Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

David C. Earnest

Committee Member

Francis Adams

Committee Member

Chandra de Silva


Traditional International Relations (IR) theories consign small states to the reactive roles of "bargaining, bandwagoning or buffering." Small states are deemed to be inherently vulnerable, forever concerned with their mere survival. However, the present global system of states is characterized by numerous smaller states, many of which are not only surviving but also thriving in both economically and politically spheres.

To unravel this anomaly, this study proposes a theory of wedge states as a separate category of small states, which are compelled to deep engagement with two or more rival powers simultaneously. The study analyzes a case of a typical wedge state using the interaction between Nepal and its neighbors China and India to inquire if the "wedge" situation of Nepal being located between two rival powers provides it any strategic agency or autonomy. To understand such outcomes, the study uses material gains as the proxy for strategic autonomy.

The analysis of three cases of Nepal's tripartite interaction—policies on Tibetan exiles and refugees; competitive Chinese and Indian investments in the hydropower sector in Nepal; and environmental cooperation along the fragile ecosystem of the shared Himalayan region—finds that Nepal has often enjoyed significant agency and generated material gains due to the rivalry between its two larger neighbors. Nepal's strategic options and material gains, especially in economic and environmental realms, contradict the conventional IR theories and point to increasing autonomy of similar cases of small wedge states in the global system.


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