Providing environmental security


Addressing the root causes of environmental problems which could create or add to instability in a geopolitical region. Using conflict mediation to relieve fear, while at the same time providing transboundary agreements and cooperation on environmental resources.


The emphasis on environmental security reflects a "holistic" conception of security, that goes beyond protecting the state from external aggression to addressing environmental problems that threaten the health and wellbeing of individuals or economic security of countries. While regional environmental security issues are usually geographically located, global environmental security issues are issue-defined such as, the implications of population growth, ozone depletion and climate changes, loss of biodiversity, loss of forest cover, ocean degradation and the emerging problem of environmental refugees. Such are the potentially destabilizing effects of these problems that each nation state can now consider the environment as a (non-traditional) security threat.

It could be that the developed countries are more likely to think of environment and security in terms of global environmental changes, and developing countries more with the human security implications of local and regional problems. Regional environmental issues can have significant impact on policy options for states within a region. Environmental issues do impact regional stability though not all environmental concerns are security concerns. Regional security issues relate increasingly to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources and climate. Environmental issues such as the loss of arable land and access to fresh water and fisheries resources have already triggered civil disorders, insurgencies, and military eruptions in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. They are likely to play an increasing role in conflicts around the world in the future.

Environmental security requires that steps be taken to address environmental issues on a long-term basis. Development aid strategies must start targeting the most pressing environmental problems, such as, controlling waste disposal and protecting declining forests, improving the quality of environmental data, building capacity to manage environmental problems, supporting the provision of rural health clinics, the establishment of regional diagnostic and training centers, and the construction of water purification systems at medical facilities.

Particular environmental issues are vital to national security while others are more accurately described as constituting a significant national interest. Some argue for a paradigm shift in terms of what actually defines security, maintaining that security must be redefined to include environmental problems such as ozone depletion, potential climate change, transboundary effects of changes in the earth's support functions, as well as more direct effects of climate change such as interstate conflict.

Environment and security do not hold together well in the public's mind. Within the environmental sector there is splitting along issue lines. Not everyone sees the proposed links between population and degradation and global warming. There are so many connecting variables between the environmental issue and the traditional security area which it may affect that it is difficult for the public to follow the linkages.

There are 5 specific categories of environment and security issues: (a) Transboundary pollution that threatens a nations' security through negative political or economic effects or through harmful effects on health and quality of life (including air and water pollution, improper chemical and nuclear waste disposal); (b) Global environmental issues (such as ozone depletion, global warming, deforestation, etc.) that threaten a nations' security through harmful health, economic, quality of life or other effects; (c) Regional environmental issues that may trigger political or economic instability (such as Mexican-U.S. border issues, unauthorized fishing within exclusive economic zones or disputed territories, or resource scarcities that deepen poverty and encourage citizens to support extremist regimes); (d) Regional resource scarcities that may help fuel violent conflicts (or migration leading to conflict) within or between other nations and thereby threaten international security/stability; and (e) Other specific environmental or environmentally-related problems that threaten a nations' security (such as conditions that promote the spread of emerging viruses/diseases; the development or use of eco-terrorism; effects of war/preparations for war).


In an address at Stanford University on April 9, 1996, titled "American Diplomacy and the Global Environmental Challenges of the 21st Century," Secretary Christopher asserted that: Our administration has recognized from the beginning that our ability to advance our global interests is inextricably linked to how we manage the Earth's natural resources. That is why we are determined to put environmental issues where they belong: in the mainstream of American foreign policy. The environment has a profound impact on our national interests in two ways: First, environmental forces transcend borders and oceans to threaten directly the health, prosperity and jobs of American citizens. Second, addressing national resource issues is frequently critical to achieving political and economic stability, and to pursuing our strategic goals around the world.

The U.S. Department of Defense's view of "environmental security" comprises the following: (1) ensuring environmentally responsible action by military units wherever they may be; (2) ensuring adequate access to land, air and water to conduct a defense mission; (3) protecting DOD's war-fighting assets (people, equipment and facilities); (4) understanding where environmental conditions contribute to instability and where the environment fits into the war and peace equation; (5) bringing defense-related environmental concerns to the development of national security; (6) studying how defense components can be used as instruments of U.S. global environmental policy.


Only by protecting the global environment and promoting sustainable development can we assure a secure economic and political foundation and maintain stability in international relations.

Counter Claim:

Not only are environmental problems and security very difficult to define, they are also always changing based on national security interests.

Environment Environment
Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal