Asia's New Battleground

Brahma Chellaney

"A well-written book which uses relatively clear and sophisticated language while still remaining accessible to readers without prior knowledge of the subject."
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Winner of the Asia Society's Bernard Schwartz 2012 Book Award

The battles of yesterday were fought over land. Those of today are over energy. But the battles of tomorrow may be over water. Nowhere is that danger greater than in water-distressed Asia.

Water stress is set to become Asia’s defining crisis of the twenty-first century, creating obstacles to continued rapid economic growth, stoking interstate tensions over shared resources, exacerbating long-time territorial disputes, and imposing further hardships on the poor. Asia is home to many of the world's great rivers and lakes, but its huge population and exploding economic and agricultural demand for water make it the most water-scarce continent on a per capita basis. Many of Asia’s water sources cross national boundaries, and as less and less water is available, international tensions will rise. The potential for conflict is further underscored by China’s unrivaled global status as the source of transboundary river flows to the largest number of countries, ranging from India and Vietnam to Russia and Kazakhstan; yet a fast-rising China has declined to enter into water-sharing or cooperative treaties with these states, even as it taps the resources of international rivers.

Water: Asia’s New Battleground is a pioneering study of Asia’s murky water politics and the relationships between fresh water, peace, and security. In this unique and highly readable book, Brahma Chellaney expertly paints a larger picture of water across Asia, highlights the security implications of resource-linked territorial disputes, and proposes real strategies to avoid conflict and more equitably share Asia’s water resources.

Table of Contents


1. Asia: Global Water Crisis Hub

2. Murky Hydropolitics

3. The Tibetan Plateau: The World’s Most Unique Water Repository

4. Exploiting the Riparian Advantage: A Key Test Case

5. Managing Intrastate Water Conflicts

6. Mitigating Intercountry Water Disputes or Discord

7. Asia’s Challenge: Forestalling Bloodletting over Water

A: Interstate Freshwater Agreements in Asia since the Start of the Decolonization Process
B: Web Links to Key Asian Water Treaties


About the Author



"A formidable interdisciplinary book. [Chellaney] has done readers a great service in tracking down reams of scholarly information, beautifully knit together, covering a dazzling range of countries and disciples, from Bangladesh to Mongolia, climate change science to regional security doctrine. Despite the vast scope of the book, the writing is clear and lively. Its main contribution is in synthesizing the many trickles of the international discussion on Asia and water into one single current."—The Washington Monthly

"A well-written book which uses relatively clear and sophisticated language while still remaining accessible to readers without prior knowledge of the subject."—Pacific Affairs

"This well-researched volume is a fascinating blend of geography, hydrology and politics. . . . A sobering read for those of us residing in Asia, and the weight of its message certainly deserves urgent and widespread attention."—Asian Review of Books

"Masterful, pioneering study . . . superbly combines a panoramic picture of Asia as a 'global water crisis hub' with detailed case studies of potential water wars."—Global Asia

"Chellaney's new book is an exhaustive study of a narrow, but vital, aspect of the Asian security landscape: the growing struggle for water resources."—Financial Times

"Ranging widely across the region, this forcefully written study warns of a growing risk of interstate conflicts over water. The only way to avoid such outcomes, Chellaney argues, is to adopt a cooperative, rules-based approach to water management."—Foreign Affairs

"The author provides a comprehensive analysis of the roots of the Asian water crisis, combing hydrology, global politics, and cultural history. Fortunately, Chellaney offers potential policy solutions."—Choice

"A valuable contribution to a subject that still receives too little attention when power politics are discussed."—Contemporary Southeast Asia

"Water will undoubtedly cause most readers to look at the world differently. . . . tells an immensely important story and Chellaney has myriad facts at his fingertips.”"—Commonweal Magazine

"This book is a gem."—Environmental Education

"We’re all familiar with conflicts over territory in places like Tibet and Kashmir, but Brahma Chellaney persuasively argues that the most precious resource in these disputes is not land, but water. In a world where nearly one billion people lack access to clean water, Chellaney shows how today’s economic growth could lead to tomorrow’s 'water wars.' With his policy prescriptions, he also gives us a way to stop these conflicts before they begin. This is a vital book for anybody interested in diplomacy and conflict in the twenty-first century."—Stanley A. Weiss, founding chairman, Business Executives for National Security

"A pioneering, comprehensive, and insightful analysis that provides also the strategies for a solution. This is a timely and enlightening book since, as Chellaney demonstrates, 'what Asia confronts today, the other continents are likely to face tomorrow.'"—Yoon Young-kwan, professor of international relations at Seoul National University and former foreign minister of Korea

"This is a well-written, thoroughly researched, and carefully analyzed book on a crucial subject matter. It is impressive for the richness and depth of the chapters, the interdisciplinary nature of the project, and the marrying of materials from geopolitics, environmental studies, and geology. It contains a wealth of information on the complex dynamics involving water in the current and emerging Asian political and economic landscape. The book shows Chellaney’s thorough knowledge of the region, its intricacies, and its long history of connectivity in terms of water sharing."—T.V. Paul, James McGill Professor of International Relations, McGill University

"The dominant conflict in geopolitics in this century is the scramble for energy, raw materials, and water. Brahma Chellaney is the first to publish an in-depth analysis of potential challenges and conflicts resulting from the scarcity of water in Asia. His book is particularly important to understand the impact and indeed risks in an era of a growing tendency, which one meanwhile can call resource imperialism."—Friedbert Pflüger, director, European Centre for Energy and Resource Security, King's College London


Supplemental Materials


Winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Book Award of the Asia Society

About the Author

Brahma Chellaney, one of India's leading strategic thinkers and analysts, is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He has served as a member of the Policy Advisory Group headed by the foreign minister of India, and as an adviser to India’s National Security Council. He has held appointments at Harvard University, the Brookings Institution, Johns Hopkins University, and the Australian National University. He is the author of five previous books, including Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India, and Japan.

400 pp., 6 x 9
25 figures, 11 tables
ISBN: 978-1-58901-771-9
Aug 2011
Not for sale in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

400 pp., 6 x 9
25 figures, 11 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-012-5
Aug 2011
Not for sale in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

400 pp.
25 figures, 11 tables
ISBN: 978-1-62616-021-7
Aug 2011
Not for sale in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

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