History of the Environment in Security Studies

Published: 2021-09-12 08:25:10
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The environment has always had impact on our everyday lives. However, it is at the end of the Cold War that environmental concerns are seen to be an important part of discussions regarding global security (Jonsson, 2009). The effect of environmental degradation and consequences of environmental changes are increasingly associated with non-conventional notions of security. Considering the environment as a threat to individual, national, or global security has created a new agenda in the discourse of security studies. The increasing scope of international security now readily includes environmental degradation, global warming, and climate change. These issues are seen to have extended the human understanding of environmental change, conflict, and vulnerability as well as explored the roles of conservation and sustainable development in promoting peace, stability, and human security. There is growing consensus that environmental degradation can and does trigger, amplify or cause conflict and instability, and a growing concern that environmentally induced conflicts might increase (Biswas, 2016).
For decades, national security has traditionally focused on protecting the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of the state from military aggression from other states. This has generally involved investing in military assets and forming alliances in order to deter potential adversaries and use force effectively when required. In recent years, there has been increased emphasis placed on expanding the traditional conception of security to include nonconventional threats such as resource scarcity, human rights abuses, outbreaks of infectious disease, and environmental degradation caused by toxic contamination, ozone depletion, global warming, water pollution, soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity. This new concept is termed by scholars as human security (Dabelko, Wilson, Lonergan, & Matthew, 2011) Human security is achieved when and where individual and communities have the options necessary to end, mitigate, or adapt to threats to their human, environmental, and social rights; have the capacity and freedom to exercise these options; and actively participate in attaining these options’’ (Barnett & Adger, 2010). Human security suggests that security policy and security analysis, if they are to be effective and legitimate, must focus on the individual as the referent and primary beneficiary. In broad terms human security is ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom from fear’: positive and negative freedoms and rights as they relate to fundamental individual needs (Newman, 2010). It argues that there is an ethical responsibility to re-orient security around the individual in line with internationally recognized standards of human rights and governance. Scholars of human security argue that for many people in the world, the greatest threats to ‘security’ come from internal conflicts, disease, hunger, environmental contamination or criminal violence. The 1994 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, popularized and became the representative of this approach. Environmental security, on the other hand, covers security politics that investigates either the security of states or that of humans from direct or indirect environmental threats (Zwierlein, 2017).
‘Environmental security’ can be understood as a sub-field of the human security agenda, with the very broad definition of human security as ‘‘freedom from fear and want’’ also encompassing natural hazards and threats. The concept of conflict can range from disputes between individuals to wars between states. (Barrow, 2010). It is important to distinguish between the terms conflict and security. Conflict, and specifically violent conflict, is an empirical and observable phenomenon. Security, on the other hand, is a subjective and socially-constructed perception that evolves and depends largely on the perspective of the entity (individual, group, state, international, or transnational) being secured 4 and/or providing security. Conflict is a condition commonly considered a threat to security. (Martin, 2005)
Environmental conflicts: A definition
Access to and distribution of natural resources have been the object of dispute and violent conflict between social groups and states during the whole history of humanity. An environmental conflict can be described as a conflict caused by the environmental scarcity of a resource which is caused by a human-made disturbance of its normal regeneration rate. Environmental scarcity can result from the overuse of a renewable resource or from overstrain of the ecosystem’s sink capacity, that is pollution. Both can reach the stage of a destruction of the space of living. This definition emphasizes on the specific context of an environmental degradation in which renewable resources become environmentally scarce and relevant for a conflict. For example, conflicts over agricultural land which is a renewable resource, can lead to environmental conflict if the land becomes an object of contention as a result of soil erosion, climate change, changes of river flows or any other environmental degradation.
The concept of resource scarcity can be divided in to four distinct types; physical scarcity meaning that a resource is only available in a finite amount. Geopolitical scarcity meaning that resources are often distributed unequally on the surface of the earth so that some countries depend on deliveries from others such as oil. Socio-economic scarcity concerns the unequal distribution of purchasing power and of property rights to provide natural resources between or within societies. Lastly is the environmental scarcity concerning resources that have traditionally been regarded as plentiful and naturally renewable but are currently becoming scarce because of the failure of human beings to adopt sustainable methods towards their management (Libiszewski, 1995). It is important, however, to differentiate that conflicts caused by physical, geopolitical or socio-economic resources scarcity are not environmental 5 conflicts but traditional conflicts of resource distribution. (Dabelko, Wilson, Lonergan, & Matthew, 2011)
Environmental conflicts manifest themselves as political, social, economic, ethnic, religious or territorial conflicts, or conflicts over resources or national interests, or any other type of conflict. Some scholars described them as traditional conflicts induced by environmental degradation. Such conflicts are characterized by the principal importance of degradation in one or more of the following fields: overuse of renewable resources, overstrain of the environment’s sink capacity (pollution); or impoverishment of the space of living.
