Reviewed by Lesley Pories, World Bank

Chellaney makes the case that water will likely become one of Asia’s greatest concerns in the future, bringing to the reader’s attention the increasing political and security issues that surround Asia’s limited water supplies.

Water: Asia’s New Battleground by Brahma Chellaney, Georgetown University Press, 2011,
309 pp.

Throughout the history of mankind, water (and a lack thereof) has been at the root of the rise and decline of numerous civilizations. Today, the risk of history repeating itself is clear: Brahma Chellaney’s overview of the geopolitical dynamics regarding control of increasingly scarce water resources in Asia gives a comprehensive, if incomplete and occasionally biased, examination of how the need for and manipulation of this all-important resource influences Asian politics and will continue to do so.

“Water scarcity is set to become Asia’s defining crisis by midcentury,” he opens. Throughout, water serves as a common thread connecting economic growth and development, societal pressure and geopolitical posturing. Chellaney does an admirable job of weaving these components together, providing valuable insights for international relations (IR) aficionados and laypeople alike.

In my view, Chellaney tries to cover too much territory. Taking the broadest possible definition of Asia, his treatment of the Israel-Palestine-Jordan water dispute is elementary, his review of Chinese disagreements with Russia and Kazakhstan contains some errors, and his depiction of water conflicts on the Korean peninsula is cursory. As might be expected given his position within a premiere Indian think-tank, his knowledge is most extensive when he is addressing issues of immediate concern to India. He glorifies India’s behavior towards Pakistan and vilifies China. There is no mistaking Chellaney for an objective observer. On the other hand, faced with these foreboding challenges, who can be objective?

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