Water: Asia's New Battleground by Brahma Chellaney

Dr Medha Bisht is Senior Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi; and former Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA.Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 2012
    Book Review

    There is an ongoing debate about the nature of changing power equations (economic, political and military) among countries, with many scholars arguing that the power shift from the West to the East is inevitable in the coming years. While the debate is animated by scholars such as Kishore Mehbubani, G. John Ikenberry, Parag Khanna, John Mearsheimer, Fareed Zakaria and Charles Kupchan, Brahma Chellaney in his latest book, Water: Asia's New Battleground, advances the argument that ‘the rise and fall of powers in Asia could be influenced by water in much the same way that oil in the past century played a key role in determining the ascent and decline of states’ (p. 8). Water scarcity, he argues will be the major reason for straining inter-riparian relations, thus making Asia a potential flashpoint for water wars—a concern underscored by efforts of some countries to exploit their riparian position of dominance (p. 4). Of particular concern to Chellaney is the rise of China, which could assume the role of Asia's water hegemon, thus causing unease to much of the Asian riparians both in South and South East Asia. It is often argued that economic needs would drive China's foreign policy interests in the 21st century, and as access to resources is important for China's social stability, resource stress can force it to adopt policies that are detrimental to the interests of its downstream neighbours. From this perspective, the centrality of China is visible throughout the book.