Environmental Issues Impact on Security

Environmental Issues Impact on Security


The relationship between environmental issues and national security includes the possibility of conflict over scarce resources such as fresh water and arable land, the influence of global climate changes on the types and locations of future conflicts, and the degree to which the environmental consequences of domestic military and security activities should be open to public scrutiny. Although there is no standardized definition, aspects of national security that are driven by or that address environmental issues can be collectively described by the term environmental security. Because environmental security issues are tied as closely to public policy, politics, and economics as they are to science and engineering, discussions of either are often contentious and highly polarized.

Increasing concerns about environmental quality and degradation during the past several decades have led to the incorporation of environmental elements into national security policy. Some policy scenarios, for example, discuss the possibility of United States troops invading South American countries to enforce bans against logging in rainforests or to quell violence arising from competition for arable land and fresh water in African regions undergoing desertification. It has also been suggested that potential global warming may shrink the northern polar ice cap and open parts of the Arctic Ocean as a military theatre for surface ships as well as an avenue of commerce.

With regard to their potential for political upheaval or war as a consequence of environmental problems, the least stable parts of the world have been identified as North Africa, the sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa (including Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Niger, and Chad), the island nations of the western Pacific Ocean, the Ganges River basin (principally northeastern India and Bangladesh), and some parts of Central and South America. Some portions of Africa, in particular, do not possess resources (especially food, water, and energy) adequate to support the current population under existing conditions. Other areas are those in which climate change or continuing population growth may cause the carrying capacity of the environment to be exceeded. In either case, regional deprivation and political unrest may have global consequences if they provide an atmosphere that allows extremist or terrorist groups to flourish. Environmental security concerns will likely require the shaping of events through diplomatic efforts to promote regional stability (including the equitable provision of foreign aid); limited military response in cases where diplomatic efforts to promote stability have failed; and continuing preparation of diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel to deal with environmental security issues.

The environmental impacts of military activities and the effects of domestic environmental laws on military readiness are also evolving concerns. Like other federal agencies, the Department of Defense has historically complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that requires, for example, the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) or Environmental Assessments (EA) prior to many activities. Military facilities are also required to develop Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans (INRMPs) that must be revised every five years. In order to decrease the operational and budgetary impacts of environmental laws on military activities deemed essential to national security, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), a Department of Defense program, was established in 1990. Its focus areas include the development of more effective methods and technologies for the cleanup of contaminated military sites, compliance with environmental laws and regulations, conservation of natural resources, pollution prevention, and identification and destruction of unexploded ordnance. More recently, the Department of Defense has sought military exemptions from environmental laws that include the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The House Armed Services Committee voted in 2002 to allow the Department of Defense to ignore some environmental laws, but compromise legislation passed several months later in the Senate limited this to a temporary exemption from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The legislation also directed the secretary of the interior to draft within one year regulations that would permanently exempt many military activities from environmental laws.



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Petzold-Bradley, E., A. Carius, and A. Vincze (editors). Responding to Environmental Conflicts: Implications for Theory and Practice. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.

Price-Smith, A. T. The Health of Nations: Infectious Diseases, Environmental Change, and Their Effects on National Security and Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.


Benjamin, Paul. "Green Wars: Making Environmental Degradation a National Security Issue Puts Peace and Security at Risk." The Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No. 369. April 20, 2000. < http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-369es.html > (14 March 2003).

Pacific Institute. "Environment and Security." < http://www.pacinst.org/environment_and_security/ >(14 March 2003).

Pike, John. "Environmental Issues." December 12, 2002. < http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/environment.htm >(14 March 2003).

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EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
Food supply, Counter-Terrorism
Natural Resources and National Security
Water Supply: Counter-Terrorism

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