Water and 'imperfect peace' in the Euphrates-Tigris river basin

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Transboundary water relations in the Euphrates–Tigris (ET) basin are often marked by political confrontation and rivalry between Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Even in the absence of political stability, riparian states have remained in contact with one another over the ET rivers at different levels by establishing and revitalizing joint governance mechanisms. In these processes, multiple actors—ranging from bureaucracies and heads of state and government, to epistemic communities—have focused on cooperative socio-economic development aspects of otherwise divisive water-related matters in the basin. Hence, the article aims to examine various emerging actors and mechanisms, arguing that their co-existence in the basin demonstrates a case of ‘imperfect peace’. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and with the start of the domestic unrest in Syria in 2011, transboundary water relations in the basin have been carried out within the context of an unstable international security environment, particularly with the emergence of the non-state armed groups who have used water as a weapon against their opponents. The article therefore addresses policy-relevant research questions, such as what kind of joint security mechanism the riparian states should create to cope with violent non-state actors who control water and infrastructure under the conditions of ‘imperfect peace’. In the same vein, the article analyses the strategic role that water plays in environmental peacebuilding and discusses the possible ways and means to improve the protection of water during and after armed conflicts.

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... In the 1960s, the unilateral and uncoordinated development of large-scale irrigation projects by the main riparian countries led to tensions in the region. One of the first political conflicts over water was triggered when Turkey and Syria simultaneously started using the Keban reservoir and the Tabqa dam during a drought period in 1975 (Kibaroglu & Sayan, 2021). ...
... The JTC involved all main riparian countries and aimed at defining the modalities to determine water allocation patterns. Since no joint resolution could be agreed on, mostly due to non-water-related topics, the negotiations were suspended in 1993 (Kibaroglu & Sayan, 2021). ...
... A major turning point in the riparian states' relations was further marked by the adoption of a Joint Communiqué between Turkey and Syria in 2001, which stressed the importance of sustainably using the basin's water resources (ibid.). As a result of the regime change in Iraq, and the improving Turkish-Syrian relations, the Euphrates-Tigris Initiative for Cooperation (ETIC) was established as an informal Track two diplomacy initiative in 2005, promoting water-related transboundary dialogue and scientific collaboration (Kibaroglu & Sayan, 2021). The election victory of President Erdogan's AKP in 2002, and a Turkish foreign policy approach characterised by "zero problems with neighboring countries'' until around 2013, further contributed to improving the relations in the Euphrates-Tigris basin during that period (Djavadi, 2016). ...
Technical Report
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This study examines future impacts of climate change on water resources and the ensuing economic and political challenges in the Euphrates-Tigris basin shared by the countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The study focuses on three different risks that are affected through climate-related water challenges: (1) livelihoods and food security, (2) political stability and violence, and (3) interstate conflict and cooperation. Drawing on a review of existing literature and publicly available data, expert interviews, and scenario-building workshops, it identifies social, economic, institutional, and political factors that will shape future the vulnerability and resilience to the effects of global warming. Based on an assessment of current interventions, it derives recommendations for adaptation measures that the riparian countries and regional institutions can implement to mitigate future risks and to seize opportunities for increased cooperation and resilience building.
... Finally, Kibaroglu and Sayan remind us that comprehensive peace treaties and the absence of confrontational interactions should not be the only benchmark for evaluating environmental peacebuilding success. 99 Studying cooperation among Turkey, Syria and Iraq in the Euphrates-Tigris basin since the 1960s, the authors introduce the concept of 'imperfect peace'. They illustrate that despite the absence of a basin-wide treaty and the continuous existence of international tensions, environmental cooperation has played a role in easing water-related tensions and bringing the riparian states and communities closer together. ...
