Peace over war: conflict, contest and cooperation in water sharing

Even as a huge body of empirical evidence points to the cooperation-inducing character of shared water, popular narrative seems to get carried away in its visions of water wars and outright conflict. Theoretical literature largely focuses on bargaining and treaty negotiations as efficient solutions to intractable water conflicts. This paper attempts to explore the possibility of an efficient solution without explicit bargaining, even as players are locked in a contest over shared water. The paper locates water conflict within the scope of contest theory and obtains a cooperative outcome in a non-cooperative game using a linear Contest Success Function (CSF). This is true even when the conflict technology is not ‘sufficiently ineffective’. A range of outcomes over a spectrum of cooperation, partial conflict and outright conflict is obtained when production and contest abilities are expressed in generalised forms.