Colombia’s post-conflict ‘green’ audit

As Colombia stumbles to a post-war reconciliation, the focus turns to rebuilding the shattered environment as well as using environmental rebuilding as an ecological development, post-conflict rebuilding tool.

Home to almost 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, Colombia is listed as a “megadiverse” country by the Convention on Biological Diversity, being home to 314 different types of ecosystems.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the conflict not only has led to huge environmental destruction, especially deforestation and soil degradation caused by illicit crops, but additionally land-mines planted during the conflict have also made Colombia home to the second largest number of land-mine victims in world after Afghanistan.

“The environment is essential for achieving post-conflict reconciliation and stabilization at the global level,” wrote Arnaud Peral, UNDP’s Colombia Resident Representative. “In Colombia, a culturally and biologically diverse country, such resources are of paramount importance.”

One of the ironies of the conflict is the ‘refuge effect’, with conflict in Colombia slowing down environmental exploitation: while somewhere between 5.8 – 6.7 million people have been displaced 6.5 – 10 million hectares of land either abandoned or taken illegally.

According to the Colombian-based Humboldt Institute, the high levels of deforestation are also attributable to structural social and political weaknesses not directly attributable to the war; furthermore, the extractive and agricultural and livestock industry models are often illegally intertwined with political power.

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Arctic poses new conflict questions

The recent news that the summer ice covering the Arctic Ocean was recorded as being the equal second lowest on record is a reminder that the planet is swiftly heading towards a largely ice-free Arctic in the warmer months.

Most of the scientific establishment predict that the North Pole will be free of ice around the middle of this century: even this assessment of the future may be wide of the mark, a warning outlined in ‘A Farewell Ice: a report from the Arctic’ by Peter Wadhams, Professor Emeritus of Ocean Physics at Cambridge University, and widely regarded as the world’s leading expert on sea-ice.

Furthermore, in 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Change (IPCC) predicted that it would take until the year 2100 to experience ice-free Arctic summers; however, when extreme losses of summer ice were observed in September 2007 and again in 2008, the IPCC models were adjusted. Based on the new observations researchers, Muyin Wang and James Overland, concluded that the Arctic is expected to see ice-free summers by 2037.

Wadhams has visited the polar regions more often than any other living scientist – 50 times since he was on the first ship to circumnavigate the Americas in 1970 – and has a uniquely authoritative perspective on the changes they have undergone and where those changes will lead.

In ‘Farewell to Ice’, Wadhams describes how sea-ice is the ‘canary in the mine’ of planetary climate change as well as how sea-ice forms and the vital role it plays in reflecting solar-heat back into space and providing an ‘air conditioning’ system for the planet. Wadhams also outlines in the book how a series of rapid feed-backs in the Arctic region are accelerating change there more rapidly than almost all scientists – and political authorities – have previously realised, and the dangers of further acceleration are very real.

In an article for Yale University ‘As Arctic Ocean Ice Disappears, The Global Climate Impacts Intensify’ (please see Footnotes below), Wadhams says: ‘Few people understand that the Arctic sea ice “death spiral” represents more than just a major ecological upheaval in the world’s Far North. The decline of Arctic sea ice also has profound global climatic effects, or feedbacks, that are already intensifying global warming and have the potential to destabilize the climate system. Indeed, we are not far from the moment when the feedbacks themselves will be driving the change every bit as much as our continuing emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide annually.’

Meanwhile, the Wang and Overland study is doubly important because it forms the key research background used by the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center (NOAA) in predicting the future; the NOAA also refers to a paper by Julienne Stroeve et al. ‘Arctic sea ice decline: faster than forecast’.

Clearly the changing time-line of Arctic ice melt has huge geopolitical and geostrategic consequences, not least to reactivate interest in both the Northern Sea Route and North West Passage as well as the vast deposits of hydrocarbon resources in the region. Two questions arise: can we avoid confrontation in the Arctic?  If not, why not ? Jasper Humphreys


‘As Arctic Ocean Ice Disappears, The Global Climate Impacts Intensify’

– ‘A sea-ice free summer Arctic within 30 years?’ Geophysical Research Letters 36, no.7 (April 16, 2009):1, Muyin Wang and James E. Overland

– ‘Arctic sea-ice decline: faster than forecast’, Geophysical Research Letters 36, no.7, Stroeve et. al.


