Environmental Security and Trans-Boundary Water Resources

  • Francis A. GalganoEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Military Geosciences book series (AMG)


Environmental security refers to a range of security issues triggered by environmental factors such as climate change, resource shortages, demographic factors, environmental change, and non-sustainable practices. Water resources are a particularly problematic area because water is an essential resource for which there is no substitute, and the amount of fresh water is finite and not equitably distributed in a spatial sense. From a geopolitical perspective, the world’s largest river systems are shared by multiple states and the potential for conflict is high. However, historically water resource conflict has been resolved by cooperative means and states have relied on technology, trade, and diplomatic solutions. This research argues that the security landscape has changed profoundly, and the history of cooperative water-conflict resolution is no longer a reliable guide to the future. This paper suggests that continued peaceful resolution of interstate water conflicts is inconsistent with the realities of the emerging national security landscape: climate change is already affecting the distribution of water in many critical water basins, and the proliferation of failing states has reduced the potential for diplomatic resolutions. This paper examines linkages between environmental stress, regional instability, water availability, and conflict and uses the Middle East as a case study to highlight these points. The analysis suggests that the region is now more vulnerable to environmental stress and water-related conflict. Given these circumstances, it is plausible that we will witness a surge in three modes of conflict, driven by water demand: ethnic/racial warfare enabled by environmental stress and demographic trends; civil warfare prompted by environmental stress and economic collapse; and limited-scale interstate wars.


Environmental security Water resources Watersheds Military geography 


  1. Allen T (1998) Watersheds problemsheds: explaining the absence of armed conflict over water in the Middle East. Middle East Rev Int Aff 2:49–51Google Scholar
  2. Alpert PI, Krichak KO, Shafir H, Haim D, Osetinsky I (2008) Climatic trends to extremes employing regional modeling and statistical interpretation over the E. Mediterranean. Global Planet Change 63:163–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amery HA (2002) Water wars in the Middle East. Geogr J 168:313–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aquastat (2012) Main country database. The food and agricultural organization of the United Nations. Accessed May 2012
  5. Barnett TMP (2004) The Pentagon’s new map. G. P. Putnam and Sons, New York, p 435Google Scholar
  6. Black E, Brayshaw DJ, Rambeau MC (2010) Past, present, and future precipitation in the Middle East: insights from models and observations. Philos Trans R Soc 368:5173–5184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butts KH (1997) The strategic importance of water. Parameters, Spring, pp 65–83Google Scholar
  8. Butts KH (2010) Environmental security: a growing force in regional stability. In Galgano FA, Palka EJ (eds) Modern military geography. Routledge, New York, pp 54–64Google Scholar
  9. Conca K (2006) Governing water. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge, p 468Google Scholar
  10. Dalby S (2002) Environmental security. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, p 247Google Scholar
  11. Darwish A (1994) Water wars: the next major conflict in the Middle East: Middle East News. Accessed Jan 2012
  12. Diehl PF, Gleditsch NP (eds) (2001) Environmental conflict. Westview Press, Boulder, p 343Google Scholar
  13. Fagan B (2011) Fresh water supplies are going to run out, so what can we do to make the taps keep running? The Independent, 30 June 2011. Accessed April 2012
  14. Galgano FA (2007) A geographic analysis of ungoverned spaces. Pennsylvania Geogr 44(2):67–90Google Scholar
  15. Galgano FA, Krakowka A (2011) The environment’s influence on regional stability conflict. Pennsylvania Geogr 48:3–32Google Scholar
  16. Gleick PH (ed) (1993a) Water in crisis. A guide to the world’s fresh water resources. Oxford University Press, New York, p 234Google Scholar
  17. Gleick PH (1993b) Water and conflict. Int Secur 18:79–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gleick PH (ed) (1998) The world’s water, the biennial report on freshwater resources. Island Press, Washington, D.C, p 307Google Scholar
  19. Gleick PH (ed) (2012) The world’s water, volume 7, the biennial report on freshwater resources. Island Press, Washington, D.C, p 159Google Scholar
  20. Gray CS (2009) National security dilemmas: challenges and opportunities. Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, D.C., p 333Google Scholar
  21. Hensel PR, Brochmann M (2007) Armed conflict over international rivers: the onset of militarization of river claims. Accessed April 2012
  22. Homer-Dixon TF 1991. On The Threshold: Environmental Change as Causes of Acute Conflict. International Security 16(2): 76–116Google Scholar
  23. Homer-Dixon TF (1999) Environmental scarcity and violence. Princeton University Press, Princeton, p 253Google Scholar
  24. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2008) Technical paper on climate change and water. IPCC Technical Paper VI. Accessed May 2012
  25. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2012) Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation, summary for policy makers. Accessed May 2012
  26. Kaplan RD (2000) The Coming anarchy: shattering the dreams of the post-cold war. Random House, New York, p 201Google Scholar
  27. Kaufmann D, Kraay A, Mastruzzi M (2003) Covernance matters iii: governance indicators for 1996–2002. The World Bank, World Bank Institute, Global Governance Department and Development Research Group, p 145Google Scholar
  28. Kaufmann D, Kraay A, Mastruzzi M (2008) Governance matters vii: governance indicators for 1996–2007, Washington, DC, World Bank Research Paper no. 4654. The World Bank, World Bank Institute, Global Governance Department and Development Research Group, p 134Google Scholar
  29. Kitoh A, Yatagai A, Alpert P (2008) First super-high resolution model prediction that the ancient “Fertile Crescent” will disappear this century. Jpn Soc Hydrol Water Resour Hydrol Res Lett 2:1–4Google Scholar
  30. Klare MT (2001) The new geography of conflict. Foreign Aff 80:49–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Klare MT (2002) Resource wars: the new landscape of global conflict. Henry Holt and Company, New York, p 289Google Scholar
  32. Krichak SO, Alpert P (2005) Decadal trends in the East Atlantic—West Russian pattern and Mediterranean precipitation. Int J Climatol 25:183–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Myers N (1989) Environment security. Foreign Policy 74:23–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Obama BH (2010) National security strategy. The White House, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, p 60Google Scholar
  35. Pearce F (2006) When the rivers run dry. Beacon Press, Boston, p 324Google Scholar
  36. Postel SL, Wolf AT (2001) Dehydrating conflict: Foreign policy. 18 September 2001Google Scholar
  37. PRB (Population Reference Bureau) (2011) 2011 world population data sheet, the world at 7 billion. http://www/ Accessed Jan 2011
  38. Ragab R, Prudhomme C (2000) Climate change and water resources management in the Southern Mediterranean and Middle East countries: The Second World Water Forum, pp 17–22, March 2000, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosenthal J (2004) New rules for war? Naval War Coll Rev 58:91–101Google Scholar
  40. Sappenfield M (2007) Six places in the world where climate change could cause political turmoil. Christ Sci Monit 6 December 2007:14Google Scholar
  41. SIWI (Stockholm International Water Insititute) (2009) Water resources in the Middle East. Accessed April 2012
  42. Smith D, Vivekananda J (2007) A climate of conflict: London, International Alert, p 44. Accessed May 2012
  43. Soffer A (1999) Rivers of fire: the conflict over water in the Middle East. Rowman and Littlefield, London, p 303Google Scholar
  44. Trondalen JM (2009) Climate changes, water security, and possible remedies for the Middle East: United Nations World Water Assessment Programme, Scientific Paper. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, p 34Google Scholar
  45. U.N. (United Nations) (1978) Register of international rivers. Pergamon Press, Oxford, p 138Google Scholar
  46. U.N. (United Nations) (2009) Water in a changing world, United Nations world water development report 3. Accessed May 2012
  47. U.N. (United Nations) (2010) Human development trends index. Accessed Oct 2010
  48. Weib M, Florke M, Menzel L, Alcamo J (2007) Model based scenarios of Mediterranean droughts. Adv Geosci 12:145–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zhang XB, Aguilar E, Sensoy S, Tonyan H, Tagiyeva U, Ahmed N, Kutaladze N, Rahimzadeh F, Taghipour A, Hantosh TH, Albert P, Semawi M, Ali MK, Al-Shabibi MHS, Al-Oulan Z, Zatari T, Khelet IA, Hamoud S, Sagir R, Demircan M, Eken M, Adiguzel M, Alexander L, Peterson TC, Wallis T (2005) Trends in Middle East climate extreme indices from 1950 to 2003. J Geophys Res Atmospheres 110:213–256Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and the EnvironmentVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA

Personalised recommendations