A lack of consensus among researchers and policymakers over how to define “environmental security,” “national security,” and “human security” complicates discussions of the security implications of environmental and demographic change, assert Robert Mcab and Kathleen Bailey in “Latin America and the debate over environmental protection and national security
,” published recently in the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management Journal
. A shortage of theoretical and empirical evidence makes proving the existence of environment-demography-security linkages difficult. Nevertheless, argue the authors, “given the relatively fragile nature of many Latin American economies, accurately addressing these threats is imperative for economic and social stability and security.”
Latin America’s rural environments face severe threats, including deforestation, land degradation, erosion, and water scarcity and pollution. “Human-induced land degradation and water shortages directly affect economic sufficiency in many rural areas,” write the authors. Another environmental cause of insecurity and violence—in Latin America and elsewhere—is land distribution. Inequitable land distribution in El Salvador, Latin America’s most densely populated country, was one of the causes of the country’s 18-year civil war. The 1992 peace agreement that ended the war set up a plan for land redistribution, although some question how fully it has been implemented.
Demographic shifts can also destabilize communities and regions: Migration can generate tensions and violence between newcomers and established populations, as has occurred in the disputed rural region of San Juan, which lies between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Moreover, Latin America is the most urbanized part of the developing world, and growing urban populations—often swelled by internal migrants—are straining cities’ and municipalities’ ability to provide basic services such as waste disposal and clean water.
Mcab and Bailey emphasize that demographic phenomena such as population growth and migration do not automatically create environmental degradation or threaten national security. Instead, it is the manner in which they interact with other socio-economic and political factors that can lead them to damage the environment or foster insecurity.