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In cooperative networks, transmitting and receiving nodes recruit neighboring nodes to assist in communication. We model a cooperative transmission link in wireless networks as a transmitter cluster and a receiver cluster. We then propose a cooperative communication protocol for establishment of these clusters and for cooperative transmission of data. We derive the upper bound of the capacity of the protocol, and we analyze the end-to-end robustness of the protocol to data-packet loss, along with the tradeoff between energy consumption and error rate. The analysis results are used to compare the energy savings and the end-to-end robustness of our protocol with two non-cooperative schemes, as well as to another cooperative protocol published in the technical literature. The comparison results show that, when nodes are positioned on a grid, there is a reduction in the probability of packet delivery failure by two orders of magnitude for the values of parameters considered. Up to 80% in energy savings can be achieved for a grid topology, while for random node placement our cooperative protocol can save up to 40% in energy consumption relative to the other protocols. The reduction in error rate and the energy savings translate into increased lifetime of cooperative sensor networks.