›What’s wrong with the world today? A whole lot. War in Iraq, poverty in rural America, malaria in Africa, global warming…the list is endless. But the editors of Foreign Policy think they have a way to solve these problems and more. The magazine’s new cover story, “21 Ways to Save the World,” is a collection of short essays on a wide range of global issues by some of the world’s leading thinkers.
Besides the interesting topics and the authors’ engaging styles, I like this series because it forces journalists and scholars—both of whom usually write about problems—to write about solutions. This shift is important because policymakers often get stumped when they hear that issues like high fertility and pollution are concerns of national security—what can they do about these seemingly insurmountable problems?
Most of the dilemmas and solutions presented in the article will be familiar to the informed reader. Amy Myers Jaffe extols the virtues of electricity. Seth Berkeley is optimistic about an AIDS vaccine. Jeffrey Sachs calls for malaria intervention. But some of the proposed solutions will be a tough sell for the policy audience.
For example, as he does elsewhere, Nicholas Eberstadt draws attention to the astonishingly high mortality of Russians—males in particular. He argues that if the United States intervenes, the benefits would be two-fold: humanitarian gains through Russian lives saved, and also political dividends in the form of a strengthened Russian democracy. But increased foreign aid for Russia’s health crisis will likely be a bitter pill for American politicians to swallow for a couple of reasons: First, there are still too many people occupying important government posts who got their first taste of power during the Cold War. For these folks, Russia is still the big bad bear and they may not be too keen on taking action to strengthen the Russian state. And for policymakers who are more humanitarian-minded, Eberstadt’s argument is still a hard sell because there’s simply no room for another needy state. Thanks to relentless campaigning by celebrities like Bono and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, the U.S. government is finally attempting to gain traction in Africa and see the deplorable conditions there as both a humanitarian and security concern (AFRICOM is the most recent example of the United States trying to get ahead of the problem). Now they have to save Russia, too?
This gets at the larger issue with the collection of essays. While the editors of FP are noble in their aim to tackle all of the world’s troubles, I fear that policymakers will just continue to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of problems and the multitude of solutions—the deer-in-headlights response. Thomas Homer-Dixon is correct when he writes that problems are complex, systems are complex, and solutions must be complex. With so many problems of equal importance—in an environment where everyone has their issue—and so many solutions of equal viability, how are policymakers ever to choose?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, and a consultant to Policy Planning in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense.
›April 20, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoThe week of April 16th will go down as climate and security week. Monday found us in a fancy hotel ballroom within the shadow of Capitol Hill where eight former three-and four-star U.S. generals and admirals made a plea for more aggressive U.S. action on climate change. It was not a bunch of granola chomping, tree-huggers arrayed across the stage. Instead it was in front of 20 American flags that General Gordon Sullivan USA (Ret.) said in introducing the report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change: “We are not your traditional environmentalists.” Gordon, former Chief of Staff of the Army and chair of the CNA Corp’s Military Advisory Board, ran quickly through the group’s findings and recommendations before each of the seven other senior officers drew on their particular backgrounds and tailored how they viewed climate change as a security threat.
Former Admiral Frank “Skip” Bowman USN (Ret.), the submariner, said not planning for climate change made about as much sense as not planning for a hostile underwater environment.
General Charles Wald (USAF) Ret., who worked extensively in Africa from his deputy commander post in European Command, spoke of the resource pressures and instability he witnessed in West and East Africa – factors likely to become more challenging security threats with sea level rise and prolonged droughts.
Admiral Joseph Prueher USN (Ret.), former Commander of Pacific Command and U.S. Ambassador to China highlighted sea level rise implications for population and business centers like Shanghai and Navy bases like San Diego and Norfolk. He went on to say the U.S. can’t tackle the climate change problem alone, necessitating deeper engagement with key players like China and India.
Many of the officers emphasized that the panel “wanted to move beyond the debate over cause and effect” in climate change. As military men, they stressed they were accustomed to making important decisions with incomplete or uncertain information. They called on policymakers to do the same in the climate realm.
