries that have largely ceased large-scale hydropower development within their own territories. The third way in which this article transcends the nation state as a framework for decision making is by suggesting that the divergent interests in many aspects of Mekong development are not primarily those of one country versus another. Rather, there are divergent social, economic and ideological interests within countries, and convergent interests that transcend national borders. The nation state is thus only partly able to represent its citizens' interests and aspirations, but the term "national interest" is nevertheless still applied forcefully in promoting many of the larger and more controversial schemes.