Strategic Aspects of Climate Change

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Claude Arpi A misplaced paranoia A c o u p l e o f m o n t h s b a c k Islamabad went hysterical again. India as usual was the target. This time it is not about Kashmir or the fate of the Muslim population
Claude Arpi A misplaced paranoia A c o u p l e o f m o n t h s b a c k Islamabad went hysterical again. India as usual was the target. This time it is not about Kashmir or the fate of the Muslim population in India, but a new topic: water. Not completely new, but the virulence was new. According to the Pakistani media, New Delhi had started a water war against Pakistan and decided to starve the country of its due share of water. Pakistan s real boss, General Ashfaq Kayani said that India would remain the focus of Pakistani military doctrine so long as Kashmir and Water remained unresolved. The fact that there is an Indus Water Treaty since 1960 and that the agreement despite its limitations (especially for India and more particularly for Kashmir) has worked relatively well was omitted from the debate. As always, there was a veiled threat at the end: a water war may trigger a nuclear war if Delhi did not listen to Islamabad. Of course, the American sponsors were immediately called on to restrain India on in the issue. Dr. Arvind Gupta in a research paper for the IDSA entitled Vicious anti-india propaganda in Pakistan on Water issues 1 lists some of the pearls of wisdom found in the Pakistani press: Dawn quoted the former Foreign Minister Sardar Asif Ali as saying that if India continues to deny Pakistan its due share [of water], it can lead to a war between the two countries. (18 January 2010) In a similar vein, PML (Q) Chief Chaudhary Sujat Hussain said that the water crisis between Pakistan and India could become more serious than terrorism and can result in a war (Dawn, 18 January 2010). Majid Nizami, Chief Editor of Nawi Waqt group of newspapers, said that Pakistan can become a desert within the next 10 to 15 years. We should show upright posture or otherwise prepare for a nuclear war. (Dawn, 18 January 2010). Member of the Punjab Assembly Warris Khalo said that India would remain an enemy until the Kashmir dispute and water issues are resolved. (Dawn 27 January 2010). Palwasha Khan, Member of National Assembly, accused India of perpetrating water terrorism against Pakistan and said that experts foresee war over the water issue in the future and any war in this region would be no less than a nuclear war. (Daily Times 17 February 2010). In a recent debate in P a k i s t a n s N a t i o n a l Assembly, several members urged the government to impress on New Delhi not to use Pakistan s share of water (Daily Times, 25 February 2010). Dr. Manzur Ejaz, a commentator, writing in Daily Times (3 March 2010) warned that unless Pakistan was assured on the supply of water, it will never abandon the proxies that can keep India on its toes by destabilizing Kashmir. He further added: for Pakistan the territory of Kashmir may not be as important as the water issue. The last comment is the most significant, Kashmir is not as important the water issue. Why? Well, in the first place, the main motivation of MA Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan in was perhaps not the Two-Nation Theory, but...the main motivation of MA Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan in was perhaps not the Two-Nation Theory, but the waters of Kashmir... Claude Arpi writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo French relations. He is the author of Tibet: The Lost Frontier, and Dharamshala Beijing: The Negotiations That Never Were Jul/Sep 10 INDIAN DEFENCE REVIEW 113 the waters of Kashmir which were (and are) an existential issue for the Land of the Pure. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the Lashkar-e- Tayiba founder (and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks) added to the hullabaloo by asserting that the next war between India and Pakistan would be fought over water. Saeed called on the people of Pakistan to stand united against India. Does the terrorist leader know that since 1960 the Indus Water Treaty has been able to legally deal with all water issues facing India and Pakistan? The water war gimmick was probably orchestrated by the Army, which has always found that the best way to keep Pakistan together was to point a finger at the eternal enemy, India. Fortunately, everything finally ended well. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi declared a few days later that the Pakistani authorities have a tendency to pass the buck and exaggerate differences with India over the sharing of river waters though mismanagement within the country is resulting in the loss of 34 million acre feet of water. He (Quereshi) rightly asked: Where is the 34 million acre feet of water going? Is India stealing that water from you? No, it is not. According to Quereshi, while the average supply of water that reaches Pakistan is 104 million acre feet, the water consumed is 70 million acre feet. He rightly asked: Where is the 34 million acre feet of water going? Is India stealing that water from you? No, it is not. Please do not fool yourselves and do not misguide the nation. We are mismanaging that water. 2 New Delhi could sigh in relief; India had not committed any crime (for this time at least). All this frenzy may have been laughable but for a new element coming into play which may turn this dramatic scenario real. It is called Climate Change. The relations between the two neighbours may then become truly tense as the water scarcity will be real. It does not augur well for the future of the subcontinent. A real Issue Many defense strategists will laugh when they will hear in vogue expression climate change associated with military affairs, but they will perhaps think twice when they realize that even the very serious Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR) of the US Department of Defence 3 has consecrated several pages to the subject in its last issue 4. The chapter titled Crafting a strategic approach to climate and energy states: Climate change and energy will play significant roles in the future security environment. The Department is developing policies and plans to manage the effects of climate change on its operating environment, missions, and facilities. For the Pentagon, one aspect is energy saving. Detailed studies have already been undertaken how the US armed forces could become more energy efficient. 