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Environmental peacebuilding is a rapidly growing field of research and practice at the intersection of environment, conflict, peace and security. Focusing on these linkages is crucial in a time when the environment is a core issue of international politics and the number of armed conflicts remains high. This article introduces a special issue with a particular emphasis on environmental opportunities for building and sustaining peace. We first detail the definitions, theoretical assumptions and intellectual background of environmental peacebuilding. The article then provides context for the special issue by briefly reviewing core findings and debates of the first two generations of environmental peacebuilding research. Finally, we identify knowledge gaps that should be addressed in the next generation of research, and to which the articles in this special issue contribute: bottom-up approaches, gender, conflict-sensitive programming, use of big data and frontier technology, and monitoring and evaluation.
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Since 1989, notable changes in geopolitics, technology, social movements, and economics have transformed the world. With respect to conflict and post-conflict environmental peacebuilding, three key themes characterize the post-Cold War world: (1) a change in how wars are fought and financed; (2) a change in the United Nations’ (U.N.’s) engagement on peace and security issues, with more frequent and wide-ranging intervention in conflicts, as well as an increasing emphasis on peacebuilding; and (3) a change in international environmental policy and how countries cooperate around the environment. This Article discusses each in turn, and draws some conclusions about their interrelationship.
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Environmental peacebuilding represents a paradigm shift from a nexus of environmental scarcity to one of environmental peace. It rests on the assumption that the biophysical environment’s inherent characteristics can act as incentives for cooperation and peace, rather than violence and competition. Based on this, environmental peacebuilding presents cooperation as a win-win solution and escape from the zero-sum logic of conflict. However, there is a lack of coherent environmental peacebuilding framework and evidence corroborating the existence of this environment-peace nexus. Building on a multidisciplinary literature review, this article examines the evolution of environmental peacebuilding into an emerging framework. It unpacks the concept and explains its main building blocks (conditions, mechanisms and outcomes) to develop our understanding of when, how and why environmental cooperation can serve as a peacebuilding tool. It assembles these building blocks into three generic trajectories (technical, restorative and sustainable environmental peacebuilding), each characterised according to their own causality, drivers and prerequisites, and illustrated with concrete examples. Finally, this article draws attention to the remaining theoretical gaps in the environmental peacebuilding literature, and lays the foundations for an environmental peacebuilding research agenda that clarifies if and how environmental cooperation can spill over across borders, sectors and scales towards sustainable peace.
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In examining different forms of pragmatic peacebuilding—including the turn to the local, hybrid orders, resilience and non-state actors—this article argues that such approaches bring about analytical and normative challenges that are difficult to deal with within state-centred frameworks. As an alternative, the article develops the notion of ‘governscapes’ as a framing device that can help examine, first, the uneven ways in which the use of force and forms of governance circulate and spread within and beyond state boundaries and, second, how pragmatic peacebuilding approaches play into emerging landscapes of authority and governance. It is argued that pragmatic peacebuilding approaches place too little emphasis on the capacity for using violence that characterizes many of the ‘non-state’ actors that exercise some kind of authority against or alongside state authorities. Finally, the article examines cases in which international actors have engaged non-state actors in order to promote peacebuilding. In one case, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, international actors aimed to build multilevel security arrangements; in other cases that the article mentions, international NGOs and organizations have sought, through partial recognition, to make armed non-state actors more accountable to the populations they control.
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This article reviews the state of the art of transboundary water governance in the Euphrates–Tigris river basin, which is characterized by both political confrontation and cooperative institutional development. First, research on the physical characteristics of the basin is presented, with references to the literature on large-scale water development projects that underpin transboundary water interactions. Then, contending approaches to transboundary water governance are discussed, with specific references to the evolution of institutions. Finally, bearing in mind that transboundary water governance in the basin occurs in volatile political circumstances, current issues such as control of the water infrastructure by non-state violent actors and protection of water during armed conflict are scrutinized.
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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.
