How does asymmetry of power influence water negotiations and how can the negative effects be mitigated?

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Key Question Categor(ies):Power and Politics

From: A Salty Affair: An Analysis of U.S. – Mexico Water Diplomacy in the Colorado River[edit]

Mexico could have brought the case brought to the International Court of Justice. It had arguments to held the United States responsible under customary international law for the damages caused by the high salinity levels in the Colorado River.

From: Addressing the Transboundary Water Conflict Between the Blue Nile Riparian States[edit]

From: Case Study of Transboundary Dispute Resolution: the Tigris-Euphrates Basin[edit]

When mostly bilateral talks are used to attempt to resolve issues, the most powerful country typically maintains their power. In bilateral talks, Turkey has succeeded in maintaining its power in the water dispute. Syria lost one of its "playing cards" in overall negotiations when it signed the Adana Agreement.

From: Conflict Management Strategies Among Riparians Within the Indus River Basin[edit]

Power inequities may delay the pace of negotiations. Power inequities may have delayed pace of negotiations. India had both a superior riparian position, as well as a relatively stronger central government, than Pakistan. The combination may have acted as disincentive to reach agreement. In particularly hot conflicts, when political concerns override, a sub-optimal solution may be the best one can achieve. The plan pointedly disregards the principle of integrated water management, recognizing that between these particular riparians, the most important issue was control by each state of its own resource. Structural division of the basin, while crucial for political reasons, effectively precludes the possibility of increased integrated management.

From: Integrated Management and Negotiations for Equitable Allocation of Flow of the Jordan River Among Riparian States[edit]

Issues of national sovereignty can manifest itself through the need for each state to control its own water source and/or storage facilities. The Johnston Plan provided that some winter flood waters be stored in the Sea of Galilee, which is entirely in Israeli territory. The Arab side was reluctant to relinquish too much control of the main storage facility. Likewise, Israel had the same kinds of reservations about the creation of a "water master" with international-level control of resources within their territory.

From: International Joint Development of The La Plata River Basin[edit]

If riparian states agree to equal access to transboundary water resources, equal and joint management, investment and distribution of that resource is feasible. In the water resources sector, neither Brazil nor Argentina has used their economic or military superiority to maintain greater control over water resources or hydroelectric potential.

From: Limited Sovereignty: The Lasting Effects of Uranium Mining on the Navajo Nation[edit]

There is limited shared cooperation and consultation. The Navajo Nation is technically a sovereign nation and thus, should work directly with the United States government. In practice, the Navajo Nation is sovereign to the extent allowed by the United States government.

This makes for an awkward asymmetry of power as the Navajo Nation and the United States government interests may not always align. The Navajo are in a complex place to negotiate. They must negotiate at the state level (for example, with New Mexico) and at the federal level (for example, with the EPA). Often times, the Bureau of Indian Affairs may also step in, adding another layer of complexity. The complexity of the number of players needs to be simplified.

The best-case scenario would involve the Navajo Nation to be respected and treated as a sovereign nation. The varied history between the US government and the Navajo Nation make this complicated in practice, as the US government financially supports some of the operations of the Navajo Nation.

In leaning towards full sovereignty, a structure needs to be developed that would enable the Navajo an equal voice alongside the United States federal government. The Navajo Nation should be able to have the final say on how their lands are used and be able to hold parties accountable for any damage caused.

From: The Caspian- a Sea or a Lake?[edit]

The five littoral states differ greatly in their political and economical power. For the new states, projects which will enhance their economy are very attractive, and so they are welcoming foreign energy players to start cooperating as soon as possible. Russia and Iran, which are much more advanced in the field of energy, and have reserves outside the Caspian Region, are much more causious about the involvement of foreign players.

From: The Helmand River Basin Dispute[edit]

The asymmetry of power has influenced the history of the water negotiations in the Helmand River dispute. In addition, the power of international participants in the negotiation process could have contributed towards an agreement being formed or the level of trust placed in an agreement. Currently, Afghanistan has power geographically being the upstream country. Being the upstream riparian in conjunction with the position that Iran has violated the treaty and is inhibiting Afghanistan’s economic growth, provides the state with the incentive to push forward with potentially impactful water and agricultural developments. Iran has generally been more powerful in diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. Therefore, the state is likely more interested in pursuing future negotiations over the Helmand waters prior to any development in Afghanistan, as this could ensure that majority of the flow is allocated to Iran.

From: The Lesotho Highlands Water Project[edit]

Even with power disparity, there is possibility for agreement over water resources through economic benefits. South Africa is a much more powerful nation than Lesotho, but Lesotho has abundant water resources, which, through the Highlands Project, will benefit both nations economically and through the provision of water to South Africa. It is possible even when there is such a wide gap between nations in terms of power, to collaborate for the mutual gain of both countries.

From: The Role of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project for Regional Cooperation in the Jordan River Basin[edit]

Water sharing and transfer is an important mechanism that the three states are using to address asymmetry of geopolitical power in the basin. For example, Jordan receives 35 million cubic meters of water from Israel every year, according to the peace treaty signed between the two countries. In the Red Sea to Dead Sea Conveyance project the desalination plant that will be built by Jordan and will run through Jordanian territory will provide freshwater from the port of Aqaba to Israel’s southern Arava region as a water swap. Similarly. Jordan will buy Israeli water from the Sea of Galilee in the north to provide drinking water to Amman, the capital of Jordan, instead of building extraneous infrastructure to pump water to the city from the south (Reed, 2017). Identification of such mutual gains and competitive advantages is one way to address asymmetries in power and access to resources. Nonetheless, Palestine’s access to water remains a key question that is unresolved and may require repeated negotiations through the Joint Water Committee.