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Unpicking the turtle ‘wars’

With the CITES Conference of Parties (CoP) being held in Johannesburg, much of the focus on transnational wildlife crime is directed towards Africa and Asia; however, wildlife crime is sharply rising in Latin America.

The Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT), the second biggest trafficking nexus, is estimated to be $10-20 billion annually. Despite being the fastest growing category of transnational crime, it remains sorely overlooked, particularly so in Latin America where the trade is booming. Turtles are part of this nexus, and while data is scant, the Illegal Turtle Trade (ITT) helps us understand how predation on animal species creates instability beyond ecosystems, providing a hotbed for conflict through its entanglement in a complex, global trade network.

Demand of turtles is international, mostly driven by Asia, but also domestic. In places like Costa Rica, turtle eggs are seen as aphrodisiacs. Here, they provide lucrative business: on Moín Beach, nests contain 80 or more eggs and sell at $1 US each. Eggs thus become easy targets for poachers selling them to drug dealing organisations – organisations recruiting drug ‘junkies’ as poachers, arming them and paying in drugs. Local populations also profit, and there is evidence that turtle contraband share infrastructure with drugs as they are transported together. Egg hatcheries have also been raided on Moín to be incubated with drugs, and confrontations between ‘armed men’ and volunteer conservationists have occurred. This illustrates how the trades are intertwined, and how the ITT ‘weaponises’ beaches.

Such entanglements reasonably exacerbate the trades, as fewer resources are needed for infrastructure and manning purposes. Globalisation further aggravates trades like the ITT, inviting the most localised crime groups to the global stage, allowing those savvy enough to navigate the diffuse economic systems to profit – illustrating how the ITT should be seen as crime as opposed to ‘traditional’ conflict.

The Mexican seaside city of San Pedro Huamelula also exemplifies ITT’s militarisation and its securitisation through the government committing resources to handle it. As of 2015, drones are used on the beaches to scare off poachers and twenty marines guard a stretch of one of the beaches from poachers storming on horse-back, armed with machetes and sometimes guns.

Going back to Moín, the case of the murdered 26 year old turtle conservationist, Jairo Mora Sandoval, in 2013 illustrates ensuing problems of the ITT. After patrolling the beaches one May night, Jairo was found dead the following day, having been bound and dragged behind a car, eventually dying from asphyxiation caused by a blow to the head. Having highlighted the interlinked organised crime and the threat to turtle populations on Moín, his death has been referred to as an act of revenge, but Jairo also drew attention to the deserted beaches serving transportation purposes for drug traffickers.

Before long, Jairo Mora Sandoval became a household name in Costa Rica, the murder having gained international attention and led to criticism of the government’s response. Domestic discontent was widespread, and while the case was taken to court in 2015, all seven alleged poachers accused of murder were acquitted as the ‘overwhelming amount of evidence’ was tainted. The case of Jairo is problematic in several ways: the ITT may spark public discontent over government incapacity and misrule, and the trade risks increasing as there is a global tendency to defer IWT related crime as ‘ordinary crime’.  Finally, minor arms races may be created, illustrated by the Costa Rican government enforcing local measures to protect the beaches.

As demand for turtles persists, with a lack of legislation and rule of law doing little to protect them, the ITT creates a hot-bed for local escalation. If turtles become increasingly scarce with a continued demand, competition over them may intensify; this may on the one hand lead to social and political repercussions through an angered population, or on the other, to localised violence between (or amongst) conservationists/security forces and poachers/drug traffickers.

Louise Groenmark (MA War Studies 2016)


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True price of Mexico’s maize

Since the beginning of the 20th century drug trafficking has been a part of the Mexican economy. Mexico has become the largest marijuana producer and the third opium supplier for the international market. US-led interventions in South American drug producing countries like Peru, Bolivia and Colombia diminished their drug production but increased the presence of drug cartels and drug production in Mexico. As a result, illegal crops are being cultivated in a third of Mexico’s municipalities.

Policies that damage the Mexican agriculture sector, where maize cultivation has been the main economic activity since pre-colonial times, have been implemented for decades, benefiting large producers and having farmers lose the governmental subsidies, and thus, their livelihoods. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) removed customs tariff on maize, causing Mexico to be filled with cheaper American product and dropping the prices of the Mexican product about 20%, forcing farmers to substitute their production for illegal crops, or intercrop legal and illegal crops to make a profit.

Recent academic research has compared drugs with diamonds considering them ‘lootable’ natural resources, negatively affecting the environment as a consequence of farming, production, consumption and eradication. This damage can be seen in the form of deforestation, erosion of land, contamination of superficial water and destruction of flora and fauna, amongst others.

 Mexican aquifers and other natural resources are being exploited and forests are being destroyed. As a result of decreasing crop prices and increasing costs of supplies needed for farming, well-drilling for irrigation purposes and other technologies that further damage the environment are being used, while the use of agrochemicals and transgenic seeds is escalating to increase production.

Out of the 196 million hectares that make up Mexico, 64% have been degraded by wind and water erosion, with 10, 000 hectares of farming land lost each year due to salt accumulation with an overall 425, 000 hectares are no longer useful for farming purposes.

The illegal nature of drug cultivation forces farmers to move further into jungle and forest in order to hide the plantations from the authorities, bringing the negative ecological impact increasingly into the country’s jungles and drying water springs. As a result of decreasing crop prices and increasing costs of supplies needed for farming, well drilling for irrigation purposes and other technologies that further damage the environment are being used and agrochemicals are being abused.

 Mono cultivation favours plague, requiring high doses of chemical pesticides and of fertilizer chemicals which end up in land and rivers. Additional environmental problems come as a consequence of the disposal of manufacturing chemicals and of substances disposed by users after consumption, resulting in surface water pollution.

Negative ecological impact that results from the drug wars comes as a consequence of the activity of drug cartels and of lack of government care. The drug eradication strategy used during the current drug war in Latin America destroys not only the illegal crops but also the legal crops, which make up the farmers’ livelihood. Damaging governmental policies, weak rule of law, the agriculture sector, drug cartels and environmental destruction are linked.

By Ana Lorena Vigil Gomez Haro, Associate of Another Day, security consulting and advisory firm.



Posted in Drugs, Mexico, War and ecosytems | Leave a comment

The nature of militarization (3/final)

Does militarisation within conservation work?

Clausewitz’s famous dictum of war being an extension of politics by other means applies equally to the ‘militarization’ of counter-poaching.

Firstly, the increasing privatisation of counter-poaching inevitably means there is a loosening of controls by state authorities; this in turn sees the criminal model being gradually superseded by the counter-insurgency model, with its looser legal restraints.

Secondly, from the trend of wildlife conservation aligning itself with broader national and international security issues in the name of ‘securitization’ a dangerous unintended consequence could be to legitimize wildlife officers as ‘targets’ in the eyes of subversive elements.

Thirdly, while ‘shoot-to-kill’ sends an unambiguous message it also runs the risk of creating the perception that authorities care more about wildlife than humans. Connected to that, in a classic analysis of ‘social bandits’, the historian, Eric Hobsbawm, said that poachers were often seen as ‘men to be admired, helped and supported’. He pointed to the case of Mathias Klostermayr, an eighteenth-century ‘social bandit’ in Bavaria who terrorized hunters, game-keepers and anyone associated with game; for Hobsbawm, while Klostermayr’s poaching was ‘an activity peasants always regarded as legitimate, he was admired and helped’.

Fourthly, given the relative impotence of organisations tasked with halting IWT, in reality it is only an over-arching, universal body with real power that effect can changes, and that is the United Nations. Here, the Central African Republic (CAR) can – for once – provide a positive example: in March and June of 2015, troops of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) were used as partners by WWF-Dzanga Sangha to perform anti-poaching operations, contributing to patrols, seizures and arrests. Taking this further, bodies including the International Crisis Group have called on the UN, specialised organisations, regional states and the CAR government to create a cell within MINUSCA to fight against diamonds, gold, ivory trafficking – and ‘militarised’ poaching.  Jasper Humphreys

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The nature of ‘militarization’ (2)

‘Shoot-to-kill’ is part of a general criticism of ‘militarization’ in wildlife protection terms that the use of force is synonymous with coercion and violence, and also that ‘militarized’ counter-poaching can be prioritized to the detriment of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) as well as creating a ‘war’ narrative: the implication here is that force is being applied within a militaristic dynamic of ‘weaponizing’ counter-poaching that works hand in hand with social exclusion.

From these various perspectives a ‘militarization matrix’ emerges that factors in wildlife conservation with land ownership and socio-economic issues as well as intangible cultural and historical elements; alongside these are the market forces that have turned a handful of high value species into ‘commodities’ driven either by their importance to tourism, body parts or both: here it is important to remember that a sizeable proportion of the wildlife in prime safari fee-paying South Africa and Kenya live on private land, in effect making the struggle between poachers and land-owners at heart a ‘commodity conflict’.

These landowners are Africa’s ‘landed gentry’ who in the past relied on agriculture, especially cattle ranching, as the main revenue stream; however, with globalised competition for their products and climate change eroding the soil, income streams have been increasingly repositioned to focus on tourism based on the luxury safari ‘experience’. For this ‘militarization’ acts not only as protection against poachers but just as importantly, against rising levels of crime: robbery in a safari camp is not only bad for business but it also inevitably carries a generalised message of ineffective policing and insecurity.

‘Militarization’ is a ‘hard power’ strategy to protect these valuable commodities but it is expensive; this means in general wildlife protection terms that the greater the price-tag on an animal then the more protection it is likely to receive: for example, $330million was earmarked for the Global Tiger Initiative following a summit in St Petersburg hosted by Vladimir Putin in 2010 and the rhino is a key player in the safari tourist industry of sub Sahara Africa; at the other end of the scale, the Brazilian Three-Toed Sloth which lives in the forests of eastern Brazil, is all but ignored as its numbers and habitat disappears, with various species such as the pangolin and turtle in the mid-range of getting some protection but certainly not enough.

In a non-scientific definitional sense there is a difference between poaching and trafficking, even though both form a distinct part of a distributive chain and rely on stealth and evasion as opposed to confrontation (unless under attack). Trafficking is the loose generic term for the illegal transportation and distribution of wildlife, while poaching refers to the action of taking wildlife that is under the custodianship either of state bodies or private ownership. In the case of creatures from the Earth’s oceans, legally regarded as ‘mare nostrum’ (everyone’s sea) – apart from territorial waters – protection is in theory provided by United Nations World Charter for Nature and forms the legal justifications for the actions of Sea Shepherd.

The assessment of ‘militarization’ and ‘securitisation’ of the illegal wildlife trade is sometimes referred to as a ‘war’ on behalf of wildlife; here, Nick Steele, a legendary former South African conservationist and pioneer of the modern ‘conservancy’ model of farms/ranches that combine husbandry of wildlife and cattle, developed the ‘Farm Patrol Plan’ during Apartheid, in which he persuaded the (white) ranchers to join forces in para-military style to protect their farms from poaching and political turmoil, thereby entwining ‘militarized’ conservation with broader national security, which is echoed in today’s rhino and ivory ‘wars’ in South Africa and Kenya respectively.

Today, conflict and crime are increasingly drawing in wildlife conservation as poachers and traffickers exploit ‘ungoverned spaces’, especially in Africa: for example, the heavy infiltration of Kenya’s numerous ‘badlands’ border areas has led to a surge of ‘weaponisation’ in the country’s wildlife protection, a trend replicated in South Africa. Additionally, these conflicts have been fuelled by the circulation of vast numbers of small arms in Africa that have been part of the reason why US Africom has stealthily assembled a chain of small and low-visibility ‘lily-pad’ bases to prosecute a ‘shadow’ war and the British Army to use Kenyan ‘conservancies’ for training purposes.   Jasper Humphreys

Posted in Africa, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Kenya, South Africa | Leave a comment

The nature of ‘militarization’ (1)

There is a unique strategic conundrum at the heart of the protection of wildlife and the interdiction of illegal wildlife trafficking (IWT): to survive wildlife needs the altruistic engagement of humans to combat the actions of other human beings for its ultimate defence and part of this protection includes the controversial use of force, sometimes referred to as ‘militarization’.

As the volume of IWT, both dead or alive, has risen to be the fourth highest illegal trade classification and worth between $10-20billion per annum, the phrase ‘militarization’ is increasingly applied to describe counter-measures: while ‘militarization’ generally implies the use of force, it crosses a wide terrain from the actual use of violence through the use of guns to conceptual critiques of counter-poaching, such as ‘green militarization’ and ‘green violence’, which carry a negative connotation.

Here the suspicion is that militarized responses to IWT might have a negative impact on communities because there is a failure to distinguish between poaching for profit and poaching for subsistence: even though IWT also includes luxury products such as crocodile-skin boots, pashminas, shark-fins and turtle eggs, as well as the ‘grey’ area of wildlife traded for ‘canned’ hunting, the taking of wildlife is also a source of food, clothing or medicine for millions of people, the majority from the poorest communities in the world. Furthermore, for some communities IWT constitutes a key source of income, either to just make ends meet or as a business that pays handsomely.

Conversely, with the global proliferation of small arms, poachers can easily get hold of rifles and AK 47’s for hunting and self-protection: one account of the overlap between the drugs trade and turtle egg raiding in Mexico describes how hundreds of hueveros (egg snatchers) arrived on the beach with machetes and guns blazing.

Though there are a number of IWT source countries in which the rangers either do not carry weapons, such as in Colombia, or where the rangers are virtually non-existant, such as in Central America, taking an overview of today’s ‘militarised’ counter-poaching it is clear that inexorably the main focus is on central and sub-Saharan Africa, which is hardly surprising given that Africa hosts the largest proportion of the world’s megafauna which attracts the most aggressive poaching and ‘militarized’ counter-measures. Though IWT takes in a wide range of species, the main focus of ‘militarized’ counter-poaching is clearly on high-profile species such as elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers and snow leopards.

The dynamics of poaching and ‘lootable’ wildlife resources have become entwined with the ever-growing ‘shadow’ economy of transnational criminal networks, especially in countries and areas that have been ‘wasted’. These ‘wastelands’ can either occur through conflict, such as in central Africa, or severe deprivation, as in parts of Mexico and much of Central America; in these ‘wastelands’ the absence of an effective and centralized authority makes them in the view of political geographer, Derek Gregory, ‘pre-constituted as fallen, violated and damaged, always and everywhere potential targets for a colonising capitalist modernity’. Furthermore, the state’s monopoly of violence may have collapsed, leading to a position where ‘non state actors (warlords, local and ethnic militia) are able to establish alternative, territorially restricted forms of centralised violence’.

The area where ‘militarised’ counter-poaching and militant conservation mingle, such as with the Sea Shepherd marine conservation organisation and its opposition to whaling, also throws up thorny issues of moral and legal ambiguity surrounding the use of force that includes ‘eco-terrorism’. Furthermore, ‘militarised’ counter-poaching broadly follows trends in late-modern warfare that conform to ‘man-hunting’ that target individuals or groups, typically demonstrated in the rise of drone usage, which have been labelled by Derek Gregory, as ‘the individuation of warfare’, along with his suggestion that ‘man-hunting’ is ‘a new form of networked (para) military violence’. Thus, in various ways the essential ‘hunting’ element within counter-poaching has been in a sense ‘legitimized’ by developments in modern military tactics as well as relentless media coverage.  Jasper Humphreys

Posted in Africa, Colombia, Conservation, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Mexico, Militarisation of Nature, poaching | Leave a comment

Russia in Africa: old habits die hard

Wildlife crime and Russia’s African connections: old links leading to new problems?

