Water, the most vital of all resources, has emerged as a key issue that would determine if Asia is headed toward cooperation or competition. After all, the driest continent in the world is not Africa but Asia, where availability of freshwater is not even half the global annual average of 6,380 cubic metres per inhabitant.
Today, the fastest-growing Asian economies are all at or near water-stressed conditions, including China, India, South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia. But just three or four decades ago, these economies were relatively free of water stress. Now if we look three or four decades ahead, it is clear that the water situation will only exacerbate, carrying major implications for rapid economic growth and inter-riparian relations.
Yet Asia continues to draw on tomorrow's water to meet today's needs. Worse still, Asia has one of the lowest levels of water efficiency and productivity in the world. Against this background, it is no exaggeration to say that the water crisis threatens Asia's economic and political rise and its environmental sustainability. For investors, it carries risks that potentially are as damaging as non-performing loans, real estate bubbles, and political corruption. Water has also emerged as a source of increasing competition and discord within and between nations, spurring new tensions over shared basin resources and local resistance to governmental or corporate decisions to set up water-intensive industries.
These developments raise the question whether the risks of water conflict are higher in Asia than elsewhere in the world. With Asia becoming the scene of increasingly fierce intrastate and interstate water competition, the answer clearly is yes. Water is a new arena in the Asian Great Game.
In fact, water wars — in a political, diplomatic, or economic sense — are already being waged between riparian neighbours in several Asian regions, fuelling a cycle of bitter recrimination and fostering mistrust that impedes broader regional cooperation and integration. Without any shots being fired, rising costs continue to be exacted. The resources of transnational rivers, aquifers, and lakes have become the target of rival appropriation plans.
Turkey's showing a more aggressive and dangerous side these days, on the one hand, occupying part of Kurdistan, on the other, threatening naval action if Cyprus chooses to exploit its own oil reserves. In 'Neighbors warily eye a more muscular Turkey', Shlomo Avineri observes :
The recent surge in Turkey's military actions against the Kurds in northern Iraq is an indication that, somewhat surprisingly — but not entirely unpredictably — Turkish foreign policy has undergone a 180-degree turn in less than two years. The Turkish offensive is also an indication that these changes go beyond the current tensions between Turkey and Israel, which are just one facet of much deeper trends.That new Turkish aggressiveness prompts Michael Rubin to ask, 'Is It Time for an Anti-Turkey Coalition?' :
Turkey has an enormously important role to play in the region. It could be a bridge between the West and the East, between Islam and modernity, and between Israel and the Arabs. But it runs the danger of succumbing to the arrogance of power, which has corrupted and sidelined many strong states in the past.
Kurds and Kurdistan have never felt so much promise. Federalism in Iraq is secure. Iraqi Kurdistan attracts billions of dollars in investment, Masud Barzani no longer needs a borrowed Turkish passport to travel abroad, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has offices which act as virtual embassies in Washington, London, and other major capitals. It is ironic, therefore, that against this progress, Kurds wield so little influence over the issues about which Kurds inside and outside Iraqi Kurdistan most care.
After Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] members attacked Turkish military outposts in the early morning hours of October 19, Nechirvan Barzani, a former prime minister who retains the power of that post, rushed to Ankara to try to defuse any retaliation. He failed. So too did regional president Masud Barzani, who placed an emergency phone call to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish President Abdullah Gül vowed revenge and dispensed with the notion for proportionality that Turkey demands from others. "No one should forget that those who are inflicting this pain upon us will suffer in multitudes," Gül declared. Thereafter, Turkish jets bombed targets in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkish tanks reportedly crossed the border. While Turkish officials say they have killed several hundred PKK members, such declarations cannot be taken at face value. Turkish authorities label any Kurd killed in such bombardment as a terrorist, regardless of reality. Civilians often pay the price. Turkey has yet to apologize or pay compensation, for example, to the families of the seven Kurdish civilians killed in an August strike. Nor has the Kurdish government forced Turkey to provide proof the any recent attacks inside Turkey had a cross-border component.
The failure of Kurdish leaders to fulfill their diplomatic agenda extends beyond the latest Turkish incursion. After all, even before the Hakari attacks, the Turkish Army stationed more than 1,000 troops stationed on mountains and around villages several kilometers across the Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish border. Indeed, as much as Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu frames his country's foreign policy as seeking good relations with all its neighbors, the fact remains that Turkey is the only aspirant to the European Union that unabashedly occupies other countries. Turkish occupation in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as in Cyprus suggests the true meaning of neo-Ottomanism.
Turkey's occupations, however, provide the Kurdistan Regional Government with an opportunity. On September 2, 2011, Egemen Bagis, Turkey's Minister for European Union Affairs, threatened Cyprus with military action. Should that European Union member not stop oil exploration in international waters off its coast, Bagis said, that Turkey might respond militarily. "That's what a navy is for," he quipped.