Proponents of the environmental peacemaking approach argue that environmental cooperation has the potential to improve relations between states. This is because such cooperation facilitates common problem solving, cultivates interdependence, and helps to build trust and understanding. But as of now, very few cross-case studies on environmental peacemaking exist. Furthermore, much of the available literature understands peace in negative terms as the mere absence of acute conflict. This article addresses both shortcomings by studying the impact of international water cooperation on transitions toward more peaceful interstate relations. To do so, we combine information on positive water-related interactions between states with the peace scale, a recent data set measuring the degree of positive and negative peace between states. For the period 1956–2006, we find that a higher number of positive, water-related interactions in the previous ten years makes a shift toward more peaceful interstate relations more likely. This is particularly the case for state pairs that are not in acute conflict with each other.
The Middle East has often been viewed as the best example of a region where disputes over water resources can lead to violent conflict. Indeed, many authors note that water was a major cause of the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Despite the rhetoric, there is little evidence that water has caused armed conflict in the region. This chapter briefly reviews the literature on water resources and conflict, focuses on the role urbanization may play in exacerbating future conditions of water scarcity, and then discusses water resource conflicts in the context of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. The key to resolving disputes over water lies in redressing the inequities with respect to water allocations and water rights. Despite the recent peace agreement which included provisions for water management there is little evidence that these inequities will be redressed. Disputes over water will continue in the near future, but water wars remain unlikely.
Miriam Lowi is a visiting fellow at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University. An earlier version of this article was commissioned by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—University of Toronto, Peace and Conflict Studies Program, for their joint project on "Environmental Change and Acute Conflict." The final version of this article was written at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University. The author wishes to thank these institutions for their support, and the following individuals for their helpful comments on earlier drafts: Jeffrey Boutwell, David Brooks, Rex Brynen, Sharif Elmusa, Abdellah Hammoudi, Thomas Homer-Dixon, John Kolars, Charles Lawson, Zachary Lockman, Henry Lowi, Thomas Naff, Susan Ossman, Avrum Udovitch, Aaron Wolf, and the participants at the Water Resources Workshop, University of Toronto (June 15-17, 1991). 1. Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. 9, No. 604, pp. 1185-88. 2. Until recently, the linkages between resource scarcity and national security concerns attracted little interest in the social sciences. But see Sara Hoagland and Susan Conbere, "Environmental Stress and National Security," Center for Global Change, University of Maryland, February 1991; Thomas Homer-Dixon, "On the Threshold: Environmental Changes as Causes of Acute Conflict," International Security, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 1991), pp. 76-116; R. Lipschutz, "Sustainable Resource Management and Global Security," Resources and Security Working Paper, No. 5 (Berkeley, Calif.: Pacific Institute, October 26, 1989); Miriam R. Lowi, Water and Power: The Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Jessica Tuchman Matthews, "Redefining Security," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Spring 1989); Harold and Margaret Sprout, "Environmental Factors in the Study of International Politics," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1957), pp. 309-328; Richard H. Ullman, "Redefining Security," International Security, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1983), pp. 129-153. Moreover, the notion of environmental degradation of renewable resources such as water is only slowly being recognized as a potential source of conflict. Often a result of rapid population growth, over-exploitation of local resources, and external climatic phenomena, environmental stresses pose increasing challenges to traditional concepts of security. In the domestic arena, environmental degradation and societal unrest may result from demand for a resource exceeding its supply; Ted Gurr, "On the Political Consequences of Economic Scarcity and Decline," International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29 (1985), pp. 51-75. Thomas Naff makes a similar argument with regard to water resources in the Kingdom of Jordan: "Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East," The Middle East in the 1990s: Middle East Water Issues (Washington, D.C., June 26, 1990). At the international level, as well, patterns of resource use within or among countries, or a dwindling of the available regional or global supply of the resource, could result in competition, conflict, and threats to security. See, for example, Nazli Choucri and R. North, Nations in Conflict (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1975); Geoffrey Kemp, "Scarcity and Strategy," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 56, No. 2 (January 1978); Ronnie Lipschutz, When Nations Clash: Raw Materials, Ideology and Foreign Policy (New York: Ballinger, 1989); Arthur H. Westing, ed., Global Resources and International Conflict: Environmental Factors in Strategic Policy and Action (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). 3. The case of West Bank water is only one element of the water dispute in the Jordan-Yarmouk basin. Other conflicts include the utilization of the Yarmouk River, the question of a Mediterranean-Dead Sea or a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal, and the exploitation of groundwater south of the Dead Sea. 4. Moshe Inbar and Jacob Maos, "Water Resource Planning and Development in the Northern Jordan Valley," Water International, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1984), p. 19. 5. For a study of the Jordan waters conflict from its inception until the present day, see Lowi, Water and Power. 6. Syria, however, has retained its upstream status on the Yarmouk and so is party to discussions concerning Yarmouk River water. 7. Thomas Naff, "The Jordan Basin: Political, Economic, and Institutional Issues," in Guy LeMoigne, Shawki Barghouti, Gershon Feder, Lisa Garbus, and Mei Xie, eds., Country Experiences with Water Resources Management: Economic...
