Squaring the ‘green’ defence circle

The first week in September marked a moment when the circle in Britain between the environment, defence planning and conflict became tighter: in that week the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced a £500 million package of improvements at the Faslane nuclear submarine base hosting the Trident programme, while at the same time the stream of refugees from mostly Syria turned into an endless torrent; this prompted Prime Minister, David Cameron, to announce that more aid would be directed to refugees in Syria by way of providing ‘sustainable security’ for Britain through organising conflict prevention at source (Syria).

Just as tellingly, the backdrop to Cameron’s announcement had been driven by the huge outpouring of ‘people power’ sympathy in Britain for the refugees which pre-empted governmental deliberations (dithering ?) over the refugees plight, while at the same time the Faslane announcement highlighted the huge cost of a Trident replacement – a debate reignited during the summer Labour party leadership contest – when set against so many other competing budgetary requirements, not least dealing with the geo-politics of mass refugee migration.

‘Sustainable security’ is a version of a ‘green’ defence strategy but no country has articulated a defence strategy that fully grasps the complexity and implications of dealing with ‘green’ issues.

In Britain and the United States much of the linkage between ‘green’ issues and defence does pivot on nuclear missiles; however, in South Africa that ‘green’- defence link relates to the surge in rhino poaching, which is not only highly damaging to its vital tourist industry, but turns a harsh spotlight on huge weaknesses in national security; and in Syria the ‘green’- security link is reflected in the role of a long-lasting drought leading up to the outbreak of civil war and the consequences of environmental destruction caused by the conflict and the subsequent mass human migrations.

Defence budgets around the world are being squeezed or reduced – with some notable exceptions such as China and Russia – as governments reconfigure strategic priorities and increasingly look for ‘sustainable security’, creating national defence from a mixture of armed response, humanitarian relief and long-term stabilisation missions; here other theoretical options include both ‘ecological intervention’ and ‘ecological development’, the former being case specific in response to environmental crisis protection and the latter using the environment as the focus for post-conflict rebuilding.

However, only a few armed forces – principally the United States – have acknowledged a ‘green’ agenda, this has been channelled through strictly limited initiatives such as reducing fuel consumption or outlining the strategic implications of issues like climate change or water supply. Equally sparse is the volume of research either by academics or military sources: though there is a large body of work relating to conflict and natural resources (‘resource wars’), and while there are emerging academic sub-sets investigating the environmental impact of conflict and the ‘militarisation’ of wildlife conservation, there is negligible literature relating to the broad issues connecting ‘green’ issues and defence planning.

Traditionally, the connection between ‘green’ and defence issues has focused on two areas. Firstly, it has been the protection of the supply of natural resources that underpin national infrastructure and daily life, referred to haphazardly either as ‘environmental security’ or ‘natural security’: this sector has a wide traverse, ranging from the supply of essentials of contemporary life such was water, oil, gas and even cobalt for computer chips across to definitions of ‘resource wars’ and ‘resource scarcity’.

The second area has reflected the destructive threat to humanity and the environment posed by the twin nuclear issues of weapons and power generation. More recently, several other areas have emerged in terms of their relationship with security, these being the knock-on effect of natural disasters and a wider appreciation of the impact of climate change.

How would the idea of a ‘green’ defence strategy translate into reality; would it involve more peace-keeping, stabilisation missions, humanitarian relief operations and even interventions? History provides clues about a ‘green’ defence strategy since natural resources and biodiversity have not only underpinned the urge for territorial conquest but also shaped national identities, Germany being a good example.

There is also the tradition of the military involvement with civilian environmentally linked projects, like the US Army Corps of Engineers’ long-standing commitment to homeland bridge and levee building; there is emergency response to natural disasters, and biodiversity protection such as Brazilian army units stationed in the Amazon Basin, as well as ideological concepts like PUMF (Peaceful Use of Military Force) and the UN ‘Green Helmets’. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre.

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