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Governing international freshwater resources: an analysis of treaty design

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Abstract

International rivers create complex relationships between their riparian states, which can contribute to economic, political, and social losses. Treaties provide a means for states to coordinate their actions in managing international river disputes to minimize these losses. However, there is little knowledge about treaty content and the factors influencing treaty design. We test whether a relationship exists between the challenges of negotiating, complying, and distributing the gains in bilateral, multilateral, and basin-wide negotiation contexts and the depth of cooperation along with the degree of institutionalization. While the great challenges confronting multilateral or basin-wide negotiations can produce treaties that focus on joint gains and shallow cooperation to secure the signature of riparians, we find that they can also provide opportunities for deeper, more behavior-altering, cooperation. To manage the difficulties of maintaining multilateral cooperation, we find a higher degree of institutionalization. We also find that bilateral negotiations provide states with opportunities for deeper cooperation, but a lower degree of institutionalization.

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Notes

  1. An international river is a river shared between two or more states.

  2. A treaty is a formal agreement or contract between states.

  3. Riparians are states that share an international river.

  4. A basin-wide treaty is a treaty reached by all riparians sharing an international river, while a multilateral treaty does not include all riparians.

  5. Institutions are “persistent and connected sets of rules (formal and informal) that prescribe behavioral rules, constrain activity, and shape expectations” Keohane (1989:3).

  6. Conca et al. (2006) analyze treaty design features using only existing treaties.

  7. In a bilateral river, the only available negotiation context is a bilateral one and of course the bilateral treaty produced is basin-wide. But in this study, a basin-wide treaty is used only in reference to multilateral rivers.

  8. In the multilateral context, the focus is likely to be on joint economic gains in attempt to secure the signature of negotiating states with varying interests in cooperation. In the bilateral context, however, there can be both economic gains and losses exchanged between states to address an issue that requires deep cooperation.

  9. Regardless of the river’s shape, states still confront enforcement and distributional conflicts.

  10. These treaties also discuss water allocation and agricultural development. In the Indus case, the treaty specifies limits on the development of Indus tributaries in upstream India. In the other case, the treaty identifies the construction of a small dam and storage facilities along the Yarmouk River and lower Jordan River.

  11. http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/database/interfreshtreatdata.html.

  12. A temporal aspect is embedded in some variables (e.g., water scarcity).

  13. This resulted in the exclusion of 79 treaties.

  14. Seven conventions were excluded.

  15. A reviewer questioned whether the 2000 European Water Framework Directive on international basins means that the European Union cases may behave differently. The existing literature indicates that this framework is actually not effective in this respect, especially during the period covering the treaties in this analysis (see for example Nilsson and Langaas 2006).

  16. In the case of international rivers with three riparians, there is only the possibility of bilateral and basin-wide treaties. This is part of the design of our negotiation context variable. The possibility that states reach MTMB does not exist in basins with three riparians. This affects 45 cases in our analysis. But we believe this does not influence the analysis since the benchmark is BTMB and there are sufficient examples of MTMB. In fact, the dyadic cases are largest for MTMB.

  17. The selection of the benchmark negotiation context would not affect the coefficients of any variable other than that of the negotiation context variables in the regression.

  18. Several variables are imported from Zawahri and Mitchell (2011).

  19. <http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/dbase/index.stm>.

  20. <http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm>.

  21. Iron/steel production, urban population, total population, energy production, military personnel, and expenditures.

  22. <http://www.correlatesofwar.org/COW2%20Data/Capabilities/NMC_3.02.csv>.

  23. <https://webfiles.uci.edu/frankd/index.html>.

  24. We thank one of the reviewers for suggesting this analysis. Inclusion of the number of signatories only marginally impacted the level of the coefficients and in two cases (Economic Development and Environment) changed the level of significance. Results are available from the authors upon request.

  25. Results are available upon request.

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Correspondence to Neda A. Zawahri.

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The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Research Service or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Zawahri, N.A., Dinar, A. & Nigatu, G. Governing international freshwater resources: an analysis of treaty design. Int Environ Agreements 16, 307–331 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-014-9259-0

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