Except they aren’t exactly new problems at all, but the continuation of old ones in new formats.

The UK awareness of the significance of the continuing large scale and very highly organised smuggling of African wildlife products to, typically, China via south east Asia and African hubs such as Nairobi will – hopefully – have been raised by the seizure of 110 kg. of ivory at Heathrow airport in October 2015, as reported by the BBC.

Let us also hope that the wider and deeper aspects are also taken into account. The BBC reports that the ivory was abandoned in baggage from a BA flight from Angola, with final destination being Hannover. That may well not be a coincidence.

German law enforcement has been aware since the 1990s of the significant presence in the Hannover area of German passport-holding Russian speakers: for many, their ancestry was German but subsequent generations had spread across the Soviet Union, with many from Central Asia to where their ancestors had been deported by Stalin. Russian criminal groups have exploited this connection for smuggling cigarettes, drugs and more recently people, as well as prostitution.

Flights are watched – but not all flights, so there is a large and well-organised distribution network, which also has links with Vietnamese groups who lived in East Germany from the 1980s.

Many insiders in the governing elites in the ex-Soviet states, especially Russia, have close links with the KGB’s successors and the still existing GRU, and some were members of the secret services. An example is Igor Sechin of Rosneft, who served as an “interpreter” in Mozambique in the 1980s, his study of Portugese not being an accident and heavily supplemented by his French.

The Soviet and Russian presence in Angola was for longer and on a larger scale than is often believed in the West – this writer has met such persons. The links between national elites in Africa and these persons remain: Mark Galeotti of New York University (NYU), a long-time watcher of the ex-Soviet military, highlights how military groups are not normally subject to border control checks in these countries, nor are their financial operations audited in the normal way (1).

All this makes the recent warnings by Kristopher Carlson and others in a Small Arms Survey report last year (2015) about the means by which military small arms leak to poachers or are used by the militaries themselves very relevant (2).

When combined with the recent increase of ex-Soviet state military personnel  in Africa with their large-scale recruitment by South African PMCs for the Nigerian offensive against Boko Haram in Spring 2015, it is certainly time to keep a close watch on the physical and corporate presence of appropriate Russian-speaking groups in the EU where there are plausible links with wildlife looting areas of Africa. They are certainly embedded in Spain and Portugal and in conjunction with Chinese in English-speaking southern and east Africa as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in particular and the greater Congo basin, building on extensive UN reliance on their air transport fleets and helicopters for peace-keeping missions. On the corporate side in the EU, Greece, Cyprus, Austria and the Baltic states appear regularly, with payments often through the UK.

Law enforcers need to look at these people first, and only then for the likely crimes. They will find a lot.

Euan Grant; former HM Customs & Excise’s Strategic Intelligence Analyst investigating the ex – Soviet states between 1998- 2002; he has since worked extensively in those states.

1 : Mark Galeotti’s ‘blog’:

2 : ‘In the Line of Fire: Elephant and Rhino Poaching in Africa’.


Posted in Africa, Conservation, Illegal Wildlife Trade, Russia | 1 Comment

‘Green-shoots’ of data: war and biodiversity (1)

Once there was war and there was peace – but not any longer.

For the last decade celebrated Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, has gathered annual data on war and violence, extensively using the highly respected Uppsala Conflict Data Programme which demarcates 1000 conflict deaths as a rule-of-thumb definition of ‘war’.

Pinker would seem to have left no stone unturned: from civil wars (admittedly a slight uptick in 2014 due to the Syrian crisis but the trend is down), to war between nations and killings of unarmed civilians, across to murder (homicides), violence against women and even the popularity of hunting in the United States – for all these forms of violence the figures are down.

