Negotiating conflict resolution mechanisms for transboundary water treaties: A transaction cost approach

Charlotte De Bruyne*, Itay Fischhendler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Conflict resolution mechanisms are recognised as indispensable constituting elements of transboundary water agreements. Earlier studies confirm, however, that such mechanisms are either incomplete, unsophisticated or absent from treaties. We argue that transaction costs, which occur during treaty negotiation, may constitute a barrier to the adoption of conflict resolution mechanisms in water treaties. Transaction costs are never equal and depend largely on the context in which negotiations take place. A content analysis of the treaties in the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database demonstrates that the adoption of conflict resolution mechanisms to transboundary water treaties is not random, but may be affected by external factors that influence the transaction cost of negotiating such mechanisms. Water scarcity and a history of cooperative hydro-relations are factors that coincide with the presence of conflict resolution mechanisms in treaties and are therefore considered to lower transaction costs. External resource dependency is believed to stir transaction costs to such an extent that it prevents the adoption of mature mechanisms. The same goes for political freedom, political heterogeneity and the presence of colonial signatories as these factors correlate with mechanism absence and the adoption of a low number of conflict resolution mechanisms per treaty. The effect of hydrological variability resulted insignificant, indicating that variability remains largely ignored by negotiators of transboundary water treaties. Our research further shows that if a mechanism for conflict resolution contains one element of maturity (e.g. institutionalisation or an activation procedure based on a unilateral rule) other elements of maturity are also likely to be present, providing negotiators with an incentive to negotiate conflict resolution mechanisms with at least one mature characteristic. Finally, the adoption of a high number of mechanisms coincides with the presence of institutionalised forms for conflict resolution, supporting the incentive of negotiating more than two mechanisms per treaty.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1841-1851
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Conflict resolution
  • Institutions
  • Transaction costs
  • Transboundary water governance
  • Treaty design


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