Jul 28 2006
Environment and Security: A Forward Agenda
By Nick Mabey
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New Responses, New Tools
There is no lack of tools and policy options to address these issues. A wealth of experience exists on managing environmental disputes, designing governance systems, anti-corruption measures, resource allocation mechanisms and participative resources management that could be used to reduce instability risks. There are also a wealth of international agreements – on forests, water, environmental democracy, desertification, conflict resources – which could be strengthened as foreign policy tools.
However, despite a few high profile exceptions such as the action to control trade in “conflict diamonds”, there has been a lack of concerted international effort to address the resource and environmental roots of instability. Cases which have been addressed have required extensive campaigning from non-governmental groups to secure action.
In a world of rising scarcity this reactive approach will not preserve security and stability. Strategists always caution against fighting the last war, and the need to explore future threats away from the biases of current priorities. However, despite a plethora of recent reports - from the Africa Commission, the UN High Level Panel and even the Pentagon - identifying competition for oil and gas supply, resource scarcity and climate change as key drivers of political stress and conflict; the impact on practical action has been weak.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the identification of a new threat does not by itself result in an effective response. It takes time for countries to understand the strategic importance of new threats on their vital interests, and to reorder existing priorities. It takes even longer to develop effective instruments to respond. Security systems formed in the strategic certainties of the Cold War have struggled to respond to a new fluid strategic environment where the source of threats is constantly shifting.
But this is changing. The lessons of the past decade, and in particular the Balkan Wars, Rwanda and 9/11 have radically transformed national security priorities. Across the major powers these now focus less on the strength of other countries, and more on the need to tackle instability and failing states; to achieve energy security; prevent the development of “ungoverned spaces” open to abuse by terrorists and organised criminals; and address the internal conflicts which can breed and support international terrorism.