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Mr. Berel Rodal
Abstract: Environmental concerns have gone well past the status of being just another "issue" among many that compete for daily media attention. The environment, as one commentator put it bluntly, is where we live. In this months Commentary, the author draws attention to the ominous fact that environmental issues have also entered "the list of threats to national and international security" and are now "central factors in a self-sustaining cycle of impoverishment, repression and mass movement" . The author concludes with some examples of how international mechanisms and traditional "intelligence" may be brought to bear on an increasingly global problem. August 1994. Author: Mr. Berel Rodal.
Editors Note: Environmental concerns have gone well past the status of being just another "issue" among many that compete for daily media attention. The environment, as one commentator put it bluntly, is where we live. In this month's Commentary, Mr. Berel Rodal, an Ottawa consultant and writer, draws attention to the ominous fact that environmental issues have also entered "the list of threats to national and international security", and are now "central factors in a self-sustaining cycle of impoverishment, repression and mass movement". The author concludes with some examples of how international mechanisms and traditional "intelligence" may be brought to bear on an increasingly global problem.
Disclaimer: Publication of an article in the Commentary series does not imply CSIS authentication of the information nor CSIS endorsement of the author's views.
How do environmental issues take on a security (as distinct from an "environmental protection") dimension? Environmental issues enter the list of threats to national and international security by their increasing importance as factors underlying border conflicts, cultural and racial clashes, war and other forms of strife. Environmental issues appear also to affect security in a more direct and fundamental way-by their potential to give rise to stresses which make societies ungovernable and threaten the political and physical viability of communities. Specifically, environmental issues may be thought to impinge on security by their contribution to more traditional sources of conflict and instability-the classical concerns of statecraft and intelligence; by their influence on the intellectual and policy pro-cesses of rethinking and redefining our concepts of national and international security; and by expanding the scope of the usefulness and relevance of intelligence to public policy.
Climate change and environmental degradation may be expected to contribute significantly to the classical sources of conflict and instability. The environment figures prominently as a factor in the more significant issues on the global agenda for the next decade and beyond. Apart from climate change and environmental degradation themselves, the agenda would be generally considered to include the issues of population growth and transboundary migration; access to strategic resources (oil and water particularly); weapons proliferation (the means of mass destruction particularly); terrorism; regional wars and inter-communal conflict; and, at a more general level, "North-South" tensions in the context of the gap, likely to increase, between the industrialized world and the economically under-developed countries.
The availability of water, for example-truly a vital interest for consumption, agriculture and industry-seems likely to become increasingly problematic as a result of pollution, depletion and population growth. For most countries, the most important sources of supply lie outside their frontiers. According to UN sources, some 50 countries have 75% or more of their territory falling within multinational river basins: over one-third of the world's population lives within such basins, a rich potential source of conflict.
Environmental causes are increasingly central factors in a self-sustaining cycle of impoverishment, repression and mass movement. Environmental degradation and its impact on habitat, economy and polity will exacerbate the pressures of population imbalance, and increase the potential for conflict, both directly and indirectly. Population growth in turn is a central factor in aggravating environmental decline, reducing the productivity of land and availability of water, and accelerating economic decline. The resulting transboundary migration of large groups affects the internal stability of Third World societies in regions already prone to internal and interstate conflict. Such developments, in conjunction with international economic and political change, are causing movements of people on a scale large enough to affect societies, statecraft and strategic developments world-wide.
Population growth, sometimes (confusingly) treated as an "environmental" issue in its own right, will continue to be concentrated in the Third World. It is estimated that by 2025, only two of the industrialized democracies will be among the twenty most populated countries in the world. Nigeria will be more populous than the USA, Iran more populous than Japan, Ethiopia's population twice that of France.
The trend in developed countries, including Canada and the United States, is increasingly to tighten restrictions on immigration. Third World governments meanwhile, facilitate onward migration to the West. The barriers to migration are resented. Military action may come to be needed to prevent more movement/migrations and to effect forcible repatriation. There are already clear signs of a backlash to the reality or prospect of mass migration in destination countries, whether Hong Kong and Thailand, or France, Italy and Germany. Negative reaction within the democracies to the demographic and cultural changes brought about by immigration may come to threaten the openness and quality of the democracies themselves, by sapping the legitimacy of existing political institutions and by increasing support for extremist parties. There is the potential, if trends deepen, to bring about a return to more closed, nationalistic and xenophobic societies within the community of industrialized democracies, which may in turn compromise the high degree of freedom of movement of capital, people and ideas on which their current prosperity and peace is based.