‘Despite the headlines, and with circumscribed headlines, the world has continued its retreat from violence. We need invoke no mysterious arc of justice or end of history to explain it. As modernity widens our circle of co-operation, we come to recognise the futility of violence and apply our collective ingenuity to reducing it’, wrote Pinker recently (1).

But there is one category that he has overlooked and which stands in stark contrast to Pinker’s punditry– deaths of environmentalists and conservationists have increased, which suggests a different perspective on definitions of violence as well as questions about whether Pinker risks being too glib and taking an overly narrow perspective.

Gilberto Torres from Colombia is a typical victim of the environmental-conflict nexus: a trade unionist, Torres led protests in 2002 against plans to drill for oil in his country for which he was abducted by paramilitaries for nearly two months. Now Torres lives in exile (2).

Torres is part of a trend that has been highlighted by Global Witness who released a report that showed that between 2002-2013 908 citizens were killed protecting rights to their land and environment: to give some perspective, that is broadly compatible with British armed forces deaths in Afghanistan during the same period as well as journalists across the world (3).

Furthermore, three times as many environmentalists were killed in 2012 than 10 years before; however, Global Witness says that while the figures are probably an underestimate given the difficulties of getting data ‘the death-rate also points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation’.

On the subjects of non-lethal violence and intimidation there is a surprising dearth of broad research, even if there are a number of organisations looking at differing aspects. However, this month (December 2015) the Small Arms Survey released a report Voicing Concern: Surveying People’s Priorities in Violent Settings based on 43 recently completed population-based surveys carried out by well regarded organisations such as the Afrobarometer, the
Americas Barometer, the Asia Foundation, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, during which respondents were asked to either identify or rank the general issues about which they felt most concerned. Although not fully representative of all recent conflicts and insecure environments, the data spans three regions: Africa (8 countries), Asia (2 countries), and Latin America and the Caribbean (16 countries) (4).

The report’s overwhelming conclusion is: ‘security issues stand out as the most pressing concern for people in a variety of settings affected by recent or ongoing conflict and armed violence. At the height of a conflict, when prospects for peace are low, people are understandably primarily concerned with security-related issues’.

So, even if we know war is on the decline thanks to the research of Professor Pinker, there would seem to be other ways of gauging violence, with less comforting results – or put another way, if war is on the decline does that automatically mean the world is more peaceful ?       Jasper Humphreys

(1): The Guardian:

(2): The Observer:–kidnapped-chained-and-blindfolded-i-cant-go-bac-gilberto-torres

(3): Global Witness:

(4): Small Arms Survey:

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The sword at your side

The blowing apart of the Belgian Shepherd dog, ‘Diesel’, in the Paris siege last month prompted a Twitter-storm of sorrow and remembrance under the hash-tag ‘JeSuisChien’; it also shone a spotlight on the role of the ‘sniffer-dog’ in both modern policing and combat.

During the siege Diesel’ was sent ahead by the French anti-terror unit, RAID, into an apartment complex to check for booby-traps; in the aftermath nobody has commented whether ‘Diesel’s modus operandi had included risking self-destruction, which indeed happened when a suicide-bomber emerged to blow herself up, killing ‘Diesel’ as well: the dog has since been feted as a French hero and President Putin has sent a replacement as a sign of solidarity.

In ancient times dogs were actually used as battle weapons, let loose to attack and break down the opposition. Mastiffs and other large breeds were used extensively by Spanish conquistadors against native Americans; and when Sir Piers Legh was wounded at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, his mastiff stood over his master until the end of the battle and protected him for many hours after, both returning home to Lyme Hall in Cheshire.

In World War II a particularly curious tale followed from a suggestion by a Swiss citizen living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. William A. Prestre proposed using large dogs as a major fighting-force against Japanese soldiers: Prestre convinced the military to lease an entire island in the Mississippi to house the training facilities where the army hoped to train up two million dogs. The idea was to begin island invasions with landing-craft that released thousands of dogs against the Japanese defenders, then followed up by troops as the Japanese defenders scattered in confusion.

