The effectiveness of treaty design in addressing water disputes

Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
Subject MatterResearch Articles
The effectiveness of treaty design
in addressing water disputes
Sara McLaughlin Mitchell
Department of Political Science, University of Iowa
Neda A Zawahri
Political Science Department, Cleveland State University
We examine the design features of treaties governing international rivers and empirically test their effectiveness in
managing water disputes. We expect peaceful conflict management to be more successful and militarized conflict
to be less likely in dyadic river claims when riparians share membership in treaties with mechanisms for river basin
organizations, information exchange, monitoring, enforcement, and conflict resolution. To test our expectation we
analyze a set of diplomatic disagreements over cross-border rivers coded by the Issue Correlates of War project. We
combine this database with treaty content data from the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database. Empirical
analyses suggest that information exchange and enforcement provisions in river treaties are most effective for prevent-
ing militarization of river claims and increase the chances that negotiations over river claims successfully resolve the
issues at stake. Enforcement provisions also promote third-party dispute settlement attempts and increase the like-
lihood of compliance with agreements reached. States that share membership in river basin organizations are more
likely to experience militarized disputes and less likely to be amenable to third-party dispute settlement. However, the
latter states are more likely to reach agreements in peaceful negotiations over their river claims. These findings
demonstrate that institutional design influences riparian states’ ability to address water disputes.
effectiveness of treaty design, international rivers, river treaties, water disputes
Despite the fact that more than two-thirds of our ‘blue
planet’ is covered with water, only 2.5% is freshwater.
As populations have grown and nations industrialized, the
demand on freshwater has increased at an unsustainable
rate. Climate change is projected to aggravate the water
shortagein arid regions, such as theMiddle East and North
Africa (Verner,2012). These existing shortages resulted in
warnings of increasing potential for interstate conflict and
tensionsover international rivers
(United Natio ns, 2006).
In response to these warnings, experts have been ana-
lyzing attempts at cooperation through treaty formation
to govern international rivers, such as the Mekong, La
Plata, and Jordan (Song & Whittington, 2004; Tir &
Ackerman, 2009; Zawahri & Mitchell, 2011). Treaties
do not guarantee a future of stable cooperation because
these contracts can solidify power imbalances between
states and give the illusion of cooperation (Zeitoun &
Mirumachi, 2008). Despite these shortcomings, treaties
can provide states with a structured means to organize
their affairs and manage disputes (Jacobson & Weiss,
1998). Riparians are more likely to manage their water
crises through negotiations in rivers with treaties or com-
missions compared to rivers without institutionalized
systems (Hensel, Mitchell & Sowers, 2006).
Some understandings exist about the forces contri-
buting to treaty formation governing international rivers
An international river is a river shared between two or more states.
Corresponding author:
Journal of Peace Research
2015, Vol. 52(2) 187–200
ªThe Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0022343314559623

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