The disastrous environmental legacy of industrial development, resource extraction and energy policies, including nuclear safety and waste disposal in the former Soviet bloc threatens literally to poison relations between and amongst states sharing the Danube (Hungary and Slovakia, for example), or those living very near unsafe ex-Soviet nuclear power reactors (Austrians close to older, Chernobyl-type reactors in the Czech Republic, for example), or those, including Canada, affected by the nuclear and other forms of pollution of the Arctic regions of the former Soviet Union. Oil spills in the Persian Gulf and the destruction of Kuwait's oil wells during the Gulf War have raised the spectre of the deliberate targeting of the environment as an aspect of warfare. The Gulf War experience and future prospects raise the issue of `ecocide' as possible moral and juridicial analogue of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Indeed, authoritative studies support the view that in significant measure the Soviet Union collapsed because of the way in which it treated the environment. Environmental degradation, catastrophic in itself, was a major cause of the dramatic decline in public health. Pollution became an important issue in elections. The corrupt and closed nature of the system was seen as the source of the inability of Soviet society to respond to a central and deepening crisis.
There appears to be a developing doctrine to the effect that respect for national sovereignty should not preclude intervention by third parties in such cases as the situation of the Kurds in Iran, or of mass starvation. Indeed, a series of voices, from the Secretary General of the United Nations in his Agenda for Peace, to Bernard Kouchner, France's humanitarian aid minister, speak of le devoir d'ingérence in such situations. It would be illogical not to extend such a right (or duty) on the part of the international community to protection of global environmental interests-a perspective which deepens concern in countries whose views and interests are different than Western notions of sustainable development, and which should be considered a potential source of North-South conflict. Environmental degradation could give rise to conflict as a result of the industrialized world's intervention in mismanaged, ecologically critical areas, or to curb violence resulting from climatic change. There is already amongst developing countries the impression of Western targeting of the Third World, whether in regard to the protection of the environment, the protection of human rights, or to prevent proliferation of dangerous categories of armaments. There is a perception of a growing and less constrained Western inclination to promote the West's agenda and strengthen international order by the judicious application of political and economic pressure and, if necessary, force.
Environmental protection might well seem to populations in the North to necessitate and to legitimize intervention in Third World countries. Reversals in the developmental prospects of important regions, such as the Indian subcontinent, triggered by climatic disorder, would be of central importance geopolitically. A current project conducted under the joint auspices of the University of Toronto and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences-the Project on Environmental Change and Acute Conflict, reported on in the Scientific American in February 1993-examines case studies demonstrating a series of such relationships. Ecological imbalance leads to scarcities of water, forests, and fertile land; these scarcities contribute to dislocation, transboundary migration and violent conflict. The assessment is that shortages will worsen with a speed, complexity and magnitude unprecedented in history. Conflict, moreover, will centre not just on access to non-renewable resources, but also on those resources held in common: the oceans and planetary atmosphere.
The end of the Cold War has made imperative and unavoidable the consideration of broader approaches to national and international security. The environmental issue symbolizes the logic and complexity of the new agenda, a defining element in the emergence of a different shaping spirit of world politics from that which has characterized the 20th century until recently.
The conflict which has occupied most of this century-that between the Western democracies and the great totalitarianisms-was the organizing principle of world politics, the critical fault-line dividing humanity. Security tended to be identified with military security, and security policy with defence policy, even if the stated aims of security policy were always rather broader.
Environmental issues symbolize what appear to many to be among the salient features of the post-Cold War world, a world marked by sharpened regional conflict but also by interdependence and the emergence of an agenda comprising truly global issues. In the West, at least, the health of the global environment is commonly perceived to be critical for the sustainability of civilization, and yet to be in deepening crisis. Integral to this conception is the idea that meeting the environmental challenge will require new conceptions of security and of the national interest, and new forms of action and co-ordination. The existing international political and economic system, grounded in the parochial interests of states and industries, is seen as a major part of the present environmental problem. Indeed, the environment is seen as the quintessential global issue. Environmental issues reflect the sense that people's destinies and basic security are being powerfully shaped by broad, impersonal, global trends and that Canadians, in common with others, must now meet the larger challenges of structural, systemic change ecological, economic, demographic and social.
