In announcing his new appointment in December 2012, South African retired Major General Johan Jooste threw down the gauntlet: ‘It is a fact that South Africa, a sovereign country, is under attack from armed foreign nationals. This should be seen as a declaration of war against South Africa by armed foreign criminals. We are going to take the war to these armed bandits and we aim to win it’.
If the words sounded familiar throughout history what was less militarily familiar was the context of his remarks, rhino poaching in South Africa and his new role as czar of anti-poaching operations throughout the country’s 22 national parks (SANParks). To underline the point, in the first month of Jooste’s operations, January 2013, 42 rhinos were killed in the flagship park, the Kruger, which had been earmarked by Jooste as a priority focus.
Jooste’s remarks not only echoed the ‘rhino wars’ vernacular and narrative but also stemmed out of the fact that conservation in general is increasingly referencing warfare.
Firstly there is the terminology such as ‘global intervention’ (to save species), ‘conservation militias’ (to protect parks and species), or ‘fortress conservation’ (protection strategy); secondly there is the use of private military companies to both train protection agencies and carry out pro-active patrolling. Thirdly there is the use of conservation as a rationale for security intervention that stretch from ‘no-go’ zones to buffer areas around borders.
Its opponents see this process as negative, destructive and sterile, while its proponents see it as militarised environmentalism, where appropriate levels of force that utilise both ‘soft power’ and ‘hard power’ are justified by the higher purpose of protecting the environment. Even field scientists, through this inexorable process, are increasingly being drawn into the world of pro-active conservation.
However, conservation as part of national security is only now starting to get the nuanced interpretation that it deserves: hitherto it resided as a rather ill-defined sub-section of conflict and warfare which started to get some definitional coherence with the publication in 2009 of a paper ‘War in Biodiversity Hotspots’.
The securitisation (as opposed to militarisation) of conservation falls within three broad categories:
– conflict conservation: where the work is carried out during an armed conflict. An example of this would be gorilla protection in the DR Congo.
– combat conservation: pro-active protection tactics, which might/not use armed force. A typical example would be in the Kruger National Park or private conservancies in South Africa and Kenya.
– co-ercive conservation: where people in an area find their lives heavily restricted either for national security reasons or to enhance conservation. In the former case a typical example would be Israeli-imposed regulations in conservation areas along the West Bank; in the latter case parks or adjoining land in South Africa or Kenya. In both cases the impact for the local population is negative.
When this matrix is viewed in terms of security the interpretations can be even more nuanced to take account of the fact that there are many areas in the world where the political situation might be transiting through post-conflict phases such as Sri Lanka – and South Africa in some respects – or where the scenario can oscillate between an upsurge in violence to simmering discontent and insecurity. A typical example would be swayths of India experiencing the Naxalite Maoist insurgency and to a lesser extent ethnic tensions in the Bodoland area of Assam, or parts of Central America ‘controlled’ by drug barons.
It is important to note the distinction between militarisation and securitisation: the former is the political process by which society prepares itself for conflict of any kind; the latter is the process by which society allows additional security measures as part of the process of protection. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre