Coming from one direction is the ‘Western Way of War’ and in the other an ‘arms race’: at the centre of both directions is the protection (and poaching) of wildlife.
2013 has seen a steady escalation in ‘hard power’ efforts to halt wildlife poaching and trafficking, heavily focused on breaking up the ivory and rhino horn gangs in Africa. Recently it was announced that British Army paratroopers would train the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS); this came soon after US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s offer of a $1million reward for information leading to the break-up of the Laos-based but globally focused Xaysavang Network wildlife traffickers.
However, the biggest initiative of all has been the $80million 3-year Clinton Global Initiative which will train 3100 park rangers in 50 trafficking ‘hotspots’ as well as increased the use of sniffer-dogs.
The message is: money, political heft and action are being deployed, but with a sharp twist. Significantly the 50 ‘hotspots’ have not been identified but are restricted to just eastern and central Africa; equally important is that the locations are either on the ‘War on Terror’ list or with enough political instability to make them possible candidates. Conservation has come of age as part of counter-insurgency.
One example showing the linkage between ‘militarised’ – or even ‘combat’ – conservation and the ‘War on Terror’ are the references to al-Shabaab in Somalia using the profits from ivory smuggling; these references ratcheted up in the aftermath of the Nairobi shopping-mall incursion.
Therefore, one assumes that British paratrooper know-how would not only assist the ‘war’ on poachers but would also facilitate closer monitoring of the ‘badlands’ border region between Kenya and Somalia.
However, clear evidence about the al-Shabaab-ivory link was non-existant until a recent report by the Elephant Action League, though this was enough to generate huge world-wide coverage.
All this points to a wider question – is the widening conservation-security nexus in Africa good for wildlife and its conservation?
Operationally, it follows from the huge expansion of the Pentagon’s AFRICOM division as well as the huge US forces’ budget cuts that have refocused ‘big war’ to ‘small war’ by using small, specialised and highly mobile forces.
Politically, it would seem that anything that halts the illegal wildlife trade is beneficial.
However, by turning to ‘combat-conservation’ there could well be negative repercussions over the long-term, such as:
– further increasing the escalating fire –power in the ‘arms race’ between the protectors and poachers; for instance Kenya by one estimate has between 530,000-680,000 guns (legal/illegal) in circulation, with the ‘asking price’ for an AK-47 as between £100-700.
– further entangle conservation as an instrument in the ‘War on Terror’, especially laying open to the charge of being a ‘puppet of the West’.
– further alienate local rural population, viewing foreign intervention as an invasion of their sovereign independence.
– further provide ammunition for anti-Western campaigns.
Lastly ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’: given the clear linkages of counter-insurgency with the counter-poaching via American funding, with Hillary Clinton’s added political clout, the direction of operations will clearly have a significant American input.
However, when the American-leveraged money supply finishes and operations terminate will the poachers return, with greater fire-power and logistics? As an example, the revamped ‘Operation Rhino’ counter-poaching strategy in South Africa, headed by a retired Major-General, Johan Jooste, has seen the number of poached rhinos to 825 (to date) – this level was previously unthinkable. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre