International water law and the quest for common security

  • Bjørn-Oliver Magsig

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The world’s freshwater supplies are squeezed by rapidly increasing demand, the impacts of global climate change and unsustainable management. Given the fact that water is the gossamer linking various other security issues – e.g., energy, food and environment – it seems obvious that ‘business as usual’ in transboundary water management will threaten future global stability and endanger the very foundation of international security. Yet, the much needed radical new approach is missing. This is mainly due to the fact that addressing water insecurity is a highly complex task where multilevel and polycentric forces must be balanced and coordinated. The absence of law in much of this emerging debate highlights the necessity for further understanding and elucidation, especially from the legal perspective.
    This PhD thesis aims to add to the discourse by providing a fresh conceptualisation of water security and developing an operational methodology for identifying the four core elements of water security – availability, access, adaptability and ambit – which must be addressed by international law. The analysis of the legal framework of transboundary freshwater management based on this contemporary understanding of water security reveals the challenges and shortcomings of the current legal regime. In order to address these shortcomings, the present mindset of prevailing rigidity and state-centrism is challenged by examining how international legal instruments could be crafted to advance a more flexible and common approach towards transboundary water interaction. Here, the concept of considering water security as a matter of ‘regional common concern’ is introduced to help international law play a more prominent role in addressing the challenges of global water insecurity. Ways for implementing such an approach are proposed and analysed by looking at international hydropolitics in Himalayan Asia.
    At a time when international environmental law is said to be losing relevance, the growing complexity and interdependence between states demands a break with the prevalence of thinking in silos and within national borders. This PhD thesis analyses transboundary water interaction – the fault line of international conflict in the 21st century – as a ‘case study’ for advancing public international law in order to fulfil its responsibility of promoting international peace and security.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPatricia Wouters (Supervisor) & Alistair Rieu-Clarke (Supervisor)

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