The intersection of the environment, security, and policymaking is often glossed over, even at a venerable institution like the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which trains the future officers of the U.S. Army. I am teaching a new mini-course within the geography program that aims to change this situation, using a region-specific approach. The course is designed to show geography majors how the environment can act as a catalyst for conflict or simply as an amplifier of existing problems. A series of 14 lessons will focus on defining environmental security, the role it plays in policymaking decisions, the significance of the military in these situations, and the intelligence-gathering and dissemination processes.
The military is evolving, and the armed services often find themselves involved in activities clearly classified as “other than war”; a key example is the recent formation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which focuses on “war prevention rather than war-fighting.” The bottom-line goal of West Point’s environmental security course is to educate future Army leaders on the interrelatedness of the environment and human activities, because these are issues they are likely to face in their careers.
The 11 students taking the course this semester will be required to read, comment on, and analyze a New Security Beat blog topic they find especially interesting, as well as pitch an idea for a potential blog entry. The blogging project is being incorporated into the course to expose students to near real-time perspectives from subject-matter experts in environmental security and related fields. Other readings will come from peer-reviewed journals, the Army War College, and other U.S. government sources. The course will conclude with an integrative experience where students apply what they have learned to a set of “what-if” scenarios from across the globe.
The mini-course, along with the blog exercise, has been a welcome addition to the geography program’s line-up. Feedback from this first-ever attempt to teach environmental security to geography majors at West Point will be compiled, and environmental security will either be developed into a more comprehensive course or split among several existing courses within the geography curriculum, such as environmental geography, climatology, and several regional geography courses. I look forward to sharing my reflections on teaching the mini-course with New Security Beat readers in the coming months.
Photo: U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Courtesy Flickr user Devonaire Eye.
Lieutenant Colonel Luis A. Rios USAF is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.