By Jin H. Pak
Over the past decade, numerous analysts and scholars have speculated about the likelihood of India and China going to war over water. Some maintain a future “water war” will occur—and others call such fears overblown. These arguments focus on how water is unevenly distributed and how China’s upstream behaviors, such as its damming activities, could instigate conflict with its downstream neighbor.
To determine if water scarcity could cause military conflict between these two states, an extensive analysis of factors affecting relations between India and China, as well as domestic conditions within China, are needed. Such analyses suggest water scarcity itself will not likely lead to war. However, coupled with other factors such as increasing water scarcity in China, linkages between water scarcity and national sovereignty, and decreasing political stability in the upstream state, war may become more likely.
The glaciers in China’s Tibet are melting at a faster rate, and coupled with growing water scarcity and a widening north-south regional water gap, China will face increasing pressure to implement a controversial upstream water diversion plan in its western provinces. This plan will threaten India since the downstream portion of the Brahmaputra River flows through a disputed area with strong implications for national sovereignty. Both states will then increase their security postures in an already heavily militarized border region. As China’s economic growth continues its downward trajectory, popular nationalism will threaten the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to pursue a foreign policy uninfluenced by populism and public opinion. The likely net result: a likely water war between the two states.
Picture: Ramón from Llanera, España (Morning Ritual On The Ganges River 045) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons