Is environmental security an important component of human or national security?
To the degree that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the largest and most militarily powerful member of which is the United States, believes that environmental security is a component of national or international security, then it is safe to conclude that concerns about the environment are receiving higher-level attention in departments and ministries of Defense throughout Europe and North America. In fact, NATO addresses the issue of environmental security by noting the following:
“Based on a broad definition of security that recognizes the importance of political, economic, social and environmental factors, NATO is addressing security challenges emanating from the environment. This includes extreme weather conditions, depletion of natural resources, pollution, and so on – factors that can ultimately lead to disasters, regional tensions and violence.” [www.nato.int/cps/ens/natolive/topics_49216.htm]
NATO is a political-military organization. Uniformed military personnel are well-represented in the hall of its Brussels headquarters. That includes American military personnel. The Americans in particular understand that it is the U.S. Armed Forces that are routinely sent to aid the victims of natural disasters in less developed regions of the world. From a practical and financial perspective (disaster response operations involving large numbers of troops, ships, aircraft, and humanitarian supplies are very expensive) the armed services appreciate the significance of environmental degradation and evidence of climate change. They know that previously fertile soil that becomes arid, or which is continuously subjected to major flooding, reduces food supplies, which contributes to political instability, which leads to armed conflict. They also know that rioting and rebellion resulting from economic problems that have their genesis in environmental factors , for instance, severe weather that damages or destroys factories or electric power grids that are destroyed and leave hundreds of thousands of already poor people without electricity, can lead to long-term problems that fundamentally alter the geopolitical landscape.
In recognition of the importance of factoring environmental concerns into international security considerations, the Millennium Project, an independent research institute that was established in 1996 to provide insights into potential future international developments, expanded its focus and now tracks the interaction of environmental factors and human development with an eye towards the implications of environmental changes on political stability and human health around the world. [See www.millennium-project.org] Similarly, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Security in Washington, D.C. has looked at the implications for regional security in Asia and Africa of China’s growing industrial fishing fleet and its ever-extending reach. Over-fishing of local waters by Chinese ships are reducing the amount of fish available to other countries’ fishermen, with the resulting implications for the economies and food supplies of those countries and for the rise in tensions between the Chinese and those countries affected by its’ activities. [www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/fishing-for-answers]
In short, environmental security is very much a component of human or national security.