Rivers of Peace: Third Party Conflict Management of Transboundary River Disputes
There is a growing body of literature explaining agreements over international river disputes. However, beyond individual case analysis, no quantitative study has been undertaken on the role of third parties in settling river disputes in the regions of the world that are most vulnerable to global climate change. Moreover, there has been no study that combines quantitative and qualitative approaches and provides a systematic explanation within a single analytical framework. This study aims to fill these gaps by combining quantitative and qualitative methods, developing a novel theoretical framework called transcendency, and conducting the first large-n study examining the role of third parties in the emergence of river agreements in Asia and Africa during the time period 1948-2007. Through utilising new data on the role of third parties in river disputes, this study shows that third party involvement in the conflict management of river disputes increases the likelihood of reaching river agreements. Through a process tracing case studies of third party engagement in international river disputes in Central Asia, this study also identifies how and why third parties reach agreements. Drawing on the transcendency framework, I argue that third party actors facilitate riparian cooperation by addressing three transcendency problems: securitisation of river systems, legal ambiguity and credibility problems. River water has a superordinate value, therefore river issues are often perceived as zero-sum security issues. At the same time, however, river water also has utilitarian value due to its use in addressing the development and economic needs of states. One of the reasons why third parties are able to advance cooperation is because third parties can assist in the de-securitisation of the water issue and shift the focus towards the utilitarian aspects of river disputes. Secondly, third parties can address issues related to legal ambiguity and help to clarify the positions of riparian states from a normative perspective. Thirdly, where upstream/downstream relationships exist, third parties can assist in obtaining and providing the necessary information to address issues of information asymmetry and incentivise parties to commit to their agreements through promises of financial support. In addition to identifying the effect and outcome of third parties in riparian disputes, this study also explains why some riparian disputes attract third party assistance whereas others do not, although this is not the major focus of the study. The study demonstrates that a third party’s strategic interest in the resolution of a dispute as well as a riparian state’s openness to the international community, particularly a riparian state’s relationship to powerful Western states, will determine if riparian states are willing to engage third party assistance in managing riparian conflict. Given the current uncertainty around the security challenges of climate change and water stress, this research contributes to our understanding of how to respond to conflicts concerning transboundary waters.
Advisor: Svensson, Isak; Clements, Kevin
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: water scarcity; transboundary rivers; conflict management; third parties; mediation; central asia; large-n study; river disputes
Research Type: Thesis