Water Scarcity and Political Wrangling: Security in the Euphrates and Tigris Basin

18 Mart 2009


Mustafa Aydın and Fulya Ereker

Water scarcity as a security issue has been analysed with an increasing interest since the 1980’s, mostly with an emphasis on the causal linkage between the shortages of water in a given locality and the possibil- ity of conflict thereby (Gleick 1993; Westing 1986; Frey 1993). A majority of the case studies in this context have been concerned with the probability of conflicts over water sharing in the Middle East (Naff/Matson 1984; Starr/Stoll 1988; Starr 1991; Bershorner 1992; Lowi 1993; Libiszewski 1995). Similar focus on dis- putes over water can also be found in the analyses from environmental perspective (Homer-Dixon 1994). Following the widening and broadening of the secu- rity agenda, since the late 1980’s (Buzan/Wæver/de Wilde 1998; Brauch 2003, 2008, 2008b, 2008b) the way in which environmental and thus water issues are analysed has included new concepts such as global en- vironmental security and human security.1 There are now studies on environmental and water problems ranging form critical (Smith 2001; Blatter/Ingram 2001) to Marxist analysis (Selby 2005 and chap. 46), with traditional approaches still dominating the scene (see chap. 41–58).A glance at the literature on environmental issues clearly indicates the fact that outside the scholarly re- search and mainly the West, new understandings of the environment have not made much progress. The overwhelming tendency of the countries involved in:

1 The global environmental security approach (part VIII, chap. 59 to 73) differs from traditional studies that focus on environmental problems as threats to national secu- rity, with its primary focus on threats to the environ- ment itself. The human security approach (part IX, chap. 74–96) though also emphasizes the protection of the environment for the broader human security, avoid privileging any aspect of security, thus the environment (Sheehan 2005: 109–112).

Disputes with their neighbours is to use the traditional understanding of power politics as the main analytical tool. This is more evident in cases where official secu- rity conceptualization of the country is still dominated by traditional ‘hard security’ issues. With their tradi- tional understanding, these countries approach water disputes as one of the threats to national security and find themselves in a zero-sum game in which effective cooperation can not be expected. Turkey, as the up- stream country of the Euphrates-Tigris Basin, is an ex- ample of these countries though economic, cultural, environmental and humanitarian issues have started to factor in the analysis alongside traditional hard se- curity conceptualization (Aydin 2003: 178). The other riparians of the Euphrates-Tigris basin (Syria and Iraq) also possesses similar views in their approach to the water issue. In this regard, it is hard to expect cooper- ative structures among them, though not impossible as will be shown below.

This chapter focuses on the discussion over the waters of the Euphrates-Tigris (Fırat and Dicle in Turkish) river basin, analyzing the tension between the three riparian states: Turkey, Syria and Iraq (45.2). The technical data about the available water re- sources, water use and demands of the riparian coun- tries and the underlying reasons of the tension be- tween them, as well as their conflicting arguments and initiatives for cooperation will be discussed. It will be argued that their dispute over water has a clear connection with the level of overall relationship be- tween them. As the ‘basins at risk’ (BAR) project, a comprehensive quantitative global exploration of the relationship between water and conflict, demon- strates, the countries that cooperate with each other in general also cooperate over water issues and vice versa (BAR Project 2002). The chapter will also show that, although the current literature of the water shar- ing disputes is inclined to see the opportunity for co- operation solely in connection with the efforts of the powerful upstream riparian countries, for positive-sum results the actions of the downstream states serve a critical function, where uncompromising and unrea- soned rhetoric against the upstream states leaves no room for further steps towards an agreement (Wil- liams 1997: 77).


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