Water Wars, or Not?

When we talk about “water wars” in the United States, things like what is now happening in Atlanta, we’re not really talking about shooting wars. But there’s are widespread fears that globally, water wars will be one of the defining structures of 21st century conflict.

Not so, suggests a new paper in the Journal of Peace Research. Jaroslav Tir of the University of Georgia and John Ackerman of the U.S. Air Command and Staff College argue that water actually provides an opportunity for cooperation rather than a source of conflict:

[T]he findings suggest that the roles of allegedly important and problematic factors such as the upstream/downstream relationship and recent militarized conflict have been exaggerated in earlier research. Cumulatively, the findings sound a cautiously optimistic note for the prospects of the spread of formal river cooperation in the less developed parts of the world.


  1. I agree with the peace rather than war conclusion — that’s b/c a water war can quickly turn lose-lose, as was the case with mutual assured destruction. (ohh–something to blog on, yay!)

  2. That sounds like a great conclusion, until I reflect upon environmental history and find a paucity of such events as postulated. I then think that we are capable of change and we can change our ways and actually cooperate, until I reflect upon recent history and find a paucity of such events as postulated…

    Perhaps we need a paper telling us how to go about cooperating.



  3. Hi, John.

    My OregonState University colleague Aaron Wolf firmly believes that ‘water wars’ won’t happen, and have not happened (one about 4500 years ago between two city-states in Mesopotamia). Water is more a means for cooperation than conflict.


    I have also come around to his way of thinking:


  4. Pingback: Water Wars NOT! [2nd edition] | 1800blogger

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