Water resources assume a unique and varied role in post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding. This article examines the ways in which water, sanitation and infrastructure play an integral role in meeting basic human needs, maintaining public health, supporting livelihoods at the household and community level, and in fostering economic recovery and long-term sustainable development in war's aftermath. Drawing upon the case studies presented in this special issue on water and post-conflict peacebuilding, we find that there is a need for a more nuanced, coordinated, participatory, and conflict-sensitive approach to managing water resources in the post-conflict context.
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 ten 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 paper investigates the reality of historic water conflict and draws lessons for the plausibility of future "water wars." The datasets 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, 145 water-related treaties were 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 consistently outweigh water's conflict-inducing characteristics. Furthermore, once cooperative water regimes are established through treaty, they turn out to be impressively resilient over time, even between otherwise hostile riparians, and even as conflict is waged over other issues. These patterns suggest that the more valuable lesson of international water is as a resources whose characteristics tend to induce cooperation, and incite violence only in the exception.
Natural resources and post-conflict governance: building a sustainable peace
  • Carroll Swain
  • Sandra S Muffett
  • Nichols
Swain, 'Water and post-conflict peacebuilding', p. 1319. See also Carl Bruch, Carroll Muffett and Sandra S. Nichols, 'Natural resources and post-conflict governance: building a sustainable peace', in Carl Bruch, Carroll Muffett and Sandra S. Nichols, eds, Governance, natural resources and post-conflict peacebuilding (London: Earthscan, 2019), pp. 1-31.
Iraq to set up water resources center
  • Aa Energy
  • Turkey
AA Energy, 'Turkey, Iraq to set up water resources center', Anadolu Agency, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.
Water diplomacy and sustainable management in Mesopotamia', ISPI Dossier (Milan: Italian Institute for International Political Studies
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Martina Klimes, 'Water diplomacy and sustainable management in Mesopotamia', ISPI Dossier (Milan: Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 26 Feb. 2020),
Targeting infrastructure and livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza', 57 Both official information and reports from the news agencies, albeit written from sharply diverging political perspectives, indicate that ISIS had gathered new strength and was resurgent across Iraq and Syria in 2019
  • Erika Weinthal
  • Jeannie Sowers
Erika Weinthal and Jeannie Sowers, 'Targeting infrastructure and livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza', 57 Both official information and reports from the news agencies, albeit written from sharply diverging political perspectives, indicate that ISIS had gathered new strength and was resurgent across Iraq and Syria in 2019. See Blue Peace Bulletin, vol. 12, Dec. 2019,
Daesh/ISIS still alive due to YPG/PKK": Turkey', Anadolu Agency
  • Ali Murat
Ali Murat Alhas, '"Daesh/ISIS still alive due to YPG/PKK": Turkey', Anadolu Agency, 1 Dec. 2019,
Regional water protection framework
Strategic Foresight Group, 'Regional water protection framework', Blue Peace Bulletin, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1-14.
Transmodern warfare and transmodern peace: two forms of conflict transformation in the transmodern era
  • Damian Suarez Bustamante
Damian Suarez Bustamante, 'Transmodern warfare and transmodern peace: two forms of conflict transformation in the transmodern era', Peace Research 46: 1, 2014, p. 97.