Three other senior officers on the Military Advisory Group weren’t in Washington that day. One of the missing members, General Tony Zinni USMC (Ret.) gave a very dynamic NPR interview that was also generating a buzz among those who follow these issues. Zinni has been making the case for linking environment and security for at least eight years. It was as Commander of Central Command (CENTCOM) in 1999 that Zinni said at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington that he wasn’t doing his job as head of CENTCOM if he was not following environmental and demographic issues as both threats and opportunities in his theaters of operation (North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia).
One day later the spotlight shown on the shore of the East River at the United Nations. The United Kingdom, chair of the Security Council in April, sent Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to oversee the Council’s first consideration of climate change as a security threat. The session was not without its disagreements.
Beckett emphasized that climate change posed threats beyond the “narrow” sense of security to threaten “collective” security of the international community and human well-being. The UK, France, Italy, the Secretary-General, and some developing countries such as Ghana, Panama, and Peru, highlighted the extra stress placed on already vulnerable populations in developing countries where pastorlists and agriculturalists already compete for scarce land and water. They suggested more of these conflicts would likely become (more) violent. Papau New Guinea representative, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, stressed that climate change posed a fundamental security threat – to their sovereign territory and their people.
Lining up against the Security Council considering climate change as a security issue were China, Indonesia, South Africa, and Pakistan speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. The countries acknowledged the tremendous challenges posed by climate change but situated them as sustainable development, not security issues. They argued the more representative UN General Assembly and UN Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and multilateral treaties in general were the more appropriate forums for debate. China emphasized the “common, but differentiated responsibilities” language found in the Framework Convention on Climate Change – a reminder that the developing world expects the developed countries who have contributed most to the greenhouse gas emissions to go first and move aggressively on mitigation.
The United States seemed unable to make up its mind and fell back on its familiar script of “it is all about goverance and state capacity” that it uses in just about every occasion on environment and development issues. Singapore’s representative shared the G77 and China reservation on the Security Council playing a key role on climate change, but suggested it still should have “some sort of a role, because it seems obvious to all but the wilfully blind that climate change must, if not now, then eventually have some impact on international peace and security.”
On Wednesday April 18 it was back to Washington where General Gordon Sullivan testified before the Select Committee On Energy Independence And Global Warming of the U.S. House Of Representatives. Sullivan laid out concisely the Military Advisory Board’s four findings and five recommendations:
- First, projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security;
- Second, climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world;
- Third, projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world; and
- Fourth, climate change, national security, and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.
- First, the national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies;
- Second, the U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability;
- Third, the U.S. should commit to global partnerships that help less developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts;
- Fourth, the Department of Defense should enhance its operational capability by accelerating the adoption of improved business processes and innovative technologies that result in improved U.S. combat power through energy efficiency; and
- Fifth, DoD should conduct an assessment of the impact on U.S. military installations worldwide of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other possible climate change impacts over the next 30 to 40 years.
What it will add up to is unclear. What is clear is that political space has been created for discussing climate and security’s links as part of the larger momentum for debate on climate change opened up by a tangled mix of factors: the new IPCC report and other scientific findings, An Inconvenient Truth, state action in the US, EU renewable energy targets, Hurricane Katrina, European heat waves and floods, high gas prices, faith-based efforts (What would Jesus drive? He wouldn’t, he’d walk.) Climate and security is now on the agenda – the challenge is now to find practical steps for a variety of actors to take to help break the negative links and grasp opportunities presented.
- First, projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security;
›April 15, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoPress coverage has started the day before the official launch of “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” a report by 11 retired U.S. generals and admirals organized by the CNA Corporation, a security think tank based in Alexandria, Virginia. Sherri Goodman, the former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security during the Clinton Administrations has assembled this group with financial support from the Rockefeller Family Foundations.
The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and BBC all have coverage. An extended press release is available on the CNA site. The report will be available here on Monday, April 16.
Stay tuned as UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will make April 17 climate and security day at the UN Security Council.
›April 11, 2007 // By Gib ClarkeReporting on Population Action International’s latest report, The Shape of Things to Come, The New York Times’ Celia W. Dugger calls the link between young age structures and conflict “no simple coincidence,” observing that Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all suffer from bad governance, violent conflict, and young populations. Retired Army Major General William L. Nash sets the scene with military efficiency:
You’ve got a lot of young men. You’ve got a lot of poverty. You’ve got a lot of bad governance, and often you’ve got greed with extractive industries. You put all that together, and you’ve got the makings of trouble.Shape concludes that youthful populations (countries where up to two-thirds of the population is below 30 years old) are most likely to present hurdles to political stability, governance, and, in some cases, economic development. For example, between 1970 and 1999, 80 percent of civil conflicts (those with 25 deaths or more) occurred in countries where 60 percent of the population was under 30 years old. In contrast, countries with an older age structure had only a 5 percent chance of civil conflict in the 1990s. Increased access to family planning and reproductive health, as well as improved rights for women—legal, educational, and economic—can help countries avoid demographic problems, the report says.
While Dugger’s explanation of the link between youthful populations and conflict is strong and succinct, she does not delve into the nuances of demography that are not so simple, but yet just as illuminating. Shape also focuses on other countries along the “demographic transition”— a population’s shift from high to low rates of birth and death—including “youthful” South Korea, “mature” Germany, and “transitional” Mexico and Tunisia. Some countries are impossible to classify strictly by age structures, including the United Arab Emirates, where large numbers of young men are immigrating for work; and sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV/AIDS is killing adults and children alike.
This report, as well as the PAI’s 2003 The Security Demographic, was released in a political environment increasingly concerned with the negative economic consequences of low fertility—the “birth dearth”—in developed countries, which has led Russia, France, and Iran to offer financial rewards for women that have more children. In addition, other recent reports have focused on the “demographic dividend” that developing countries could harness by taking advantage of the ingenuity and additional labor of youthful age structures. Many developed countries, concerned about below-replacement fertility rates, are thus not noticing or remain unconcerned that the population of the developing world continues to grow—and some even consider family planning to have been “accomplished.”
Despite the shifting political landscape, the fundamental arguments for female empowerment and family planning remain the same. Provision of reproductive health information and access to family planning goods and services are development imperatives, and the only way to ensure that women and couples can choose the size of their families. Furthermore, lowering birth rates still has positive economic benefits. The NYT article, while limited in its focus, will help bolster support for such programs, because as PAI’s Tod J. Preston tells Dugger:
The budget realities are such that unless you can show how your programs help achieve larger ends—security, development, poverty reduction, democracy—traditional rationales for humanitarian assistance aren’t enough.
›April 11, 2007 // By Meaghan ParkerThe population-environment connection is riding the climate change bandwagon into the Op-Ed columns—at least overseas. The Observer’s Juliette Jowit lays out four reasons why “No one is willing to address the accelerating growth in the world’s population” including:
“[T]he uncomfortable suspicion that environmentalism is a soft cover for more objectionable population agendas to stop or reduce immigration or growth in developing countries. Sometimes it might be. But that doesn’t take away the underlying fact: that more people use more resources and create more pollution.”But, she concludes, this is no reason to “to ignore one half of the world’s biggest problem: the population effect on climate change.” The lively comment board takes sides on this sometimes-controversial linkage with gusto.
London-based journalist Gwynne Dyer argues in the New Zealand Herald that despite some progress, the “Population bomb [is] still ticking away” in many developing countries. Like Jowitt, he bemoans population’s perceived political incorrectness, which means it “scarcely gets a mention even in discussions on climate change.”
But not talking about population growth is a “failure of government”—especially when the consequences include not only poverty, but war, he says:
“Often, however, the growing pressure of people on the land leads indirectly to catastrophic wars: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, Somalia, Congo, Angola, and Burundi have all been devastated by chronic, many-sided civil wars, and all seven appear in the top 10 birth-rate list. Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mozambique, which have suffered similar ordeals, are just out of the top 10.”Aside from the rough correlation he draws between fertility rate and civil conflict, Dyer doesn’t cite any reasons or research supporting this indirect link. Experts writing in the ECSP Report’s “Population and Conflict” series provide a more nuanced look at this relationship.
›April 5, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoOn April 17, the UK will use the prerogative of the chair of the UN Security Council to devote a day to the security implications of climate change. UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is scheduled to deliver a major address meant to put climate-security links squarely on the high table of security policy.
John Ashton, the UK special envoy for climate change and an advisor to Beckett, has been making the case for treating climate as a security issue since he took up the post last fall. Writing for BBC On-line’s Green Room, Ashton says
Conflict always has multiple causes, but a changing climate amplifies all the other factors. Katrina and Darfur illustrate how an unstable climate will make it harder to deliver security unless we act more effectively now to neutralise the threat.Ashton is certain to be instrumental in framing Beckett’s upcoming Security Council session. Just last week in Berlin, Ashton laid out the rationale for the UN session and provided what is likely a sneak preview of Beckett’s main points. He highlighted climate’s coming contributions to conflict through border disputes, migration, contested energy supplies, water, land and fish scarcities, societal stresses from arrested development, and worsening humanitarian crises. In his prepared remarks Ashton states “The cumulative impacts of climate change could exacerbate these drivers of conflict, and particularly increase the risk to those states already susceptible to conflict, for example where weak governance and political processes cannot mediate successfully between competing interests.”
Even the French are picking up on the climate-security debates here in the United States. Le Monde covered a March 30-31 climate and security conference held in Chapel Hill, North Carloline under the auspices of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and with U.S. Army War College funding.
›April 5, 2007 // By Gib ClarkeTo an American “outsider” like me, a recent conference in Berlin on integrating environment, development, and conflict prevention reflected the stark contrast between our policies and those of the EU. Though we are confronting similar situations – indeed, the same situation – we are dealing with them quite differently. In recent years, European policymakers have tried to balance environmental and energy concerns, working to decrease humans’ impact on climate and the environment and encourage environmental cooperation, while still generating enough energy for growth.
The tone of the conference was bleak, but the EU’s recent action on climate change is an encouraging sign of how governments can use scientific data to make difficult policy decisions. Only a month age, the EU agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2012.
Interestingly, the conference was situated at the center of German’s current political dominance, coming on the heels of the EUs 50th Anniversary celebration in Berlin and during the year of Germany’s joint Presidency of the EU and the G8. The conference’s timing also preceded the start of the UK’s Presidency of the United Nations Security Council. John Ashton, special representative on climate change at the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, announced that the UK will hold a “thematic debate” in the Security Council exploring the relationship among climate, energy, and security. The debate, the first of its kind at such a high level, will focus on the security implications of a changing climate, as well as other factors that contribute to conflict, like population growth, immigration, and access to food, water, and natural resources.
›April 2, 2007 // By Christine CraddockBritain’s Environment Secretary David Miliband is calling for increased action on climate change, asserting that it would result not only in environmental and economic benefits but also a “peace dividend.” He said last Tuesday at a World Wildlife Fund conference:
“[Action on climate change is] our best hope of addressing the underlying causes of future conflict in the world, and [it] is as significant for foreign policy as it is for environment policy.”I agree that action on climate change can engender a “triple dividend” — to the economy, environment, and security. Encouraging a gradual transition toward a “low-carbon” economy is crucial for attracting investment and avoiding an abrupt, costlier one in the future. The welfare of many nations’ economies is linked to environment and security: rising sea levels would lead to displacement of coastal populations and potential battles over natural resources, while changing weather patterns could result in prolonged drought and famine in some places, or floods and the spread of waterborne diseases in others. As our planet changes, so too changes the availability of resources and how they are allocated.
I see Miliband’s comments as an articulation of the biggest economic, environmental, and security threat we currently face: a failure to successfully adapt to the impacts of climate change in the long run. Climate change “aggravates tensions that are already there and acts in conjunction with other sources of instability,” he said. The “peace dividend” he speaks of will result from soothing these tensions through adaptive climate policies on mitigating the foreign and domestic levels.
Miliband’s statement also comes at an interesting time for British policymaking, as parliament tries to establish a legislative framework for the country’s low-carbon transition. Additionally, with Prime Minister Tony Blair on the way out in 12 weeks, a storm of speculation brews over who will be the next Labour Party leader, and Miliband finds himself among the potential candidates. Rumored to also be a candidate for the foreign secretary cabinet post, his comments, at the very least, his comments rrepresent a growing awareness of the environment as a security issue in Britain.
Join the Conversation
- Extreme Realities: Severe Weather, Climate Change, and Our National Security [Screening] Thursday, November 6, 2014
- Bridging the Gap: A Conversation About Family Planning and Climate Change Tuesday, October 28, 2014
- FAPESP-U.S. Collaborative Research on the Amazon Tuesday, October 28, 2014