The end of the Cold War coincided with a decline in the total number of armed conflicts
around the world; moreover, according to the UN Peacekeeping Capstone Doctrine
, civil conflicts now outnumber interstate wars. These shifts have given rise to a new generation of peace support operations in which environmental issues are playing a growing role. The number of peace support operations launched by non-UN actors—including the EU and NATO—has doubled in the past decade
The environment can harm deployed personnel through exposure to infectious diseases or environmental contaminants, so preventive measures are typically taken to protect the health of deployed forces. However, because environmental stress caused by climate change might act as a threat multiplier
—increasing the need for peace support operations—it is ever more necessary for the international community to conduct crisis management operations in an environmentally sustainable fashion. But can the deployed soldier, police officer, or search-and-rescue worker really act as an environmental steward?
I believe important steps are being taken to ensure the answer to this question is “yes.” The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations recently drafted environmental protection policies and guidelines for UN field missions and started to implement them through the UN Department of Field Services and the UN Mission in Sudan. Various pilot projects are underway, including an environmental awareness and training program and sustainable base camp activities, such as alternative energy use. These projects are coordinated by the Swedish Defence Research Agency and funded by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Within NATO, Environmental Protection Standardization Agreements increase troop-contributing nations’ ability to work together on environmental protection. The NATO Science for Peace and Security Committee is also funding a set of workshops on the “Environmental Aspects of Military Compounds.”
Furthermore, defense organizations in Finland, Sweden, and the United States have cooperated to produce an Environmental Guidebook for Military Operations. The guidebook, which may be used by any nation, reflects a shared commitment to proactively reduce the environmental impacts of military operations and to protect the health and safety of deployed forces.
While the United Nations, NATO, and individual contributing nations are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their peacekeeping operations, the EU is lagging behind. In theory, the EU should find it easy to incorporate environmental considerations into its deployments. Most EU members are also NATO members, so if they can comply with NATO environmental regulations in NATO-led operations, they should be able to do the same with similar EU regulations in EU-led operations. Yet comparable regulations do not exist, even though the EU is often considered environmentally proactive—for instance, in its regulation of chemicals. Therefore, for the EU, it is indeed time to walk the walk—especially in light of its growing contribution to peace support operations, with recent operations conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Chad, and an upcoming intervention slated for Somalia.
Clearly, no single organization can conduct all of the multifaceted tasks required to support and consolidate the processes leading to a sustainable peace; partnerships between military and civilian actors are indispensable to achieving global stability. We must do a better job mainstreaming environmental considerations into foreign policy and into the operations of all stakeholders in post-conflict settings, with the understanding that the fallout from a fragile environment obeys no organizational boundaries. One small step in this direction is an upcoming NATO workshop, “Environmental Security Concerns prior to and during Peace Support and/or Crisis Management Operations.” If militaries continue to contribute to climate change and other forms of environmental degradation, they will be partially to blame when they are called in to defuse or clean up future conflicts over scarce, degraded, or rapidly changing resources.
Annica Waleij is a senior analyst and project manager at the Swedish Defence Research Agency’s Division of Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear Defence and Security. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Swedish Ministry of Defence.