5 The second aspect studied in the Report is directly linked to global warming and it should concern all those who plan for future war scenarios in India and elsewhere. In the words of the US Report: A series of powerful cross-cutting trends, made more complex by the ongoing economic crisis, threatens to complicate international relations and make the exercise of US statecraft more difficult. The rising demand for resources, rapid urbanization of littoral regions, the effects of climate change, the emergence of new strains of disease, and profound cultural and demographic tensions in several regions are just some of the trends whose complex interplay may spark or exacerbate future conflicts. The QDR mentions that the US Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climaterelated changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening icefree seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to 114 INDIAN DEFENCE REVIEW 25.3-Jul/Sep 10 food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration. Though the Pentagon is of the opinion that: While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. The Report mentions that the extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas. This point does not concern us here, but the Pentagon s description of the consequences of global warming rings a bell for more than one and half billion human beings in South Asia. When Ismail Serageldin, the then World Bank Vice-President declared in an interview to Newsweek in 1995: Many of the wars this century were about oil, but those of the next century will be over water, many laughed. He wanted to bring awareness to the impending water crisis; at that time already, 80 countries and 40 percent of the world s population faced chronic water problems. But in 1995, this ominous statement did not sound real. Fifteen years later, it is far more concrete and it has strategic implications, the first one being the fictitious scenario invented recently by the military class in Pakistan and trumpeted by its media. But Not a New Issue The strategic and political implications of climate change are not new. Michel Danino, a French-born Indian-naturalized scholar recently published a fascinating book The Lost River: on the Trail of the Sarasvati 6. His research is a mind-opener on the fate of the mythic river. Taking into account the latest research in fields as different as satellite imagery, archeology, linguistics, paleontology or mythology, Michel says: The Indian subcontinent was the scene of dramatic upheavals a few thousand years ago. The Northwest region entered an arid phase, and erosion coupled with tectonic events played havoc with river course. One of them disappeared. He further explains: It has been accepted that the loss of the Sarasvati played a role in the dissolution of the Harappan city states. Why did this remarkable civilisation with its excellent town planning, standardized writing and weight system suddenly collapse? He adds: Scholars believe that the Sarasvati river system disappeared creating a domino effect on other settlements. There is no doubt that climate changes occurred in the past, with incalculable consequences. It is unfortunately bound to occur again in the future, and this time it will man-made as Danino points out. Though Pakistan is today shouting wolf without factual basis, water wars are looming large on the horizon of the subcontinent. This could bring about tremendous changes in the region, for which strategists and planners should be ready. Seen with the recent hysteria of our neighbourhood, the past Sarasvati scenario is quite frightening. Indeed, one day the Indus could dry; what then will happen to Pakistan? What would be the strategic consequences? A thought-provoking article in the Crest Edition 7 of the Times of India entitled Going, going, gone tells us about the drying of the Indian rivers. Whether in India or Pakistan, the killing is today manmade: we slowly kill our rivers, throttle them literally. In the hills, we dam them drawing water for irrigation, power and direct use. Downstream, once the river hits the plains, it becomes a dumping ground. It s a double whammy for the river. It s a tragedy for the people who live along it. This is amplified by climate change: What s making things worse are changes in the catchment areas. With reduction in forests and the disappearance of natural recharge zones in the mountains, less and less water seeps into the rivers. In fact, almost ail Indian rivers seem to be going through these calamitous changes. If such a dramatic scenario takes place, Pakistan will certainly blame India for it, creating further tensions and eventually a new war. Islamabad will once again divert international attention on wicked India which starves Pakistan of its share of water. Though Pakistan is today shouting wolf without factual basis, water wars are looming large on the horizon of the subcontinent Jul/Sep 10 INDIAN DEFENCE REVIEW 115 The main problem seems to be that Beijing has never shared its plans and projects with the lower riparian States. A Global Issue Since the middle of the 17 th century, European nations adhered to the Westphalian system 8, later in the 20 th century, decolonized African and Asian nations followed the same concept. Traditional strategic studies are based on the principle of territoriality ; it looks at national boundaries between Nation-States as sacrosanct. The breaching of these frontiers is the prime factor triggering most conflicts. War generally originates from historically non-defined (or not accepted) frontiers, i.e. Pakistan s claim over Kashmir or China s on Aksai Chin or Arunachal 9. In the case of climate change, the origin (and consequences) of conflicts, if not wars, are located beyond national boundaries, m a k i n g t h e i s s u e s m o r e complicated to grasp and eventually to solve. The only way to tackle these global issues is through consultation and collaboration; global solutions have to be found. In this respect, it is unfortunate that most of India s neighbours do not understand the meaning of collaboration. However, as the US QDR rightly says: We must continue incorporating geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and acquisition processes. 