Climate Change = War?


For all the heat generated by discussions of global warming in recent months, it is an often overlooked fact that climate change has the potential to create border disputes that in some cases could even provoke clashes between states. Throw into the mix three nuclear-armed nations with a history of disagreements, and the stakes of any conflict rise incalculably.

Yet such a scenario is becoming increasingly likely as glaciers around the world melt, blurring international boundaries. The chastened United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, still doesn’t dispute that glaciers are melting; the only question is how fast. The phenomenon is already pushing Europeans and Africans to redraw their borders. Switzerland and Italy, for example, were forced to introduce draft resolutions in their respective parliaments for fresh border demarcations after alpine glaciers started melting unusually quickly. And in Africa, meanwhile, climate change has caused rivers to change course over the past few years. Many African nations have rivers marking international boundaries and are understandably worried about these changing course and therefore cutting into their borders. Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan are just some of the African countries that have indicated apprehension about their international boundaries.

But it is in Asia where a truly nightmarish scenario could play out between India, Pakistan and China–nuclear weapon states that between them have the highest concentration of glaciers in the world outside the polar regions.

A case in point is the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range, the largest glacier outside the polar region, which is the site of a major bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan. According to scientific data, Siachen Glacier is melting at the rate of about 110 meters a year–among the fastest of any glaciers in the world.

The glacier’s melting ice is the main source of the Nubra River, which itself drains into the Shyok River. These are two of the main rivers in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. The Shyok also joins the Indus River, and forms the major source of water for Pakistan.


[...] Change = War? Here’s the introduction to a troubling story at The Diplomat: “For all the heat generated by discussions of global warming in recent months, it is an [...]

Grant W
October 21, 2012 at 07:30

Jeremy J has a very good point.
Yoffe, Wolfe and Giordano's work on basins at risk at conflict over competition for water has indicated that very rarely does competition over fresh water some to physical conflict. In fact although there have been negative incidents mainly negative rhetoric or negative effect on diplomacy, cooperation over water has been the more dominant trend globally and chronologically, with the exception of the Six day war in 1967.
However, the world's population has increased exponentially since 1967 and India and China's population's are amongst the largest in the world which may the deciding factor.

Jeremy J
March 4, 2010 at 19:27

I’m not so sure we should be so quick to equate competition for water resources to military conflict, that seems rooted in realist thinking. An interesting institutionalist / functionalist response to the India / Pakistan situation regarding the Indus is ‘Alam, Undala (2002) ‘Questioning the Water Wars Rationale: A Case Study of the Indus Waters Treaty’ The Royal Geographic Society 168(4) pp. 341-353′, which notes how the two countries have largely cooperated over use of the waters for over 40 years (certainly up to 2002), including through 2 wars. Obviously, this is not definitive proof the other way, but just a cautionary note that the basic human necessity that is fresh water, need not only lead to military conflict, it’s very necessity may spur cooperation.

March 3, 2010 at 12:05

Interesting take on the whole situation. My incapacity to comment deeper on the article-than just to say that the article supports the red map of India on the right (pointing to the very top portion). A new paper partition (Africa) is imminent while being supported by the massive number of troops on all sides. A difficult situation even to fathom.

Rajeev Sharma
February 28, 2010 at 20:26

I am thankful to Mr Jack, the writer of the above comment, for liking my article. As for his upbraiding me on not knowing history, I refuse to join issue with Mr Jack’s own hypernationalism.

February 26, 2010 at 08:24

Good article except for the fact that the author has obviously not studied up on history or current events; Aksai Chin is Chinese territory and no amount of Indian hypernationalism or moaning will make it otherwise.

Patrick W.
February 25, 2010 at 23:24

Serious and not much time! For better understanding read “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools” by Greg Mortenson who built almost two hundred schools in that area over a fifteen year period. Over a billion people will be affected – where will they find the essential food and water?

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