The global water policy agenda has long called for a holistic approach to water resources management. However, key challenges remain in turning policy into practice, not least in managing conflict and enhancing cooperation over international watercourses. Towards such an endeavour, a better understanding of the role of watercourse treaties is needed. To date, much of the non-legal literature has failed to capture fully the unique characteristics of the international legal system. Conversely, much of the legal scholarship has failed to account for the social, economic and political context in which law operates. The paper therefore calls for a nuanced approach to the study of watercourse treaties. An approach is suggested that is sensitive to the normative content of watercourse treaties, the ‘package’ of norms, the multi-level governance context and the influence of treaties in shaping state behaviour throughout the entire regime building process.

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