Militarism as an ideology that privileges military culture and values – including violence as an appropriate response to conflict – and that justifies the expansion of these values and culture into nominally civilian spheres. Militarization, on the other hand, is a process in which society mobilizes for conflict or the “production of violence”: while distinct, the two concepts are joined by the fact that militarism is often what justifies militarization.
We know that many of those doing conservation work on the ground have military backgrounds, and even today the Army and police are important recruiting grounds for rangers given that military-style discipline and skills are precisely those seen as necessary for wildlife policing.
Military skills and the military have also been used to forcibly evict populations to create, maintain, or expand protected areas, reflecting one of the core ways conservation rests on the use of violence. While conservation has long had deep military roots, it saw an intensification of militarized practices in the 1980s.
Responding to heavily armed elephant and rhino poachers, many African governments provided their rangers with more rigorous militarized training, more lethal weapons, and the use of more deadly force. In the most extreme cases, such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these policies translated into controversial ‘shoot-on-sight’ or ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies in which rangers are given permission to shoot suspected poachers rather than arrest them.
By the 1980s within official and popular conservation rhetoric, wildlife began to be understood as belonging to an expanded moral community, while poachers were denigrated as ruthless and morally lacking. Such assumptions have led to the view that conservation has become a ‘just war’ which leads to the normalization of militarized practices like shoot-on-sight policies. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre