Strategic Water Iraq and Security Planning in the Euphrates  - Tigris Basin,

Strategic Water

Iraq and Security Planning in the Euphrates  - Tigris Basin,

Expanded Edition

Frederick Lorenz and Edward J. Erickson

Usually, when one ponders the important security matters of the day, topics such as weapons of mass destruction, hypersonic missiles, or artificial intelligence fill the news headlines. The conversation about the strategic causes of conflict is easy to overlook due to their ubiquitous and unassuming nature. Water scarcity is one of these topics—it can be the root cause of failing economies, food scarcity, migration, and societal displacement, but as the research literature shows, it is difficult to measure and prove. The impact of water scarcity is far-reaching and tends to aggravate the fault lines that erode the underpinnings of a state. Water scarcity is usually not a direct cause of conflict but rather destabilizes a state’s economic and social foundations, generating insecurity and goading potential antagonists toward confrontation.

In their volume, Edward Erickson and Frederick Lorenz provide a detailed account of how growing water scarcity related to the Euphrates Tigris Rivers impacts regional stability. One of the many challenging aspects of researching environmental security is scoping the problem. Dr. Erickson and Colonel Lorenz handled this by focusing on the basin. This allows them to discuss the relationship between water scarcity and interstate security dynamics. The four states that share this water resource — Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey — are either experiencing some level of freshwater scarcity, though some more severe than others. The authors discuss an all-to-common problem: the upper riparian near the river’s source usually dictates how much water the downstream riparian is allotted.

The case of Iran aptly demonstrates the hidden role of water scarcity in state insecurity. Sinkholes have been appearing due to the overuse of aquifers. Agricultural production, employing an estimated one-third of the workforce, is declining and leading to double-digit unemployment. This, in turn, generated demonstrations in the northwest agricultural center, a scarcity of local produce, and food inflation. This updated study is relevant to more than just the Middle East.

Water scarcity is spreading across the globe from places we expect in the Middle East and North Africa to those we did not anticipate, such as Cape Town, Sao Paulo, and Chennai. The more we learn from water conflict and cooperation in the Euphrates-Tigris region, the more likely we will address future crises from an informed perspective.

This project began in 1997

This project began in 1997 with funding from the U.S. Air Force’s Institute  for National Security Studies while the authors were on active duty and

Frederick Lorenz was on the faculty of the National Defense University.  This initial grant was used for travel to the region and a research project  that was published in 1999 by National Defense University Press as The  Euphrates Triangle: Security Implications of the Southeastern Anatolia Project.

In that publication, we benefited from the assistance of Brian R. Shaw, Aaron T. Wolf, and John F. Kolars, and we have tried to build on that foundation as we prepared this book.

In 2004 and 2005, we were again able to travel to the region with  funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. European  Command. We would like to thank the staff of the U.S. embassies in Ankara, Turkey; Damascus, Syria; and Baghdad, Iraq, for their assistance in  arranging travel and making contacts in the local area.

Dr. Erickson and Colonel Lorenz published the original volume of Strategic Water in 2013 to emphasize the importance of water scarcity to military planning in the Middle East. One may argue that, with the U.S. national security pivot to the South Pacific and Europe in the last five years, water scarcity is less of a concern to the Department of Defense. However, this problem is increasing in all geographic combatant commands due to population growth, pollution, and changing regional climate patterns. This book emphasizes the need to consider the impact of dwindling water resources on the planning and the execution of all military operations.


 Matthew R. Slater, PhD1


As we write this preface in the late winter of 2022, the Euphrates-Tigris  basin and its riparian states continue to be shaken by unrest and political instability, with no clear resolution in sight. In two countries critical to our study — Syria and Iraq — the changes come swiftly and present major challenges to U.S. foreign policy. The government of Syria has defied international efforts to help resolve an increasingly deadly civil war that has expanded into a wider conflict involving the great powers. Many predicted the Syrian government would fall long before now, but the Bashar al-Assad regime has shown surprising resiliency. In Iraq, there are signs of economic development, but underlying divisions within the government, sectarian attacks, and corruption remain obstacles to progress. The rise of autonomous and independent Kurdish statelets in the basin further complicates an already dangerously complex geopolitical situation. The United States remains deeply mired in on-the-ground commitments in  both Iraq and Syria.

This book is about water security in a broad context and is much  more than a simple discussion of access to water. The issue of freshwater  scarcity has always been of vital concern to humans, and today it is increasingly characterized as a strategic factor in security planning. In the Euphrates-Tigris basin, water apportionment and management combined with climate change are increasingly emerging as threats to regional stability. The United States has a long-term strategic interest in the stability of the Euphrates-Tigris basin that, in turn, is directly linked to the national interests of the riparian states. The expanded second edition of Strategic Water: Iraq and Security Planning in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin updates the analysis of the geopolitical situation and expands coverage of the aspirations of the basin countries. New chapters include “Geography, the Kurds,  and Water,” as well as “Data, Science, and Diplomacy.” The concluding chapter “Security Planning and the Evolving Crisis” presents considerations for security planners and suggests interim and durable approaches  to the problem.

The Future

 Water and security issues in the Euphrates - Tigris basin have received fresh publicity as the world watches each new crisis unfold in the Middle East. Despite the current volatility and uncertainty in the region, the international community cannot wait to act on water and security matters in the basin. This should not detract from other priorities but will in fact serve to support broader initiatives, including regional cooperation and a stable government in Iraq. The 2003 invasion of Iraq had vast regional consequences that are still playing out 20 years later. The United States bears a special responsibility to Iraq and must not turn away as America shifts focus to its great power rivals.

 Today, the reports of water deficits and human suffering are a clarion call for action, and the future demands creativity and opportunities for  Chapter Eight solving these specters haunting the people of the Euphrates - Tigris basin. The failure to deal with these long - term issues will become apparent in 10 – 15 years when the water crisis reaches unmanageable levels. The U.S. Department of State makes secure and sustainable access to safe water an “essential element of national security planning.” Iraq has the most to lose if the water situation in the Euphrates - Tigris basin further deteriorates. Water should also be considered an opportunity. Despite the difficult and dangerous regional security environment, there is still much that can be accomplished. The United States and the international community can support the initiatives mentioned above with little additional capital investment. The benefits of these initiatives will go far beyond the mere availability of water and responding to the crisis. It also supports U.S. strategic interests to maintain peace and stability in the region

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