March 22nd will mark the eighteenth World Water Day, an annual UN-sponsored day to recognize the importance of water, including its increasing scarcity and competition for it. As we approach this annual event, a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia's Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, should help frame the conversation that many will have this month on water and security.
Water challenges have increasingly garnered the attention of top U.S. policymakers. Secretary Clinton told an audience last March on World Water Day that “The stability of young governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other nations depends in part on their ability to provide their people with access to water and sanitation.” Last month, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress that, “The growing pressure generated by growing populations, urbanization, economic development, and climate change on shared water resources may increase competition and exacerbate existing tensions over these resources.” In places such as Yemen, the next decade looks bleak due to the country’s declining oil reserves and water resources, Clapper said. And now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while focused on Central Asia, has shed light on the implications of water shortages for security broadly.
Yet Secretary Clinton and others have acknowledged that water scarcity is just as much an opportunity as a challenge. “In the United States,” she said last March, “water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities of our time.” Indeed, the Senate report acknowledged the Obama administration’s efforts to integrate water issues into U.S. bilateral and multilateral arrangements, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which received about 47 million dollars from the United States in 2009 to fund water-related projects, according to the committee report. “For the first time, the United States has elevated water-related issues in its bilateral relationships with priority countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the report said. “Accordingly, the U.S. strategy and foreign assistance budgets now include significant investments allocated toward activities that promote water security through high-visibility projects, such as expanding water storage capabilities and irrigation.”
Okay folks, it's time to evaluate how natural resources play a role in this year's Annual Threat Assessment from the intelligence community. I'm a bit slow to read through today's testimony (pdf) from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as I was at CSIS for a great climate change event with their energy/climate expert Sarah Ladislaw, our pal Jay Gulledge, Dan Chiu from OSD-Policy, and others among our nation's best thinkers. Be prepared: this is going to involve a lot of bullet points because, well, I don't have mad html skills.
My top 5 observations:
As we so love pop analysis, let's take a longer look at word counts from the testimony:
For the sake of comparison:
Last year we thought it was useful to compare the 2010 threat assessment with the 2009 version to map how the consideration of these issues is changing. I've begun doing so, but it appears that this year's assessment is formatted much differently as compared to last year. This year's (public) assessment is 13 pages shorter, for example. Last year cyber security and the economy were leading sections, and this year terrorism comes first. There are so many changes in placement and level of detail that we may have a difficult time coming to any conclusions on what it means in terms of security. I've thought through at least a dozen things the minimization of climate change this year could mean - change in leadership, it's a trend not a "threat" so doesn't fit well in this document, influence of politics on the process, the IC is even more confused about the nature of what the impacts of climate change will be, the IC understands it much better so contextualizes it differently, and on and on. Cyber seems to be much less in-depth this year as well, but does that mean it's less important? Obviously not. Really, I don't know what it means, and anything we all say publicly is only speculation.
Anyways, this is a busy week ahead, so we may or may not have more analysis on this in the coming days depending on whether we find more to say. I'm not sure if I'll continue comparing it with last year's if I continue to find that it's comparing apples to space aliens. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts, and sleep soundly: the U.S. intelligence community is keeping an eye out.
Like many, my attention was fixed on the Middle East this weekend as I watched events in Egypt unfold, with demonstrations, it would seem, becoming more intense as the days pass. The United States closed its embassy in Egypt on Sunday and was making arrangements to evacuate American citizens. Meanwhile, many Egyptians are running out of food staples and are unable or afraid to go to the market as political and social unrest has paralyzed regular food shipments. But while I watched the events in Egypt, I was also drawn to this headline from a report published by Agence France Presse on Saturday that I worried would get buried, but has important implications for the Middle East, as well: “Iraq water shortages raising ethnic tensions.”
The nexus of water and security is an issue that I have followed closely for the last few years, with a particular interest in water and security in Iraq. In fact, in a guest post for Tom Ricks’s The Best Defense blog last June, I asked, concernedly, if water could undermine the American game plan there? And here in 2011, we are getting a clearer picture of just how important water is for long-term stability and security in Iraq.
“A worsening water shortage in Iraq is raising tensions in the multi-ethnic Kirkuk province, where Arab farmers accuse the Kurdistan region of ruining them by closing the valves to a dam in winter,” Marwan Ibrahim reported for Agence France Presse on Saturday. “‘We are harmed by the Kurds, and the officials responsible for Baghdad and Kirkuk will not lift a finger,’ said Sheikh Khaled al-Mafraji, a leader of the Arab Political Council that groups mainly Sunni tribal leaders.”
A guest post today from Jess Glover, who came to CNAS from her time in the Middle East!
Monday I swung by CSIS to hear Jon Alterman and General Tony Zinni (ret.) discuss water as a strategic resource in the Middle East. A lot has been written to bring attention to the security consequences of water scarcity in the region, including here at CNAS.
Water is only likely to grow in strategic importance as aquifers and wells run dry across North Africa and the Middle East. According to Gen. Zinni increased demand by booming populations and from rapid urbanization often come at the cost of water supplies. Aquifers are taxed, pollution of water is a great challenge --- and all of these spell future strategic problems with massive humanitarian consequences.
But, what kind of problems might we expect? Border wars? Rogue damming activities?
While the event acknowledged the possibility of actual “water wars,” Alterman and Zinni primarily focused on the political dynamics that surround water in the Middle East. And, instead of scarcity being a prelude to interstate conflict, Alterman predicted it will lead to massive internal conflicts and domestic threats to current regimes in the Middle East.
