- International donors play a significant role in the mitigation and prevention of transboundary water disputes and the promotion of cooperation. In doing so, donors can exercise water diplomacy through a wide range of instruments from facilitating or mediating the negotiations to financing capacity building and specific activities in official and non-official transboundary settings. However, the scholarly literature has been less explicit about whether and how diplomatic instruments, utilized by international donors, can impact on existing disputes and local ownership in the basin. Therefore, this study addresses this gap by answering the question: How do the diplomatic tools, used by the donor community at the interstate, intrastate, and local levels, influence existing disputes in transboundary river basin? How do the diplomatic instruments influence local ownership of the results of water diplomacy?
The research explores donor diplomacy in the Aral Sea Basin during 1991-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2019 through the ‘track III diplomacy’ framework with a focus on the use of facilitation of formal interstate negotiations (track I), joint studies and trainings (track II), and financing specific activities (track III). The analysis identifies their impact on water disputes and influence on local ownership looking at the emerging context for, and the events following, the use of diplomatic instruments by donors.
The findings show that diplomatic instruments used by external donors have resulted in mitigating of existing conflicts in the first period when water disputes are not deep-rooted, while the facilitation of formal negotiations and informal trainings have been unable to change the status quo of existing disputes later during the second and third periods. Track III diplomatic instruments, particularly financing the Basin Programme, IWRM in disputed areas of the Fergana Valley, and risk assessment of Rogun Dam in Tajikistan, have contributed to the de-escalation of interstate conflicts and decreased the number of local conflicts.
Moreover, facilitation of negotiations for track I diplomacy when combined with a joint study of the disputed issue (track II) has led to mutually beneficial outcomes and increased local ownership of such outcomes of water diplomacy.
The use of the same diplomatic instrument in different time periods shows varying outcomes, and based on the analysis and basin specific contextual information, the research draws the following conclusions:
- the donor community has continued track II and III diplomacy at all levels throughout the formal interstate dialogues, and there are times when they integrate the technical and financial assistance with the overall objective of water diplomacy:
- interstate political affairs that are not limited to water issues in the Basin may reduce the workability of track I and track II donor diplomacy, while donor financing at intrastate and local levels (track III) may still assist in maintaining dialogue over the water dispute;
- diplomatic tools are more effective in achieving the goal of water diplomacy (conflict prevention) at the earlier stages of disagreement, while are less effective in addressing deeply rooted conflicts;
- coordinated donor efforts that combine more than one instrument of multiple tracks has shown an increased rate of conflict prevention and local ownership.