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Concrete RevolutionLarge Dams, Cold War Geopolitics, and the US Bureau of Reclamation$
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Christopher Sneddon

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226284316

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226284453.001.0001

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Cold War Geopolitics, Technical Expertise, and the Mekong Project

Cold War Geopolitics, Technical Expertise, and the Mekong Project

(p.102) Five Cold War Geopolitics, Technical Expertise, and the Mekong Project
Concrete Revolution

Christopher Sneddon

University of Chicago Press

Chapter Five draws together threads presented in previous chapters (e.g., the technological and symbolic facets of large dams and river basin planning approaches, the tensions between technical expertise and geopolitical aims) and examines them using the case of the Mekong Project, the Bureau’s most intensive and longest engagement in international development. The Lower Mekong Basin, shared by the mainland Southeast Asia states of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam, became the focus of intense development interest beginning in the 1950s. The period from the creation of the Mekong Committee in 1957 until the United States’ disengagement from Mekong development planning in 1975 was characterized by a combination of geopolitical imaginings and technological optimism that drove the proliferation of large dams and the idea of river basin development in mainland Southeast Asia. A key element in this story is the Pa Mong dam project, the focus of over a decade of study by Bureau engineers and experts and millions of dollars of U.S. economic assistance that was never actually built. Pa Mong became the lynchpin for development of the entire Mekong basin, and in effect helped generate an imagined geography of the Mekong region that resonates with current water development efforts.

Keywords:   Bureau of Reclamation, Cold War, development, geopolitics, imagined geography, Mekong River basin, Southeast Asia, technical expertise

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