How does the Environment lead to violent conflicts?
The types of environmental changes that societies are now contending with include, but are not limited to, deforestation, land degradation, water pollution and scarcity, biodiversity losses, and coastal and marine degradation (including coastal erosion, coral loss and coral bleaching, contracting artisanal fisheries, pollution of lagoons, and overfishing of oceanic stocks). The extent and nature of these stresses are determined by the level of dependence on natural resources and ecosystem services, and the capacity to adapt to changes in these resources and services. In other words, the more people directly depend on natural capital for their livelihoods, other things being equal, the more immediate are the risks they face from environmental change (Barnett & Adger, 2010) Environmental Scarcity Homer-Dixon, as described by Barnett and Adger, 2010, identified three ways humans cause environmental scarcity of renewable resources. These include:

decreased quality and quantity of renewable resources at higher rates than they are naturally renewed (supply-induced scarcity);
increased population growth or per capita consumption (demand-induced 6 scarcity);
unequal resource access (structural scarcity).

These sources can act singly or in combination to create the general condition of environmental scarcity. The interaction of these sources produces two particularly common phenomena that Homer-Dixon calls resource capture and ecological marginalization. Resource capture occurs when a decrease in the quantity or quality of renewable resources coincides with population growth “to encourage powerful groups within a society to shift resource distribution in their favor. This can produce dire environmental scarcity for poorer and weaker groups whose claims to resources are opposed by these powerful elites.”
Ecological marginalization, on the other hand, occurs when population growth and unequal resource access combines to cause migrations to regions that are ecologically fragile, such as steep upland slopes, areas at risk of desertification, and tropical rain forests. High population densities in these areas, combined with a lack of knowledge and capital to protect local resources, causes severe environmental damage and chronic poverty. These sources of environmental scarcity in turn can produce social effects that are linked to violent conflict if countries are unable to adapt to the environmental scarcities. Scholars have described three types of conflict that may be as a result of environmental scarcity. The first is the Simple scarcity conflicts which are conflicts over scarce renewable resources between states. They are particularly likely to break out over resources that are essential for human survival and can be physically seized or controlled like river water, fisheries and agriculturally productive land. The Group-identity conflicts are hostilities between ethnic or cultural groups provoked by circumstances of deprivation and stress. These conflicts are likely to occur within multi-ethnic or multi-cultural societies or between states as a result of environmentally caused migrations.
Lastly, the Relative-deprivation conflicts which are caused by the deepening of class cleavages or of general social discontent within a society resulting 7 from the economic impacts of environmental degradation. They are likely to occur in polarized societies with weakly legitimated political institutions. Environmental Degradation It is increasingly getting accepted among scholars that environmental degradation is at least a contributor to conflict and insecurity (Dabelko, Wilson, Lonergan, & Matthew, 2011).
Land degradation may directly affect a society’s ability to provide food resources for its growing population, or may indirectly affect other changes such as global warming. Population growth is considered to be a factor that promotes environmental degradation which can result in less agricultural land being available. This may then induce human migrations that, in turn, may lead to violent conflict. Also, population growth in addition to a decline in the quantity and quality of renewable resources may lead to changes in access to resources. These changes may, in turn, cause violence among those denied or given reduced access to the resources. For example, the push and pull over the Senegal River Valley between the Senegal and Mauritania. The issues of class and race were considered to have played a part in the conflict that broke out between Senegal and Mauritania. However, the environmental degradation is still viewed as the underlying cause of the violent conflict. Unequal access to resources can combine with high rates of population growth to produce environmental degradation. This degradation can then contribute to “economic deprivation that spurs insurgency and rebellion”.
Examples of such scenarios include the Philippines, the Himalayas, the Sahel, Indonesia, Brazil and Costa Rica. Types of environmental degradation which may affect security Natural disasters Natural disasters include floods, volcanoes and earthquakes. They are usually characterized by a rapid onset, and their impact is a function of the number of vulnerable people in the region 8 rather than the severity of the disaster. Poor people especially in developing countries are the most affected by natural disasters because they are the most vulnerable and lack proper response mechanisms and institutions. Environmental calamities trigger policy choices that can catalyze a potential conflict or aggravate an existing one. Environmental devastation faced by a country due to natural calamities, especially those originating from beyond its borders, eventually sour bilateral relations and hamper regional stability.
Cumulative changes or slow-onset changes
Cumulative changes are generally natural processes occurring at a slower rate which interact with and are advanced by human activities. The processes include deforestation, land degradation, erosion, salinity, siltation, water-logging, desertification and climate warming. Human-induced soil degradation is one factor that directly affects economic sufficiency in rural areas. Water availability is another factor that may affect environmental security. Water scarcity is generally considered to be less than 1000 cubic meters per capita per year. However, currently many countries are able to supplement their water supply through expensive alternatives such as desalination (Kuwait) or importation of water (Singapore).
Case Study one: Desertification in Darfur
In recent times, environmental challenges ranging from pollution, excessive carbon emissions and rapid population growth have led to increased scarcity of natural resources like water, energy, and food. The case of Darfur is the most suitable example in this regard. Darfur faced relentless desertification over the past several decades. The process of desertification had eroded the surface clay and soils, and finally depleted the productivity of arable lands in the greater region of Darfur and particularly in northern Darfur. This environmental degradation caused forced ecological migration towards the southern part of Sudan. This internal 9 displacement caused tensions in the issues of land use and resource sharing, which finally continued to threaten peaceful coexistence and the social cohesion of Darfur. Hence, the situation ignited local tensions and provoked violent resource-based conflicts since February 2003 (Biswas, 2016)
Case Study two: Water and Security in the Middle East
The Jordan River basin has often been presented as one of the key examples where environment and security issues overlap. Central to the tensions that exist between Israel and the Palestinians is the availability of adequate fresh water supplies. In addition to the obvious water scarcity/conflicts problem, the existence of refugees – Palestinian, Ethiopian, Russian and others – is stressing political, social and environmental systems. There are also significant constraints on the level of economic achievement of certain sectors of national or regional economies due to a lack of resources and increased mining and deterioration of the groundwater supply. Despite the recent advances made in the peace discussions, the water issue remains a major stumbling block to a lasting peace in the region. Practically all of Israel’s fresh water comes from two sources: surface water supplied by the Jordan River, or ground water fed by recharge from the West Bank to one of three major aquifers. There is a long legacy of controversy over fresh water in the region, dating back thousands of years. In recent times, there was a proposed comprehensive plan for co-operative use of the Jordan River (the Johnston Plan) as early as the 1950s, but this was derailed by mistrust among the four riparian states (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria).
Each nation has tended to follow its own water policies since the failure of that agreement, often to the detriment of other nations. Water has long been considered a security issue in the region, and on numerous occasions Israel and its neighboring Arab states have feuded over access to Jordan River waters. A number of 10 authors have argued that a major contributing factor in the tensions leading to the 1967 war was the water issue. At the time, Israel was consuming almost 100% of its available fresh water supplies. Occupation of the three territories (the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip) after the war changed this situation in two ways. First, it increased the fresh water available to Israel by almost 50%. Second, it gave the country almost total control over the headwaters of the Jordan River and its tributaries, as well as control over the major recharge region for its underground aquifers. Control of water resources in the West Bank and the Golan Heights are now integrated into Israel’s economy and, accordingly, essential to its future. Presently, Israel draws over forty percent of its fresh water supplies from the West Bank alone, and the country would face immediate water shortages and a significant curtailment of its agricultural and industrial development if it lost control of these supplies. The growing number of settlements in the region poses an additional problem.
The water in the West Bank is now used in a ratio of 4.5% by Palestinians and 95.5% by Israelis (while the population is over 90% Palestinian). To ensure security of water supply from the West Bank aquifers, Israel has put in place quite restrictive policies regarding Palestinian use of water. Israel’s application of restrictions on Palestinian development and use of water not only improves its access to West Bank water, but also extends its control throughout the territory. It is this inequitable situation with respect to water allocations which increases resentment and adds to tensions in the region.
Mitigating Future Environmental Conflicts
There is need to have a policy formulation process of adaptation strategies regarding environmental management. This, in turn, becomes a collective process to attain environmental security. Environmental adaptation strategies today are formed and implemented collectively 11 by different stakeholders: governments, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), the international donor community, and experts from home and abroad. They act together in innovating strategies to ensure environmental security. Addressing environment security is no longer dependent only on the national actors—it becomes transnational considering the context of further cooperation among the divergent actors. This cooperation framework may embrace a new idea of ―collective security from the perspective of the 21st century. Here, all the actors are willing to design a framework of security to decipher the codes of environmental threats and promote mutual engagements.
To consider environment as a security threat, it is obvious that conventional security discourse requires reform of its state-centric conceptual underpinnings. An interdisciplinary research approach is essential to understand the environmental security properly. This approach should involve a range of experts from environmentalists to defense specialists; an understanding the research questions and permit more detailed investigation about security; observation of the capacity of the concerned actors to secure the subjects; and a definition of the network of security actors who define/redefine security. Finally, the approach should successfully correlate the causal factors of environmental threats to human security. Over the years, research on the environment-security interconnection has experienced new developments. Identifying environmental threats as security concern becomes an interdisciplinary practice for academics and activists.

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