Kyrgyzstan currently controls Toktogul dam which provides a majority of its electricity demand (Poindexter, 2016). Doing so allows them to be less fossil fuel reliant on neighbouring countries, especially downstream Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. However, subsequent unstable water flow potentially places the citizens of these countries in agricultural peril, ultimately leading to starvation (Aliyeva, 2017). Should Kyrgyzstan implement joint control of the dam, prioritizing public welfare for all, at the expense of hindering its energy independence?
National interest as an indisputable right
First and foremost, the assumption is made that the government of Kyrgyzstan is operating the dam with the sincere purpose of bettering the lives of its populace as opposed to furthering ulterior agendas such as increasing the political or personal gain of government officials. This then means the moral value being defended is the welfare and development of its own populace. With this in mind, Kyrgyzstan is right in putting national interests first since government authorities must act on behalf of the people who would have voted for them to defend and take care of them. Moreover, assuming that a majority would have voted for the current government in power, and that elections were free and fair, this means that the Kyrgyz government is right in satisfying their constituents. This is in fact utilitarianism – bringing about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people on a national scale.
As much as fair sharing of resources is indeed virtuous and diplomatic, history has demonstrated examples where such actions have led to cruel armed conflicts (Le Billon, 2001). In addition, even if a compromise were to be considered, this can lead to the consequence of less electricity generated, meaning that countries to whom power is sold (including Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) and Kyrgyzstan itself would incur mutually disadvantageous losses. Again, from the utilitarian ethical approach, one should avoid such a painful consequence.
Even from a regulatory standpoint, Kyrgyzstan has an absolute right to operate this facility based on the principle of permanent sovereignty (Schrijver, 1997) which guarantees national immunity and possession over its natural resources. It allows the country to use water within its borders without asking permission from neighbouring nations. To go against such a core principle would undermine the very nature and function of state. One can go a step further in saying that if countries are encouraged to interfere into the domestic affairs of others, it can have the domino effect of sparking similar on-going disputes around the world, expanding to issues aside from water management.
Based on the evidence and arguments presented, one reaches the conclusion that Kyrgyzstan has the right to continue asserting control over Toktogul dam. Although it may be initially perceived as selfish, it has been proven to benefit other countries to which Kyrgyzstan sells electricity. The governments of downstream countries should then be finding alternative solutions to resolve the water shortage issue without placing demands on Kyrgyzstan. Their complaining simply shows that more effort needs to be placed on adapting their industrial sectors to be more resilient to change, instead of casting blame, and ultimately remaining dependent on the decisions of the Kyrgyz government.
Welfare for all, not just for privileged ones
According to the UN Human Right to Water and Sanitation resolution (UN, 2010), water access is an essential right to every human being. Since this is a defining characteristic of individual rights, it should be considered a top priority in the “Toktogul Dam” conflict in Central Asia.
Issued in 1998, an international agreement concerning water management was established with the aim of assuring justice to the populace at large in Central Asia. However, a lack of commitment on the part of involved governments has led to its unsuccessful implementation. This demonstrates the urgent necessity to introduce a renewed multilateral system of trade-offs that aims for the common good. The proposed reformed agreement should consider three main aspects: the long-term development of the region, sufficient and impartial water-energy exchanges and guarantees to assure its implementation. Furthermore, by implementing a joint management system, the benefits of the Toktogul Dam will be more widespread, encompassing the welfare of the majority of Central Asian inhabitants; this must prevail against simply benefitting the citizens of just one nation.
If Kyrgyzstan is allowed to continue controlling the dam, the unfavourable situation of downstream countries will worsen throughout the coming years, engendering even more conflicts and hardship to innocent people. Although Kyrgyzstan argues that national energy security is their main concern for refusing to join a new agreement, studies have demonstrated that an improved water-energy exchange scheme would not be a threat to its energy security and costs (Mitchell & Keilbach, 2001). Also, according to environmental and political experts, water management should be based on targets throughout the year instead of by seasons (summer and winter) as it is currently done. This strategy aims to limit the effects of drainage when water resources are affected by weather conditions (Bernauer & Siegfried, 2008).
Additionally, studies undertaken by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have foreseen serious consequences due to climate change that can affect the Toktogul Dam. This includes faster evaporation of water, as well as increasing the frequency and intensity of floods and runoffs in the mountains (Hitz, 2010). This is quite likely to happen and can have far-reaching effects. However, Kyrgyzstan’s seemingly isolationist policy will limit its ability to obtain aid if it were to experience a crisis caused by these changes.
Upon providing hard evidence and arguments, it is clear that the current situation does not satisfy the needs of these countries and currently generates tension. Therefore, Kyrgyzstan should allow downstream countries to be part of the decision-making process of the dam’s water management through the suggested multilateral agreement. This may seem prejudicial to Kyrgyztan, especially since it involves sharing its resources with other countries. However, it is a necessary means of guaranteeing its national security by having allies in the entire region. This shows that long-term multilateral cooperation is inherently beneficial, and ultimately essential in assuring a prosperous future for everyone.