Water is traditionally considered one of the most important resources to which access must be guaranteed. It is directly related to food security, i.e. agriculture, but also applies to all types of industry (since water is needed for a wide variety of production cycles, from the creation of semiconductors to the operation of standard equipment) and the production of electricity.
Problems with access to water sources automatically lead to negative effects such as migrations, epidemics, economic decline and conflicts. The concept of water hegemony thus arose in the context of state sovereignty ( or rather the interaction of the sovereignties of different states and their national interests ). Hydrohegemony is hegemony at the river basin level, achieved through water management strategies such as resource grabbing, integration and containment (i).
Strategies are implemented through a variety of tactics (e.g. coercion – pressure, treaties, knowledge accumulation, etc.) which are enabled by exploiting existing power asymmetries in a weak international institutional context.
Political processes outside the water sector shape hydropolitical relations in various ways, ranging from the benefits derived from hegemonic cooperation to the unfair aspects of domination. The outcome of competition for control of the resource is determined by the form that hegemony takes, usually in favor of the most powerful actor. Establishing a dominant position in the management of a river system can be seen as an attractive tool for an incumbent hegemon, as it allows him to unilaterally set national goals above those of other agents. In addition, unilateral control creates political leverage on downstream countries (ii).
Zeitoun and Warner therefore studied river basins such as the Jordan, the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris, but the model could also apply to other regions – in Asia, in Europe, in the Americas. But there are also cases closer to home. The Rogun hydroelectric dam in Tajikistan has already caused tensions between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (iii).
Water allocation is still a problem in Central Asia
For example, the second largest lake in Asia, Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan, is directly connected to the Ili River, the sources of which are in China.. The Ili-Balkhash ecosystem covers 400,000 square kilometres, more than Britain, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium combined. Previously, water consumption in China itself, to supply the Qinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and to meet the demand of local industry, had lowered the level of the river, which resulted in a rapid decrease in lake depth (iv). In recent years, land development and the expansion of rice fields in China have continued, resulting in a decrease in the volume of water in the Balkhash (v). It should be taken into account that water shortages also lead to desertification and loss of soil fertility (vi). This is a universal phenomenon.
For example, disputes over water in the Brahmaputra River have long been a cause of political friction between India and China . In April 2010, during Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Beijing, the Chinese first designated an area in Brahmaputra where the original Zangmu Dam in Tibet was to be built. Chinese officials assured India that the projects would proceed normally and would not create water shortages downstream. In response to India’s subsequent requests for more information on the plans, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “China takes a responsible attitude towards transshipment projects: “China takes a responsible attitude towards the development of transboundary waters. Our policy is that protection goes hand in hand with development, and we take the interests of downstream countries fully into account ” (vii).
More information on the dam project was released as part of China’s current five-year energy plan, released in January 2013. This plan included proposals to build three medium-sized dams on the Yarlung Zangbo River. . This had the effect of increasing tensions between the two countries, as India was not consulted before the unveiling of the plan and only learned about it from the Chinese press . The Indian government was therefore forced to protest vigorously. The conflict between the two countries did not end there.
When China completed construction of the Zangmu (510 MW) hydropower project in Tibet in October 2015, much of the Indian media was concerned that the dam was preventing water from flowing into the Brahmaputra downstream (viii ). A Chinese Foreign Ministry official pointed out that Zangmu was part of the Riverside project and therefore would not delay the flow of water.
Indeed, this project does not retain water, but silt is retained, which has a serious impact on fertility downstream. Technically, the project builds a dam to divert water from the river to the tunnel. The dam generally diverts between 70 and 90% of the water, depending on the environmental permit obtained. This silt-laden water is first diverted to a settling pond so that the silt can settle to the bottom. Indeed, it breaks the edges of the blades of the turbines. The silt-free water is then routed through a long tunnel at the end of which it falls vertically onto the turbine blades. The rotation of the turbine produces electricity. The water is then redirected to the river. In this way, the water itself is not retained. But the sludge itself settles to the bottom of the first reservoir and is discharged into the river bed just downstream of the dam wall. The question is whether the force of the water flowing from the dam is sufficient to transport a significant proportion of this mud downstream. In most cases this is not possible.
However, it is this silt which restores the fertility of the soils downstream, which makes this question crucial.
The Himalayas are the world’s youngest mountain range, and the rivers flowing down from them replenish soil fertility in some of the oldest cultivated areas on earth, across Asia. The delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna is almost entirely composed of this silt. Controversial issues also arise in Thailand. Several dams on the Mekong, such as those at Pak Beng and Luangphabang, are planned in the region, but some believe they are not necessary for Thailand’s electricity system. Civil society and the Thai population are also questioning the possibility of buying more electricity from neighboring countries, including the dams on the Mekong at Pak Beng and Luang Prabang. Since last year, every household has seen its electricity bill increase every month. They wonder ‘ what’s the point of buying more when we already have a huge energy surplus of more than 50%?” (ix), since the main cost is borne by the taxpayers. Environmentalists are also sounding the alarm as they believe the natural balance will be disrupted.
As far as Russia is concerned, the situation regarding the distribution of water resources is different depending on the location of the border. For example, the Russian-Finnish border (1200 km) has about 450 rivers, streams and lakes . Their course is generally oriented towards Russia, and the main rivers are the Vuoksa, the Hiitolanjoki and the Tuloma. The total flow is 780 cubic meters per second. There are four hydroelectric power stations on the Vuoksa, two in Finland and two in Russia. The Finnish-Russian Commission on the Use of Border Waters deals with the regulation of water flow. Since the headwaters of the rivers are in Finland, Helsinki is theoretically more likely to exert hegemony over water than Moscow.
With regard to Kazakhstan, Russia has a balanced position, since the Urals flow into Russia, while the Tobol, Ishim and Irtysh flow into Kazakhstan. There have been no water problems between the two countries regarding these rivers. However, with the upper reaches of the Irtysh in China, this results in a trilateral dispute, and Beijing is reluctant to respond to Russian and Kazakh demands to regulate the use and protection of water resources. As far as Ukraine is concerned, Russia has a major advantage in controlling the headwaters of the major tributaries of the Dnieper – the great Desna, Psel, Seim and Voskla rivers. It should be added that Belarus, an allied country, controls the Pripyat and Dnieper rivers.
Russia could potentially use its strategic position, not only geo-economically, but also in the theater of military operations.
In particular, unmanned surface vehicles and submarines could be launched into these rivers to gather intelligence . Such models are in service with the US army, and some of them are made in the form of fish, which is an outward disguise. Ideally, the use of these vehicles would allow the creation of a reliable network of sensors in order to obtain operational information (for example, on the movement of equipment on bridges or on the activity near special vehicles that are near the banks). If the need for such activity persists, this hydro-hegemonic asset could be a useful tool in confronting the enemy.