One of the biggest problems encountered was getting Japanese soldiers to train the dogs with, as few Japanese soldiers were being captured. Eventually, Japanese-American soldiers volunteered for the training, but the biggest problem was with the dogs; either they were too docile, did not properly respond to their beach-crossing training, or were terrified by shell-fire. After millions of dollars spent and inconclusive results, the program was abandoned.

Other more recent examples include the guard dogs used in Nazi concentration camps and prisoner-of-war camps the world over; there was the important role played by snarling police-dogs enforcing apartheid in South Africa as well as other politically turbulent events.

Most recently, the torture archive of the Abu Gharib prison documented pictures of dogs being used to terrorise Iraqi detainees; indeed interest in the evolving use of torture in the politics of state violence has prompted critiques of Foucault’s argument about the gradual disappearance of spectacular torture being supplanted by differing disciplinary techniques such as the use of dogs.

Today, social scientists point to the difference between the ‘sniffer-dog’, which might be a spaniel or other non-shepherd dog, trained purely to ‘sniff’, and the ‘policing dog’, trained to patrol and if required to ‘take down’ a suspect, in many cases coming from the shepherd breed: the first is the ‘smell of power’ and the other ‘the teeth of power’ but taken together they are referred to as ‘K9 (canine) protection’, even having its own publication, the US-based K9 Cop which refers to the police-dog asthe sword at your side’. Here it is worth bearing in mind that a common way of describing the power of law is to equate the law with ‘teeth’ or a ‘bite’ or similarly how ‘the law doesn’t have a bite’, due to having ‘no teeth’.

‘In the endless warfare of contemporary political order in which the complicated cultural practices surrounding drugs, the social dynamics surrounding crime and the political tactics surrounding terrorism are reduced to an amorphous and ubiquitous ‘enemy’ of good order, police discretion becomes a key to victory. And in this war, the sniffer-dog is in the front-line’: words by Mark Neocleous, professor of the critique of political economy, Brunel University, in a seminal article, The Smell of Power: a contribution to the critique of the Sniffer Dog.

Neocleous pointed out that while there has been a significant increase in the use of dogs around public transport terminals over the last decade, often said to be about the ‘war on drugs’, it is also clear that the increased presence of police-dogs in public spaces is part of more generalized security measures: dogs are becoming the public face of the ‘war on terror’, and thus the sniffer-dog is both an emblematic and a symptomatic figure in the universal warfare.

Police forces work on the assumption that police-dogs can detect a whole range of substances on a person: this means that for the most part the dogs are used not to identify individuals, along the lines of a fingerprint or retinal scan, but to identify (or, more correctly, to appear to identify) specific substances.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s agency for military research, has developed a ‘Unique Signature Detection Project’, formerly known as the ‘Odortype Detection Program’; since 2007 it has been working on a system of Identification Based on Scent (IBIS), trying to estimate the amount of odour that a human body might produce and over what distance a dog can smell a person.

‘DARPA wants to be able to detect, track, and even positively identify them [criminals and terrorists] from a distance … using nothing more than the heat and sweat that emanate from a person’s pores’, notes the Information Awareness Office report, Detecting Sweaty, Smelly Security Threats.

Both the Department of Homeland Security in the USA and the Ministry of Defence in the UK fund research into smell, in the form of Remote Air Sampling Canine Olfaction (RASCO). In the early 1960s the CIA produced a report called ‘Human Scent and Its Detection’, which considers in great detail the science of sweat production, including several paragraphs discussing the different functions of the eccrine, apocrine and sebaceous glands, and noting the different ways in which they produce smells.

RASCO is said to be more accurate than a retinal scan because a person’s smell is thought to be less controllable than their eyes, and dogs are trained to smell past the attempts to camouflage real smells with false ones: such projects have been assisted by the chemical industries aiming to get in on the security bandwagon: the European Network of Excellence in Artificial Olfaction and the International Society for Olfaction and Chemical Sensing now list security politics as a major research interest.                       Jasper Humphreys

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