The close relationship between environmental degradation and international tension was a principal theme of the Brundtland Report ("Our Common Security"), which stressed "the emergence of environmental threats to our security". The Brundtland Report appeared 15 years after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). International attempts to reconcile the promotion by the UN of both economic development and environmental protection, now under the rubric of "sustainable development", highlighted at the Earth Summit in June 1992, again demonstrated the difficulty of getting agreement over the thrust and pace of change, over who will bear the costs, and how.
Though there are provisions for UN Security Council action in situations which threaten international peace or which might lead to international friction, or give rise to a dispute-and environmental security may one day come under Security Council auspices-the current role of the UN concerning environmental protection and security remains limited to that of a forum for the negotiation of public commitments to standards of conduct and to the peaceful resolution of conflict. Transnational solutions to the problems of environmental protection might evolve within such international institutions as the GATT, by developing trade and economic mechanisms to enforce standards of protection and behaviour. Indeed, a new forum was recently established to negotiate transnational solutions to the problems posed by environmental issues in relation to the new post-Uruguay Round trade régime. Efforts in GATT, however, have been in the direction of de-linking trade and environmental issues-at least in the absence of a multilateral régime which links them in an internationally agreed way. A GATT dispute-settlement panel in 1991 ruled that a GATT member's trading rights could not be diminished or suspended because one country objected to the process by which another produced its goods or services. (The particular case involved the GATT disallowance of an American embargo on Mexican tuna products because the Mexican fishery employed nets which caught dolphins along with tuna.) The broader problem to which the GATT panel was responding is that from the viewpoint of GATT, environmental regulation can be and often is protectionism in disguise-an illustration of the nature of the difficulties which lie in the way of treating the issues of climate change and environmental degradation by this kind of indirect regulation.
This is not to discount the importance of negotiating and concluding treaties governing environmental protection. Indeed, monitoring compliance with such treaties, and detecting violations or non-compliance, may well become an important intelligence mission and activity.
Consciousness of the more severe environmental problems and concern about their extent and potentially severe impacts on health, food, population displacement and quality of life have contributed to a more-or-less commonly felt sense of the "value and absolute necessity for human life of functioning ecosystems" [Jessica Tuchman Mathews, "Redefining Security", Foreign Affairs, Spring 1989].
Uncertainty about the magnitude of the environmental changes in train highlights the danger involved in environmental change. Impacts of such magnitude are giving rise to a concept of security which includes the health and stability of ecosystems and the effects on the viability and well-being of human beings dependent on these ecosystems. Concerns about the impact of environmental degradation threaten to become a major source of tension both in the international system and in relations amongst individual states. Mention has been made of the deliberate targeting of the environment as an aspect of warfare, and the role of the environment in shaping the character of the strategic relationships between North and South. It is then a short step to think of the environment as a new kind of strategic arena-for some a hostile one-posing threats to the vital interests of countries and peoples.
A central problem in trying to come to terms with the environmental issue is that knowledge is critical, the knowledge-base rudimentary, the relationships and interdependencies complex and not yet understood. Intelligence techniques and resources can be brought to bear both on the security and environmental science, and on policy dimensions.
One issue, not typical but illustrative, is that of how data gathered by the specialized techniques available to intelligence agencies may be useful not only to monitor such current environmental dangers as the state of unsafe nuclear reactors in Eastern Europe, but to advance scientific knowledge of environmental issues. Intelligence data-collection may provide evidence in relation to environmental change. Significant developments in this regard are underway in the United States, with its unique sets of national technical means.
Vice-President Al Gore, while Senator from Tennessee, initiated meetings between environmental scientists and US Navy officials, as a result of which the Navy agreed to release previously secret data to explore how intelligence resources may be used for environmental purposes. Sam Nunn, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, working with Senator Gore, proposed in June 1990 that greater use be made of national security technology to address ecological problems, characterized by Senator Nunn as "a growing national security threat". One of the resulting initiatives involved earmarking funds in the Defence budget for environmental research.
Information collected by overhead photography and radar surveillance satellites, aircraft, ships and submarines could permit detailed observation of important environmental patterns of the past 30-plus years, data obtained in a highly systematic way and for the most part digitally stored, data which could provide evidence and reduce uncertainty about trends, such as whether we are in fact into global warming. Data from radar satellite-monitoring would yield evidence on topographic change, rates and patterns of erosion, vegetation, deforestation, desertification, shoreline change, rainfall levels, snow cover and resource depletion in areas of the world subjected to regular monitoring.
The Gore and Council on Foreign Relations initiatives and related meetings had two results: (1) agreement to open the archive to environmental scientists, beginning with a pro-cess of meeting and exchange between "scouting parties" of scientists and intelligence authorities to determine which sorts of data would be most useful to improve environmental understanding, and the modalities of release of data, to protect sources and methods; and (2) the issuing of a Presidential Directive in May mandating the inclusion in the mission of US intelligence monitoring of reconnaissance to obtain data on environmental issues.
Asked at his confirmation hearing about what intelligence could do in the environmental area, DCI James Woolsey Jr., referred to Gore's original efforts and noted that the intelligence community is in "a second phase of work". He described the efforts underway as "very vigorous", and the perspective one of "exciting and potentially productive opportunities for using these intelligence assets...(to) benefit everybody, not just in the United States, but in the world".
Indeed, the popular press now carries reports on the role played by the integrated undersea surveillance system in measuring ice formation, ocean temperature changes, seismic activity, and monitoring of whale populations and, in conjunction with satellites, monitoring and controlling illegal whaling or illegal chemical dumping.
Environmentally generated threats are not likely to dominate the security agenda in at least the short to medium term. There are grounds, however, for attaching a certain priority and intellectual energy to the environment. Canadian security policy has traditionally been based on working closely with like-minded allies to keep threats from Canada's shores. The traditional focus of security policy-threats posed by enemies, actual or potential-remains relevant. There is nevertheless a sense that accompanying these are challenges arising out of impersonal trends, and out of global, systemic change, challenges likely to be different both in nature and scale from the familiar ones.
A diminished common traditional threat weakens the sense of shared interest and traditional alliance, especially if there is also a developing perception of allies as rivals in the great game of nations, in the economic domain particularly. At the same time, effective, co-ordinated intelligence becomes more rather than less necessary as military forces shrink in size, capability and importance. 'World order' and security are not natural states, but grow out of policy and political action.
Intelligence must be seen to be treating the broad forces for change affecting society, and the impacts of these on Canada, if it is to be relevant (and seen to be relevant) to policy and to advance the necessary co-operative relations with others within Canada and abroad. While one would not want to exaggerate the potential of the environment as an issue to replace the sense of common threat of the Cold War, it does embody key themes. It is the quintessential, crucial and global issue. It is seen as being above ideology. It serves as something of a unifying concept linking a range of problems which need connected, transnational, complex strategies if they are to be effectively treated. It is an element in statecraft, foreign policy, Canada's relations with other states and in Canada's participation in international bodies.
As the architect Mies van der Rohe observed, God, and the Devil, are in the details. Careful, detailed study would be required to specify the environmental threats Canada faces, and the roles intelligence, in one or another of its modes, may play in countering or treating these. In dealing with environmental issues, one would normally think first in terms of the expertise and resources of the scientific, industrial and academic communities, and of the standard, non-intelligence agencies of government. In seeking to determine in as specific a way as possible how intelligence might contribute to environmental security, it would be important also to establish how any roles which intelligence may play would be distinct from those played by these communities and institutions.
Similarly, one might also want to give more detailed consideration to the question of whether and how Canadian intelligence might play a useful role in helping to make available to Canadian science and government knowledge (while protecting sources and methods) relating to the environment which may become available through the unique resources of United States intelligence, or indeed the work of security and intelligence agencies elsewhere or, more broadly still, to play a role in considering how intelligence, which can make a significant contribution to the identification and treatment of broad threats to environmental security, may be most effectively disseminated and used in the wider international system.
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