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Armed Conflict over International Rivers: The Onset and Militarization of River Claims

Congress: 2008
Marit Brochmann (corresponding author) Department of Political Science, University of Oslo & Centre for the Study of Civil War, International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) Paul R. Hensel Department of Political

Keyword(s): conflict, river claims, transboundary river management
AbstractAbstract Water is an essential resource for human survival as well as for agriculture and industry. Increased demand for fresh water has led policymakers and researchers to increase the focus on this resource. It has become a part of many states’ national security concerns, with one body of scholarship (the so-called Neomalthusians) describing competition over water as a likely source of violent conflict. Other scholars are more optimistic about the impact of water, with liberal institutionalists emphasizing the cooperative aspects of shared waters and arguing that disagreements over shared waters are handled better through cooperation than through military threats. While these general schools of thought disagree about how disagreements over water will be handled, though, both recognize that disagreements over water are likely to occur. In this paper we will address both perspectives in studying the management of international rivers. By means of rare events logit analysis, we begin by investigating the conditions under which states are most likely to begin explicit disagreements over rivers ("river claims"), a topic that to our knowledge has never been investigated globally through systematic large-N analysis. When river claims do emerge, we move on to investigate the conditions under which these claims are likely to become militarized. While earlier studies have examined the possible linkage between shared rivers and conflict, this is one of the first studies to examine the militarization of river claims specifically, rather than including all conflicts between riparians (even conflicts that did not involve river or water issues directly). Our analyses break new ground by studying river claim onset systematically and globally, as well as by examining individual rivers shared by neighboring states rather than aggregating all shared rivers together. We use the ICOW river claims dataset for the whole world (the coding is not completely finished to date). Analyses of a more limited selection of regions indicate that greater levels of water scarcity and greater demands on water increase the risk of both claim onset and militarization, while river treaties have mixed effects on claim onset but significantly reduce militarization. Democracies are better able to avoid river claims, while claim militarization is much more likely over cross-border rivers and over claims that are more salient to the riparian states; navigation claims seem to be particularly prone to lead to militarized conflict.
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