›July 26, 2007 // By Rachel WeisshaarThe recent discovery of a vast underground lake in Darfur has prompted hope for a resolution to the region’s terrible conflict, which is partially rooted in tensions over scarce resources—particularly water. Yet the lake is not a silver bullet. First of all, there may not be any water in it. Alain Gachet, a French geologist who has studied mineral and water exploration in Africa for 20 years, told BBC News that he thinks the lake is probably dry.
In addition, as The New York Times astutely observed, it is the way in which natural resources are managed—not simply their scarcity or abundance—that determines whether they further peace or conflict. Time and again, inexpert or corrupt management of plentiful natural resources has plunged nations into violence and poverty, rather than granted them prosperity. In Africa, this “resource curse” has been a regrettably common phenomenon.
A report released by the UN Environment Programme last month and an opinion piece by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also highlighted how environmental factors have contributed to the crisis in Darfur.
›July 26, 2007 // By Sean Peoples
Current approaches to trade and aid often fail to stem poverty, promote stability, or prevent conflict in the developing world. According to Trade, Aid and Security: An agenda for peace and development, existing policies are poorly designed and benefit rich countries, denying developing nations access to vital financial markets. Lifting people out of poverty requires a secure environment and effective trade and aid policies can promote the preconditions for peace and stability. Oli Brown, a project manager and policy researcher at the International Institute for Sustainable Development and one of the editors of Trade, Aid and Security, discusses current development strategies and the conditions for wider political and economic stability.
›July 25, 2007 // By Rachel WeisshaarNational Public Radio (NPR) and National Geographic have teamed up to produce “Climate Connections,” a year-long series that explores, in its own words, “How we are shaping climate” and “How climate is shaping us.” This fascinating, first-rate series should appeal to non-experts as well as those more familiar with these issues.
NPR and National Geographic produce stories for the series independently, but link extensively to one another’s contributions. Both organizations’ websites offer a wealth of compelling—and sometimes sobering—stories on the connections between people and climate. For instance, NPR’s most recent “Climate Connections” story examines how the gas flares that are produced in the Niger Delta when oil companies burn off surplus natural gas are releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and likely sickening nearby residents.
Both websites are filled with interactive features: National Geographic has a “Grade Your Climate IQ” quiz and an animated climate change simulation, while NPR’s website allows viewers to find past “Climate Connections” stories by navigating around a map of the world. I encourage you to listen in or log on to this excellent, cross-cutting series.
›General William E. Ward was recently chosen to lead AFRICOM, the new U.S. military command in Africa currently in its pre-implementation stage. If Ward and AFRICOM are to succeed in promoting peace and stability in Africa, the military must stop viewing security as consisting of conventional, state-to-state relationships and adopt a more flexible “human security” concept. This model views security as “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear,” and includes economic, food, health, personal, community, environmental, and political sub-components. Developing a robust environmental security engagement strategy would be one of the most constructive ways for AFRICOM to implement a human security approach.
The greatest challenge for this nascent command is expanding its tool bag beyond conventional military strategies to include programs that promote the health and security of Africans. Military planners are skilled at determining the number of brigade combat teams, battle carrier groups, and air wings needed for conventional security challenges. But security in Africa depends heavily on non-military factors that fall outside the traditional purview of the armed forces. For AFRICOM to be successful, it must approach security as a mutually beneficial proposition, not a zero-sum game. Most African governments view the Department of Defense’s attempt to adopt a more nuanced approach to security in Africa with guarded optimism. They would certainly welcome environmental partnerships with AFRICOM as a way to promote political and economic stability through sustainable ecological practices, according to discussions held with Amina Salum Ali, the African Union’s ambassador to the U.S.
One of the top security concerns of African leaders—and one that is little-appreciated in U.S. security circles—is the impact of environment on stability and security. The ongoing misery in Darfur, which is partially rooted in conflicts over land and water use, is one tragic example of this link. On a positive note, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) researchers recently discovered water there that may well prove to be a source of resolution. That said, numerous reports—such as the one by the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board—indicate that climate change and environmental catastrophes will continue to be a source of instability in Africa. Unfortunately, the continent most affected by environmental shock is also the least capable of mitigating its effects. AFRICOM must develop an engagement strategy that works with host governments, international membership organizations, NGOs, and other U.S. governmental agencies to find solutions to Africa’s environmental challenges.
The first, and most obvious, advantage of an environmental security strategy is its potential to build nontraditional alliances. Numerous organizations, from UNEP to the World Wildlife Fund, are actively working in Africa in this arena. AFRICOM could benefit significantly from the years of on-the-ground experience that these groups possess. What remains uncertain is the willingness of these civilian organizations to partner with the new command.
A second advantage of an environmental security strategy is that it allows the U.S. military to engage constructively with host governments and regional economic communities. Using AFRICOM to train African militaries on emergency disaster response, for instance, encourages those militaries to work under the mandate of civilian authority and fosters long-term democratic governance.
The idea of environmental security as a military engagement strategy is not new. When General Anthony Zinni was head of Central Command in central Africa, he devoted an entire section to environmental engagement programs, establishing a strong track record of success. Given that environmental concerns are intertwined with a host of other pressing problems in Africa, a coherent environmental security strategy would pay dividends on multiple levels.
Shannon Beebe is a senior Africa analyst at the Department of the Army. The opinions expressed in this article are solely his own and do not reflect the positions of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army.
›July 19, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoMy friend and colleague is in jail. Unjustly.
Her name is Haleh Esfandiari and she is a grandmother. In early May, she was thrust into solitary confinement in Iran’s Evin Prison with a single blanket. She hasn’t been allowed to meet with her friends, family, or lawyers since then. This picture shows Evin Prison nestled within the leafy northern suburbs of Tehran at the foot of snow-capped mountains, but the prison has none of the bucolic qualities that the image suggests. “Notorious” is the ubiquitous descriptor.
Haleh’s “crime” is doing what we do every day here at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.: provide a safe space where scholars, policymakers, and ordinary men and women can learn from one another through open, non-partisan dialogue on today’s most pressing issues. Or at least we thought it was safe.
Haleh’s job is to foster discussion of the many political and social issues at stake in the Middle East, often with a special focus on Iran, one of the two countries she calls home. Haleh is a world-renowned expert on Iran’s rich language, culture, history, and politics. Yet the Iranian Intelligence Ministry has charged her and a handful of other Iranian-Americans with attempting to foment a velvet revolution to overthrow the theocratic regime.
“Nonsense,” says Lee Hamilton, the former congressman who is my and Haleh’s boss at the Wilson Center. As other commentators have pointed out, Haleh is more likely than most in Washington to give those sympathetic to the Ahmadinejad government an opportunity to make their case. She assiduously avoids having financial supporters for her Middle East Program who might compromise her neutrality. She even refuses to go on Voice of America for fear it would associate her with the Bush administration’s strategy of trying to oust regimes rather than change regime behavior.
I serve as a program director at the Wilson Center, just as Haleh does. While her area of expertise is U.S.-Iranian relations, mine is finding ways to use the environment to build trust and confidence between adversaries. Haleh and I have routinely collaborated on environmental and health issues. For instance, in 1999, Haleh and I hosted ten Iranians who headed environmental nongovernmental organizations or were professors of environmental studies. They came to the United States as guests of Search for Common Ground in order to develop new allies in battling environmental challenges in Iran and gain a deeper understanding of Iran’s environmental issues. In both Tehran and Los Angeles, for instance, tall mountains trap pollution over the city, causing poor air quality.
Search also hoped that the Iranian delegation would build civil society links between Iran and the U.S. that could serve as a baby step in a long path to reconciliation between the two countries’ peoples and governments. In this way, environmental dialogue may serve as a “lifeline” for dialogue when a relationship is otherwise stormy. Some of us have called this and similar efforts “environmental peacemaking.”
In May 2005 it was my turn to go to Iran. Whereas Haleh routinely visits Iran because her ailing mother still resides there, it was my first venture. My previous attempts to reciprocate the Iranian delegation’s visit had fallen through because I had been denied a visa. But this time, the Iranian government was doing the inviting. Under the government of President Khatami, “dialogue among civilizations” was a key foreign policy initiative. Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president for environment, partnered with the UN Environment Programme to organize a large international conference entitled “Environment, Peace, and the Dialogue of Civilizations.”
The country’s first female vice president, Madame Ebtekar gained revolutionary street cred as “Mary,” the student spokesperson during the 1979 embassy takeover and hostage crisis. In organizing the conference, she was using environmental issues to engage governments (six ministers of environment attended the conference), UN leaders, and civil society representatives from all over the world. When President Khatami addressed the attendees, it was clear that even the highest levels of the Iranian government supported Ebtekar’s initiative.
Progress made those days in Tehran was hard to measure. For me, the most encouraging signs came not at the conference but on the wide boulevards and tree-lined riverside pathways of Isfahan, where a Norwegian colleague and I ventured as tourists. Looking distinctly non-Iranian, the two of us were repeatedly approached by men, women, and children, who were uniformly welcoming. The short version of each conversation: Don’t you think our country is beautiful? Our governments have their differences, but you shouldn’t mistake those disagreements for Iranian hatred of the American people.
It is this sympathetic view toward Iran that I am sure Haleh wants us to bear in mind as our outrage at her ludicrous detention intensifies. No one has been allowed any in-person contact with her since her May 8th arrest. Monitored minute-long calls to her 93-year-old mother are the only source of information on Haleh’s condition. Naturally, she assures her mother that she is fine, but we have no way of knowing whether or not that is true. And no one is “fine” after being falsely charged with capital crimes and spending more than two months in solitary confinement.
The generous view of Iranians that I gained on my one short trip there is harder and harder to keep in mind. The government changed hands just after I visited in the summer of 2005, and the dramatically more hostile Ahmadinejad regime has jettisoned any efforts toward regular dialogue on even less-contentious issues than nuclear proliferation. President Khatami, Madame Ebtekar, and other government officials seeking dialogue with the West have been sidelined. I am afraid to even email the Iranian colleagues I met during my visit for fear that they would come under suspicion for such an exchange.
Imprisoning Haleh has not done Iran’s government any favors. All the Intelligence Ministry has accomplished by detaining her is silencing one of the most thoughtful, evenhanded voices currently speaking about Iran and the Middle East. Iran’s imprisonment of Haleh is damaging its global image and reducing the international community’s sympathy for its goals. We demand Haleh’s immediate release. It will be to her benefit and to Iran’s.
More information on Haleh’s case is available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/ and http://www.freehaleh.org./
This piece was also published on Gristmill.
›July 19, 2007 // By Karima TawfikClimate change, biodiversity, air pollution, deforestation, water scarcity, and other environmental issues share a common denominator that lies quietly beneath the higher priorities of the environmental movement: population pressure.Recently, several experts, including Nafis Sadik, the former director of the UN Population Fund, have said that the lack of attention to population, as evidenced by drops in donor support for family planning since 1995, will have negative consequences for the welfare of future generations. Despite the UN’s 2006 prediction that the population will grow to 9.2 billion by 2050, environmentalists have largely ignored the issue of human population growth, focusing instead on reducing the quantity of resources each person uses and other issues that are often exacerbated by an increasingly crowded Earth.
While scaling down each person’s environmental footprint is indeed important, demands for land and resources will increase in tandem with population growth. This is one reason why the Optimum Population Trust’s (OPT) recently-published report Youthquake: Population, fertility, and environment in the 21st century advocates for wider access to family planning and the promotion of voluntary population policies as part of a comprehensive environmental protection strategy. Discourse on population management is always controversial, but OPT believes that it is critical to achieving environmental sustainability.
›July 18, 2007 // By Geoff DabelkoScholars, policy analysts, and even military officers are breaking down climate change’s impacts into what they hope are more manageable topics for examination. The migration that climate change could cause is one such topic. For instance, the Center for American Progress recently posted a piece entitled “Climate Refugees: Global Warming will Spur Migration.” The International Peace Academy analyzed “Climate Change and Conflict: The Migration Link” in a May 2007 Coping With Crisis working paper. Climate change-induced migration also figured prominently in the security perspective offered by the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board in its “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.”
In many respects, these pieces are careful in their discussion of the topic. But allow me a few words of caution on climate change and migration based on what we learned from a series of programs on the topic in the late 1990s here at the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
First, the use of the term “refugee” is convenient but problematic. In order to achieve refugee status, people must be fleeing persecution or violence and must cross a national border. Countries are then obligated by international law to admit them, provide shelter, and so forth. Notably, then, the definition of “refugee” is based on political boundaries and has nothing to offer internally displaced persons. It also does nothing for people who are “pulled” for economic reasons or “pushed” for environmental reasons. Because not all people displaced by climate change will be fleeing violence or cross a national border, it is critical to avoid referring to them as refugees if one wants to be taken seriously by the United Nations, lawyers, academics, and governments. Governments in particular have a fairly strong interest in keeping the definition narrow because of the obligations they have to refugees. For this reason, the “knee jerk” reaction for most of them will be to resist granting refugee status to a new large group of people.
The second problem is that the motivations for migration are multiple, and distinguishing between economic pulls and environmental pushes is very difficult. A farmer suffering from prolonged drought is both pushed to move from his land and pulled to an urban area or to more fertile ground by the promise of greater economic opportunity. This is self-evident, of course, but when the situation is reduced to “climate migrants” versus “economic migrants,” the response from climate change skeptics will always be: “They are just economic refugees.” One can easily see this classification problem with Mexican migrants coming across the border to the United States to work. Are they climate migrants because their homes have experienced prolonged drought that may have been exacerbated by climate change? Or are they economic migrants who are “just coming for our jobs”? The multi-causality of the motivations for moving makes labeling a migrant with any single adjective (political, economic, environmental, climate, etc.) problematic.
The third difficulty—which follows from the challenge of multi-causality—is that it is extraordinarily difficult to develop and defend a methodology for calculating the number of climate migrants. A prominent biologist who spoke at the Wilson Center in the mid-1990s claimed that the number of climate refugees could be in the tens of millions. When one participant asked him how he determined who was in and who was out of his total, his response was basically: I read a lot of reports and this is my best guess. Naturally, the air went out of the room, and we might as well have ended the meeting right then. This is the danger of asserting that there are millions more climate migrants than political refugees from war or persecution. For starters, is the number of climate migrants being compared with the legal category of refugees, or does the comparison also factor in the millions of war-induced internally displaced persons? If this kind of comparative analysis isn’t done carefully, some will believe that the climate change migration numbers have been exaggerated by a flawed methodology. This issue will then be in danger of being unfairly marginalized.
I say “unfairly” because I believe climate change could have a tremendous effect on human migration. Even though we cannot parse out a single cause, climate changes are still critical pushes that cause people to move. Migration—like conflict and other social phenomena—is by definition multi-causal. Just as “environmental conflict” theories that privileged environmental scarcity as the explanation for civil conflict were criticized, so too is the “climate refugee” argument open to critique.
The most nuanced conflict work now being done focuses on how environmental scarcity or abundance can exacerbate more-proximate causes of conflict such as ethnic difference or relative deprivation. Likewise, the key to getting climate on the table as a principal driver of migration is to carefully trace how it interacts with the many other factors that cause people to move.
Climate and migration links may prove to be effective arguments in the larger political discussions of climate change mitigation. That is clearly the way the Center for American Progress is deploying them. Raising migration (and its potentially negative impacts on security, which the CNA report highlights) as an additional cost of inaction may be effective in some political settings. But to maintain a focus on improving the lives of people on the ground, it is crucial to translate this larger theoretical and political argument into a variety of specific interventions. Then, when donors, NGOs, and host governments become convinced of the challenges presented by climate and security linkages, there will be a full menu of responses to offer and implement.
›July 17, 2007 // By Alex FischerInward Searching at the Security Council
After it recently spent a day discussing how trade in natural resources can fuel conflict, the UN Security Council issued a statement detailing ways for the UN to do more to end illegal natural resources trade in conflict zones. The statement contained no specific directives, however, reflecting the continuing split within the council over the extent of its authority to regulate natural resources. The Chinese delegation warned that sanctions, one tool the UN could use to combat illicit exploitation of natural resources, often harm countries that are already highly vulnerable. Along with other countries, China argued that coordinating and strengthening existing UN agencies, rather than creating new initiatives, would be the best way to prevent natural resources from contributing to violent conflict.
AFRICOM Encounters Challenges to Implementation
The U.S. military’s plan to establish AFRICOM, a new military command in Africa, has been stalled as potential host nations voice their concerns. African countries including Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, and Djibouti have declined U.S. officials’ proposals to set up the new base in their respective nations. They are reluctant to collaborate publicly with the U.S. military and are concerned about the increased risk of terrorist attacks against new American facilities and the possibility of future American intervention in Africa. The U.S. has stated that the command center will focus on development, peace, security, education, democracy, and economic growth.
Military Should Prepare for Climate Change Impacts, Says British Official
British Chief of Defense Staff Jock Stirrup said the potential impact of climate change on weak and vulnerable states would be “rather like pouring petrol onto a burning fire.” The military must incorporate climate change impacts into its security calculations, warned Stirrup. New challenges for the security establishment could include increasingly frequent natural disasters, shifting poverty stresses, and social unrest. “Now add in the effects of climate change. Poverty and despair multiply, resentment surges and people look for someone to blame,” he said.
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