Transboundary water interaction I: reconsidering conflict and cooperation

  • Mark Zeitoun
  • Naho Mirumachi
Original Paper


Whether the inter-state and sub-national tensions over transboundary waters will lead to greater conflict or increased cooperation remains a hotly debated issue. Most work on the subject situates transboundary water conflict and transboundary water cooperation at opposing ends of a continuum. The examination of either conflict or cooperation, we argue, refutes the reality of the vast majority of contexts where cooperation and conflict actually co-exist, and perpetuates the paradigm that any conflict is ‘bad’, and that all forms of cooperation are ‘good’. The efforts of the international water academic and practitioner communities may be better served through a combined reading of conflict and cooperation as transboundary water interaction. Mirumachi’s Transboundary Waters Interaction NexuS is offered as a robust method demonstrating that simultaneous consideration of conflict and cooperation is both insightful and possible. Transboundary water interaction is shown to be an inherently political process determined by the broader political context. We examine evidence suggesting that uncritical acceptance of traditional forms of ‘cooperative’ arrangements may in fact sustain the conflict it was intended to transform. Several other less well-known faces of ‘cooperation’ are discussed in detail, with examples of narrow, token and coercive cooperation derived from inter-state relations on the Jordan, Nile and Ganges rivers. With a view to paving the way for improved transboundary water sharing and governance, subjectively negative, neutral and positive forms of interaction are defined, and linked with a first approximation of their potential driving forces.


Water conflict Water cooperation Hegemony Hydro-hegemony Power Hydropolitics Jordan River Ganges River Nile River 



This paper derives from the participants and ideas of the Third International Workshop on Hydro-Hegemony: Power, Conflict and Cooperation, held at the London School of Economics and Political Science, May 2007. Special thanks are due to Tony Allan, Ana Cascao, Marwa Daoudy, and Jeroen Warner. Further thanks to Ana Cascao for her assistance in plotting the TWINS matrix, and to three anonymous reviewers.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the EnvironmentLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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