Environmental politics has traditionally been a peripheral concern for international relations (IR) theory, but increasing alarm over global environmental challenges has elevated international society's relationship with the natural world into the theoretical limelight. IR theory's engagement with environmental politics, however, has largely focused on interstate cooperation in the late twentieth century, with less attention paid to how the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century quest to tame nature came to shape the modern international order.
The Ideal River examines nineteenth-century efforts to establish international commissions on three transboundary rivers – the Rhine, the Danube, and the Congo. It charts how the Enlightenment ambition to tame the natural world, and human nature itself, became an international standard for rational and civilized authority and informed our geographical imagination of the international. This relationship of domination over nature shaped three core IR concepts central to the emergence of early international order: the territorial sovereign state; imperial hierarchies; and international organizations. The Ideal River contributes to environmental politics and international relations by highlighting how the relationship between society and nature is not a peripheral concern, but one at the heart of international politics.
Introduction: The ideal river
1. The taming of nature, legitimate authority, and international order
2. Taming the internal highway: Constructing the Rhine
3. The 1815 Congress of Vienna and the oldest continuous interstate institution
4. Disciplining the connecting river: Constructing the Danube
5. The 1856 Treaty of Paris and the first international organization
6. Civilizing the imperial river: Constructing the Congo
7. The 1885 Berlin Conference and the international organization that never was
8. History is a river: The taming of nature into the twenty-first century
Conclusion: The strong brown god of the Anthropocene
Joanne Yao is a Lecturer in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London.