Strategic Aspects of Climate Change-1
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep2010 | Date : 06 Oct , 2010

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

Though Pakistan is today shouting “˜wolf without factual basis, water wars are looming large on the horizon of the subcontinent.

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 climate-related 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 ice-free 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 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 Sarasvati6. 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.”

“¦ Pakistan will certainly blame India for it, creating further tensions and eventually a new war.

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 Edition7 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 man-made: “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’.

To be continued…  

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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