10 The better a nation is prepared to tackle these forthcoming serious issues, the more chance it has to go through it unscathed. Global Warming One could ask: is this fashionable global warming real? In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a Report based on the assessment carried out by the different Working Groups of renowned scientists. According to the Report: Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level. 11 Further, the Report observed decreases in snow and ice extent are also consistent with warming. Satellite data since 1978 show that annual average Arctic sea ice extent has shrunk by 2.7 [2.1 to 3.3] percent per decade, with larger decreases in summer of 7.4 [5.0 to 9.8] percent per decade. Mountain glaciers and snow cover on average have declined in both hemispheres. 12 What is more concrete for the sub-continent are the changes on the Tibetan Plateau. In an earlier article in this Review 13, I mentioned the importance of the Tibetan plateau (known as the Third Pole ) and the rivers originating from the Roof of the World. The climate change only adds to the significance of these rivers and glaciers. The IPCC Report says: Changes in snow, ice and frozen ground have with high confidence increased the number and size of glacial lakes, increased ground instability in mountain and other permafrost regions and led to changes in some Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems. There is high confidence that some hydrological systems have also been affected through increased runoff and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier and snow-fed rivers and through effects on thermal structure and water quality of warming rivers and lakes. It is now been proven by Chinese scientists 14 that the climate on the plateau so important for the water and food security of the sub-continent is changing between twice and thrice faster than on the rest of the planet. Some may say, let us see when it comes, but in certain areas in Asia, tensions are already high 15. The Case of the Mekong The strategic issue resulting from global warming does not concern India alone, it affects the entire Asian continent; but it is the responsibility of the leadership of each Nation- State (and particularly of India) to be ready to face this new type of conflict. Take the example of the Mekong and the severe draught currently experienced in the Indochinese peninsula. The 4,350 km river has its source on the Tibetan Plateau. It flows downstream to the Yunnan province of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Chinese experts assert that Tibet contributes only 20 percent the Mekong s waters. The remaining 80 percent is fed from water sources in downstream countries. 116 INDIAN DEFENCE REVIEW 25.3-Jul/Sep 10 Now China has built several dams on the upper reaches of Mekong without consulting its neighbours. This year, draught has been so severe that the cargo traffic on the river has stopped, affecting the lives of 65 million people in the peninsula. Several environment scientists claimed that the lack of rainfall alone is responsible for the low level of the river. A group of affected countries Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam met in Thailand to discuss this hot issue. When Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Thai government spokesman asked Beijing for more information, more cooperation and more coordination, China immediately denied any wrong doing. The main problem seems to be that Beijing has never shared its plans and projects with the lower riparian States. 16 Environmental NGOs in the peninsula blamed China for drying the Mekong and provoking the crisis. China, a dialogue partner of the Commission took the attack seriously and sent a delegation led by Vice-Foreign Minister Song Tao to the two-day conference in Thailand. Liu Ning, the Chinese Vice Minister of Water Resources affirmed that the dams and irrigation projects upstream have actually helped stave off some of the effects of drought and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang further stated: China attaches great importance to developing good-neighbor, friendly and cooperative relations with these countries in its commitment to dialogue, communications and cooperation. Yarlung Tsangpo upstream to the Great Bend. According to available information, the Chinese plan to build a series of five dams in the Shannan Prefecture (Tibetan: Lhoka) of Tibet at Zangmu, Gyatsa, Zhongda, Jiexu and Langzhen. The Zangmu dam will be the first to be built. At an altitude of 3,260 meters, it is expected to generate 540 MW of electricity; its height will be 116 m and length 390 m, it will have a width of 19 m at the top and 76 m at the bottom. The 26 turbines-dam would cost billion yen. The contract has been awarded to a consortium of five companies under the leadership of Gezhouba, one of China s biggest dam-building companies (also involved in the massive $1.5 billion river diversion and hydro-electricity project on Neelum-Jhelum in POK). For more than a year, satellite imagery as well photos of the project were available on the Net, even though the construction was denied by the Chinese government. The Government of India knew of the project but was unwilling to forcefully tackle Beijing and ask for factual explanations. For Kenneth Pomeranz 18 : Some projects now underway or being contemplated have considerably larger implications, both for Chinese and for foreigners. The diversion of the Yalong Zangbo [Brahmaputra] if that is indeed on the agenda would have the largest implications Whatever the truth is, there is no doubt that climate change is going to provoke similar tensions and conflicts elsewhere in Asia in the future. 17 Some Recent Developments in Tibet A similar scenario could occur soon in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The proposed diversion/damming of the Brahmaputra was again in the news with the construction of a series of dams on the 25.3-Jul/Sep 10 INDIAN DEFENCE REVIEW 117 of all. If the waters could arrive in North China safely and relatively unpolluted by no means sure things and having generated considerable power along the way, the relief for China s seriously strained hydro-ecology would be considerable. On the other hand, the impact on Eastern India and Bangladesh, with a combined population even larger than North China s, could be devastating. The potential for such a project to create conflicts An unsettling incident occurred in Assam that went largely unnoticed in the Indian m
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