A Taboo for Water?
The Use and Nonuse of Water as a Weapon
Charlotte Grech-Madin, PhD Candidate with the Research School, presented water as a weapon of armed conflict. She first outlined the historical trajectory of water weapon use and its different manifestations in military strategy. The historical record was then contrasted to the demise of water weapon use by nation-states in the contemporary period. Results were presented from merging two datasets together, the UCDP Armed Conflict Dataset and the Pacific Institute Water Conflict Chronology, that indicate that water weapon use by nation-states in armed conflict has been sparing for the period 1946 to 2015. In cases where water was used as a weapon, this has mostly been auxiliary or accidental, not a leading element of battle. To explain this empirical puzzle, focus was placed on the changing normative context of water use, and the growing unacceptability of implicating water in conflict. Final remarks were made on whether a nascent taboo around water would make water ‘special’, or rather see it embedded in a larger normative movement to condone inhumane warfare, as perceived by the international community.
Rebel and Civil Cooperation over Water
In Burma, the cases of Hatgyi Dam and Myitsone Dam in the north provide empirical evidence for the potential impact of hydropower dams on civil war. Comparing these cases can provide insights into the critical factors determining the impact of dams in civil conflict.
Kyungmee’s current research project studies the relationship between the civilian population and rebel organisations in relation to mega-dams in conflict areas. This provides an illustration of the elusive link between water resources and armed conflict. By employing interviews and survey methods to collect data in the field, the research aims to identify and examine relevant variables that influence civilians’ perceptions and attitudes towards the contentious dams, and towards rebels.
Stepping out of the ‘Water-Box’
-Rethinking Transboundary Water Cooperation
Following the research showcase, an expert panel convened to discuss the overarching theme of the event – ‘good’ conflict, ‘bad’ cooperation. The panel consisted of Professor Joakim Öjendal from the University of Gothenburg, Ms Natasha Carmi from the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department, Dr Anders Jägerskog from the Swedish Embassy in Amman, and Dr Susanne Schmeier from the GIZ. A lively and multifaceted discussion ensued, with some key concluding messages:
Conflict and cooperation and their relative understandings as good or bad, should be seen as a cycling continuum; relations between parties within the same basin can shift between good and bad over time.
Thinking about the degree and combinations of cooperation and conflict is another way to understand transboundary water cooperation. Cooperation and conflict may occur concurrently.
Important questions for future research are: Why do ‘good’ agreements sometimes fail to deliver outcomes (for instance, the Mekong)? Why do ‘bad’ conflicts deliver some good outcomes (for instance, the Indus)?
Ultimately there was consensus from the panel on the necessity of understanding the politics of water, and of communicating these important academic insights in a manner that policy-makers can comprehend and implement. Researchers have a lot of leverage to influence water cooperation on the ground. Ultimately it is important to work on transforming ‘bad’ cooperation. The political element of ‘bad’ cooperation warrants continued and further research, as political shortcomings are often the key impediment to water cooperation.
For further information on the Research School please visit the webpage:
Alternatively contact Professor Ashok Swain:
Phone: +46 (0)18 471 76 53
For further information on the ICWC, contact Dr. Marian Neal (Patrick):
Phone: +46 720 50 60 90