This is important because Middle Eastern governments are often more concerned with domestic challenges and their ability to ensure they can “deliver the goods” – like water – needed to maintain legitimacy. As a critical resource that impacts peoples’ lives, access to and power over water can be used by governments to co-opt opponents or reward regime supporters. In short, water is woven into the very fabric of social contracts. Providing the life sustaining resource of water in the desert is used as a way to accumulate and demonstrate political power.
I'm going through my backlogged email from my week out of the office. While I was gone, my officemate, CNAS's USMC Senior Military Fellow LtCol Paul Deutsch was kind enough to pass along this year's "Commandant's Planning Guidance." Generally:
The future security environment requires a mindset geared toward increased energy efficiency and reduced consumption, thus allowing us to operate lighter and faster. We will aggressively continue our pioneering efforts in energy through our Expeditionary Energy Office, with goals of reduced energy demand in our platforms and systems, self sufficiency in our battlefield sustainment, and a reduced expeditionary foot print on the battlefield.
Under "Priority #2: We will rebalance our Corps, posture it for the future and aggressively experiment with and implement new capabilities and organizations":
Increase Energy Efficiency Director Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O) - develop a plan to decrease the Marine Corps’ dependence on fossil fuels in a deployed environment. Implementation of the plan shall begin during FY 11 and be fully funded in the POM 13 budget cycle. Concentrate on three major areas: (1) increase the use of renewable energy, (2) instilling an ethos of energy efficiency, (3) increase the efficiency of equipment. The objective is to allow Marines to travel lighter — with less — and move faster through the reduction in size and amount of equipment and the dependence on bulk supplies. (Due: 18 Feb 11)
In its description of the future security environment:
The future will not be like today. As we look ahead, we see a world of increasing instability and conflict, characterized by poverty, competition for resources, urbanization, overpopulation and extremism. Failed states or those that can not adequately govern their territory can become safe havens for terrorist, insurgent and criminal groups that threaten the U.S. and our allies....
The developing world is trending toward a more youthful demographic. Already pressurized by a lack of education and job opportunities, the marked increase of young men in underdeveloped countries will likely swell the ranks of disaffected groups, providing a more pronounced distinction between the “haves” and “have-nots.” At the same time, increasing competition for scarce natural resources — fossil fuels, food and clean water — will likely lead to tension, crisis and conflict. (emphasis all mine)
Despite Paul's Michigan alum status, it's always good to keep up on the language the leaders of each service uses in describing these challenges.
A few weeks back a few colleagues and I went to the release event for this year’s edition of the Strategic Asia series, released annually by the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). Über-colleague Abe Denmark presented at this event on his chapter in the current volume. CNAS co-founder and now State Department East Asia honcho Kurt Campbell also delivered a keynote address. All in all, it was a mini-CNAS party.
I’ve read a few previous editions of Strategic Asia (and am partially through the current one), and have always appreciated its attention to natural security issues. But this year’s edition seems to trump all previous years. Of its 10 chapters, 3 are dedicated to important, emerging natural security issues:
I almost forgot to flag this for you all. You need to check out the current (soon to be last month's) edition of Scientific American for this: "How Much Is Left? The Limits of Earth's Resources: A graphical accounting of the limits to what one planet can provide."
Does it have energy? Check. Does it mention minerals? You betcha. Does it - dare I say it - raise the troubles of biodiversity loss? You can count on it.
It's not a long piece, but a good overview of relevant info, cool graphs, and an interesting piece to SciAm's annual single-concept edition, this year on "The End."
If you work within the natural resources and national security/foreign policy world, you may want to join us on the Hill next Wednesday at noon for a lunch discussion on that exact topic. This will be a great conversation - everything from Yemen's water woes, to Pakistan's water woes, to China's water woes...
While the historical record shows that no states have ever fought a war over transboundary water resources, such resources have long served as focal points for potential conflict. But despite growing water scarcity in regions of the world – due in part to global population growth and increased drought in those regions – there are still great efforts among states to negotiate and even cooperate over many contentious and increasingly constrained water resources.
Two examples strike me as being particularly relevant to U.S. national security: the Nile Basin Initiative and the Mekong River Commission. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a partnership of all 10 Nile Basin riparians to develop the river in a cooperative manner, share the socio-economic benefits, such as hydropower, that the river provides and “promote regional peace and security.” Similarly the Mekong River Commission, an agreement between Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and with China and Burma as “dialogue partners” but not full participants, is meant to help regional riparians to manage the Mekong River’s shared water resources and develop the economic potential of the river.
Both organizations are good examples of integrated water resource management, a process to manage a river or body of water as a whole to maximize the development potential of an entire river. Yet both organizations are still missing a crucial piece: that is, the cooperation of the most powerful state in the river basin and the state that has historically been able to control the river’s water resources.
Not surprisingly, water challenges continue to exacerbate tensions between India and Pakistan. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that India, in an effort to feed the insatiable energy appetite of an economy projected to grow by 9.4 percent this fiscal year, has planned to build several hydroelectric dams over the next decade. One planned project is a hydroelectric dam on the Indian-administered side of Kashmir in an upstream valley where waters from the Himalayan glaciers eventually flow through Indian Kashmir and into Pakistan. According to the Times, “In Pakistan, the project raises fears that India, its archrival and the upriver nation, would have the power to manipulate the water flowing to its agriculture industry — a quarter of its economy and employer of half its population.”
Despite a half-century of cooperation over water in the Indus basin, increasing apprehension between India and Pakistan over those resources has added another layer of complexity to an already complex and disjointed relationship; one mired by longstanding, cultural, social and political grievances and mistrust. As the Times reported, “The fight here is adding a new layer of volatility at a critical moment to one of the most fraught relationships anywhere, one between deeply distrustful, nuclear-armed nations who have already fought three wars.”