Neoliberalism's Contested Encounter with International Law in the Lithium Triangle

62 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2019 Last revised: 18 Nov 2019

Date Written: November 4, 2019


Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile harbor most of the world’s lithium resources in a triangulated region of the Atacama Desert. With the advent of the consumer electronic device and electronic car age, all powered by lithium ion batteries, attention is turning to the Lithium Triangle and the fortune that awaits extraction of this increasingly demanded resource. Lithium mining uses water intensively and in this area, perhaps the most hyper-arid inhabited area on Earth, water use engenders myriad questions relating to economic growth, global capitalism, indigenous rights, topophilia, the environment, and human rights. This article frames these important questions in terms of an underlying consideration: international law’s co-constitutive relationship with neoliberalism. This article argues that this relationship, variously construed in the respective histories of these countries, shapes and constrains domestic policies due to forum shopping by the handful of oligopolistic producers able to extract lithium in line with international law’s neoliberal investment preferences. A double movement of marketization generates calls for environmental and human rights protection against the same forces that drive the process of neoliberal extraction policy. Lithium, although construed as a domestic resource subject to exploitation, is also a metaphor for international law’s problematic hemispheric encounters in the Americas.

Keywords: Lithium, neoliberalism, dependency, Chicago Boys, Andean Cone countries, international law

Suggested Citation

Rossi, Christopher, Neoliberalism's Contested Encounter with International Law in the Lithium Triangle (November 4, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Christopher Rossi (Contact Author)

UiT, Arctic University of Norway ( email )

UiT Norges arktiske universitet
Postboks 6050 Langnes
Tromsø, Troms 9037
9019 (Fax)

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