On Wednesday, I’ll be at the Wilson Center for a daylong symposium, Harnessing Natural Resources for Peacebuilding: Lessons From U.S. and Japanese Assistance, where I’ll join a panel of development and security practitioners for a morning discussion on the roles of natural resources in conflict and peacebuilding. The symposium will be the third in a series of symposia for a project I’m attached to that seeks to improve American and Japanese post-conflict security and diplomacy initiatives by helping policymakers understand the importance of integrating natural resource management and infrastructure redevelopment into peacebuilding efforts. Specifically, the Wilson Center’s Geoff Dabelko and I will be discussing the role of military-to-military engagement on the environment and natural disasters, emphasizing how the lessons from these activities can be integrated into post-conflict management.
Militaries have a rich history of engaging with each other on the environment and using these exchanges as opportunities to further security goals. The Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation, for example, was a military-to-military exchange between the United States, Norway and the Soviet Union that was aimed at improving military ties between the Cold War foes through joint exercises to reduce the environmental impact from their naval presence and early warning radar systems in the Arctic. In these kinds of exchanges, the environment generally serves as a means for militaries to engage and further their security goals by improving transparency, relations between officers and training which can help reduce tensions and suspicions between competitor states, or build good will between allies.
Natural disaster training and response are also opportunities for militaries to strengthen their relationships and can result in tangible peace dividends. In 1999, both Greece and Turkey were struck by devastating earthquakes that prompted both nations to come to the other’s aid, with each nation providing military search-and-rescue assistance and other capabilities to support their neighbor during their recovery. Despite the longstanding grievances between Greece and Turkey over their competing claims to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, many viewed these exchanges as the beginning of warming relations between the two, dubbing it the period of “earthquake diplomacy.” More recently, the United States and Vietnam have engaged in noncombat naval exercises, such as search-and-rescue training that will enable Vietnam to develop better resiliency in the wake of natural disasters, which will be especially important moving forward given the projected implications of climate change in the region. These noncombat exercises, including around disaster training, mark the beginning of strengthening military ties between the United States and Vietnam that clearly help both nations achieve specific security goals.
Many of the military-to-military exchanges we have researched in our work are considered conflict prevention; that is, they are conducted during times of peace. Yet the lessons learned from these exchanges carry equal weight in post-conflict settings when one considers that the thrust of post-conflict peacebuilding is largely to prevent conflict from reoccurring. In that sense, conflict prevention tools can be applied to prevent conflict from occurring, or from occurring again. We will put this into better context tomorrow. Be sure to join us then when Geoff and I will explain in greater detail why these types of exchanges are important in post-conflict settings and where we believe militaries will see more opportunities for cooperating on the environment and natural disaster training and response.