Advertisement

“Water Wars” and Water Reality: Conflict and Cooperation Along International Waterways

  • Aaron T. Wolf
Chapter
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (ASEN2, volume 65)

Abstract

There are 261 international rivers, covering almost one half of the total land surface of the globe, and untold numbers of shared aquifers. Water has been a cause of political tensions between Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Bangladeshis, Americans and Mexicans, and all 10 riparian states of the Nile River. Water is the only scarce resource for which there is no substitute, over which there is poorly developed international law, and the need for which is overwhelming, constant, and immediate. As a consequence, water and war are two topics being assessed together with increasing frequency. This chapter investigates the reality of historic water conflict and draws lessons for the plausibility of future water wars. The data sets of conflict are explored for those related to water—only seven minor skirmishes are found in this century; no war has ever been fought over water. In contrast, 149 water-related treaties have been signed in the same period. These treaties, collected and catalogued in a computerized database along with relevant notes from negotiators, are assessed for patterns of conflict resolution. War over water seems neither strategically rational, hydrographically effective, nor economically viable. Shared interests along a waterway seem to overwhelm water’s conflict-inducing characteristics. Furthermore, once cooperative water regimes are established through treaty, they turn out to be tremendously resilient over time, even between otherwise hostile riparian states, and even as conflict is waged over other issues. These patterns suggest that the more valuable lesson of international water is as a resource whose characteristics tend to induce cooperation, and incite violence only in the exception.

Keywords

Middle East International Water Riparian State Political Tension Water Conflict 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Beaumont, P. (1991, September). Transboundary water disputes in the Middle East. Paper presented at the Conference on Transboundary Waters in the Middle East, Ankara.Google Scholar
  2. Bingham, G., Wolf, A., & Wohlgenant, T. (1994). Resolving water disputes: Conflict and cooperation in the U.S., The Near East, and Asia. (Publication No. ANE-0289-C-00-7044-00). Washington, DC: U.S. Agency for International Development.Google Scholar
  3. Biswas, A. K. (Ed.) (1994). International waters of the Middle East. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Biswas, A. K., & Hashimoto, T. (Eds.) (1996). Asian international waters: From Ganges-Brahmaputra to Mekong. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Biswas, A., Kolars, J., Murakami, M, Waterbury, J., & Wolf, A. (1997). Core and periphery: A comprehensive approach to Middle Eastern water. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brecher, M., & Wilkenfeld, J. (1997). A study of crisis. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bullock, J., & Darwish, A. (1993). Water wars: Coming conflicts in the Middle East. London: St. Dedmundsbury Press.Google Scholar
  8. Butts, K. (1997). The strategic importance of water. Parameters, Spring, 65–83.Google Scholar
  9. Cooley, J. (1984). The war over water. Foreign Policy, 54, 3–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cooper, J. (1983). Reconstructing history from ancient inscriptions: The Lagash-Umma border conflict. Malibu, CA: Undena.Google Scholar
  11. Davis, U., Maks, A., & Richardson, J. (1980). Israel’s water policies. Journal of Palestine Studies, 9(2:34), 3–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dillman, J. ( 1989). Water rights in the occupied territories. Journal of Palestine Studies, 19(1:73), 46–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Falkenmark, M. (1986). Fresh waters as a factor in strategic policy and action. In A. H. Westing0 (Ed.), Global resources and international conflict: Environmental factors in strategic policy and action (pp. 85-113). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Falkenmark, M. (1989). The massive water shortage in Africa—Why isn’t it being addressed? Ambio, 18(2), 112–118.Google Scholar
  15. Fredkin, P. (1981). A river no more. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  16. Gleick, P. (1993). Water and conflict: Fresh water resources and international security. International Security, 18(1), 79–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Homer-Dixon, T. (1994). Environmental scarcities and violent conflict: Evidence from cases. International Security, 19(1), 5–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Libiszewski, S. (1995, August). Water disputes in the Jordan basin region and their role in the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Zurich: Center for Security Studies and Conflict Research, Occasional Paper #13.Google Scholar
  19. Middle East Water Commission (Biswas, A., Kolars, J., Murakami, M., Waterbury, J., & Wolf, A.) (1995). Observations regarding water sharing and management: An intensive analysis of the Jordan River basin with reference to long-distance transfers. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 11(4).Google Scholar
  20. Myers, N. (1993). Ultimate security. The environmental basis of political stability. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  21. Paul, T. V. (1994). Assymetric conflicts: War initiation by weaker powers. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Remans, W. (1995). Water and war. Humantäres Völkerrecht, 8(1).Google Scholar
  23. Rosenne, S. (1995). The world court: What it is and how it works. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  24. Samson, P., & Charrier, B. (1997, May). International freshwater conflict: Issues and prevention strategies. Green Cross Draft Report.Google Scholar
  25. Schmida, L. (1983). Keys to control: Israel’s pursuit of Arab water resources. Washington, DC: American Educational Trust.Google Scholar
  26. Stauffer, T. (1982). The price of peace: The spoils of war. American-Arab Affairs, 1, 43–54.Google Scholar
  27. Starr, J. (1991). Water wars. Foreign Policy, 82, 17–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Stork, J. (1983). Water and Israel’s occupation strategy. MERIP Reports, 116(13:6), 19–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (1978). Systematic index of international water resources treaties, declarations, acts and cases, by basin: Volume I (Legislative Study No. 15).Google Scholar
  30. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (1984). Systematic index of international water resources treaties, declarations, acts and cases, by basin: Volume II (Legislative Study No. 34).Google Scholar
  31. Westing, A. H. (Ed.) (1986). Global resources and international conflict: Environmental factors in strategic policy and action. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Wolf, A. T. (1995a). The Asian water forum: Summary report. Global environmental change: Human and policy dimensions, 5(2).Google Scholar
  33. Wolf, A. T. (1995b). Hydropolitics along the Jordan River: Scarce water and its impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Wolf, A. T. (1995c). International water dispute resolution: The Middle East Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources. Water International, 20(3).Google Scholar
  35. Wolf, A. T. (1997). International water conflict resolution: Lessons from comparative analysis. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 13(3).Google Scholar
  36. Wolf, A.T., Natharius, J., Kinsler, & Danielson, J. (in press). Transboundary rivers of the world: An updated register. International Journal of Water Resources Development.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron T. Wolf
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesOregon State UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations