After a few years left out in the cold, environmental security came home to a warm welcome at this year’s International Studies Association conference in San Francisco, drawing large crowds to many star-studded panels
. Water, climate, energy, and AFRICOM were hot topics, and the military/intelligence communities were out in force. Many of the publishers indicated they were seeking to acquire titles or journals on environmental security, given the scarcity of books on the topic currently in the works. Demographic security even got a few shout-outs from well-placed supporters.
Climate change and energy security panels dominated the program. Chaired by the National Intelligence Council’s Mathew Burrows, “Militarization of Energy Security” featured contributors to the edited volume forthcoming from Daniel Moran and James Russell of the Naval Postgraduate School—including original resource conflict gadfly Michael Klare, who claimed that lack of oil itself isn’t the problem, but that efforts to extract less accessible supplies would provoke violence in places like Nigeria, Venezuela, and Siberia. The intense discussion contrasted the approaches of China and the United States to ensuring energy security; Moran pointed out that China sent “bankers and oilmen” into Africa, whereas the United States created AFRICOM. “If the Chinese had created a military command in Africa, there wouldn’t be a dry seat in the Pentagon,” he added. David Hamon of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency observed that BP has a “security regime to protect their interests that would make a military blush.”
At “Climate Change, Natural Disasters, and Armed Conflict,” Clionadh Radleigh put the kibosh on the fearmongering predictions of waves of transnational “environmental refugees.” Similarly, Halvard Buhaug explored weaknesses in the reported links between climate change and conflict, calling for more rigorous research on this currently trendy topic. Christian Webersik’s research found links between negative rainfall and higher incidences of conflict in Somalia and Sudan, but he cautioned against using this relationship to predict climate-induced conflict.
A flood of panels on water, conflict, and cooperation took advantage of the conference’s West Coast location to call on water world heavies Aaron Wolf and Peter Gleick, who participated in a lively standing room-only roundtable chaired by ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko. Despite the obvious interest in the topic, publishers in the exhibit hall didn’t have much to offer on water and security.
AFRICOM drew some heat, especially from a panel of educators from military academies who explored peace parks and other “small-ball” approaches to conflict prevention. All the panelists were generally supportive of AFRICOM’s efforts to integrate nontraditional development work into the military’s portfolio—which, as discussant and retired U.S. Army Col. Maxie McFarland pointed out, it is already doing “by default” in Iraq and Afghanistan. McFarland cautioned, however, that “just because the Army can do it, doesn’t mean you want them to do it.” Air War College Professor Stephen Burgess predicted that the groundswell of climate change awareness would push the next president to include it in his or her National Security Strategy.
Rich Cincotta’s demographic security panel attracted significant interest—no small feat on the last day. The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Thomas Mahnken said that demographic trends and shocks are of “great interest to us in the government”—particularly forecasting that could identify what countries or regions the DoD should be worried about—particularly China and India (good thing demographer Jennifer Sciubba is on the case in his office).
The emphasis on prediction and forecasting stood out from the general trend of ISA panels, which mostly focus on analysis of current or past events. Mathew Burrows called for government and academia to “push the frontiers” on forecasting even further—particularly on the impacts of food security, water shortages, and environmentally induced migration.
Despite the warm, fuzzy feelings for environmental security, there were few panels devoted to general natural resource conflict, and none to post-conflict environmental peacebuilding (Michael Beevers contributed one of the few papers to explicitly address the topic).
What’ll be next year’s hot topics? Submit your proposals by May 30 for the 2009 ISA Annual Conference in New York City.
To download any of the papers mentioned above, visit the ISA’s online paper archive.
For more on ECSP at ISA, see “Environmental Security Is Hot Topic at the 2008 International Studies Association Conference.”