Article

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

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Abstract

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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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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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...
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  • 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.
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  • Turkey
AA Energy, 'Turkey, Iraq to set up water resources center', Anadolu Agency, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www. aa.com.tr/en/energy/energy-projects/turkey-iraq-to-set-up-water-resources-center/26217.
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), https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/waterdiplomacy-and-sustainable-management-mesopotamia-25178.
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
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  • Ali Murat
Ali Murat Alhas, '"Daesh/ISIS still alive due to YPG/PKK": Turkey', Anadolu Agency, 1 Dec. 2019, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/turkey/daesh-isis-stillalive-due-to-ypg-pkk-turkey/1660765
Regional water protection framework
Strategic Foresight Group, 'Regional water protection framework', Blue Peace Bulletin, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1-14. https://strategicforesight.com/publication_pdf/REGIONAL%20WATER%20PROTECTION%20FRAME-WORK.pdf.
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Damian Suarez Bustamante, 'Transmodern warfare and transmodern peace: two forms of conflict transformation in the transmodern era', Peace Research 46: 1, 2014, p. 97.