The National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds on Monday, a quadrennial analysis of the major trends shaping the global security environment. The report is intended to provide a framework for a new presidential administration to think about the threats and opportunities that lie ahead in the future security landscape.
The report examined four medgatrends that analysts believe will shape the world of tomorrow: individual empowerment; diffusion of power; demographic patterns; and the food, water, energy nexus.
The latter two trends directly affect each other. According to the NIC’s analysis, “Demand for these [food, water and energy] resources will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population [demographics].”
Climate change is inextricably linked to the growing food, water and energy nexus. According to the report:
Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class. Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources. Climate change analysis suggests that the severity of existing weather patterns will intensify, with wet areas getting wetter and dry and arid areas becoming more so. Much of the decline in precipitation will occur in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as western Central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and the US Southwest.
We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities, but policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future. Many countries probably won’t have the wherewithal to avoid food and water shortages without massive help from outside.
Technology will play an interesting role in the future security landscape, particularly when it comes to energy, according to the NIC’s analysis. Technological breakthroughs in unconventional natural gas and oil production are contributing to an energy revolution in North America.
Yemen’s political crisis seems to be worsening. On Sunday, New York Times Magazine writer Robert Worth’s recent account was simply titled “Yemen on the Brink of Hell.” Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that “Yemen [has] been rendered ungovernable.”
While Yemen’s embattled President Saleh continues to hold onto power, many Yemenis continue to struggle in the face of perennial challenges that have beleaguered this Middle East nation. In particular, Worth’s story illustrates how Yemen’s resource challenges are exacerbating the situation for many struggling to live day to day. “For those not on the payroll, life has gotten measurably worse since the uprising began at the start of the year, with food prices rising fast and water and cooking gas increasingly scarce,” Worth wrote. “If these trends continue, the appeal of hard-line Islamists or other extremists may grow, upsetting all calculations about the loyalty of Yemen’s military or its tribes.”
The Yemeni government has had a poor track record with managing its resource challenges in a sustainable way. One need only look to the way in which the government has dealt with the state’s acute water crisis to see how vulnerable its resource management practices are: the government has used its oil revenue to subsidize otherwise expensive water extraction practices without addressing the need to manage its water resources better, for example, through conservation practices. But the country’s oil wells are running dry – with some experts predicting that the country could run out of exportable oil by 2017 – leaving the government without the wherewithal to continue to buy its way out of trouble.
As the U.S. military continues its drawdown of troops from Iraq – with the last of those troops to leave by December 31, 2011 – policymakers and analysts are likely to raise concerns over the country’s long-term stability and sustainability given the laundry list of challenges that continue to plague a fledgling and often times beleaguered central government. The New York Times report this morning on China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC) recent oil operations at Iraq’s Al-Ahdab oil field sheds light on some of those seams, including challenges stemming from access to food and water and other basic social services that are largely not provided evenly by the government in Baghdad:
The [CNPC] deal began drawing intense criticism from residents and officials in Wasit Province, where the [Al Ahdab] field is located, shortly after the contract was signed. Some people demanded that Wasit be granted a royalty of $1 a barrel to improve access to clean water, health services, schools, roads and other public needs in the province, which is among Iraq’s poorest. The Iraqi government rejected the demands.
As Iraq continues to grabble with these challenges, one cannot help but wonder how much ill-access to water, food, shelter and adequate electricity (to name just a few social needs) will continue to exacerbate existing grievances and drive a greater wedge between the Iraqi people and the government. I am reminded especially of the hurdles the country faces with acute water shortages. Last June, I wrote a piece for Tom Ricks’s Best Defense blog on this very issue. Here’s what I found:
Yesterday, The New York Times ran a lengthy story on how climate change is affecting global food production, with consequences that cut across the full spectrum of society, from rising prices, worsening hunger to destabilizing governments across the world.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that instability and unrest in Yemen has been fueled in part by a lack of access to water and rising food prices. As The New York Times explained in its Sunday story, Yemen is just one of many countries that have been afflicted by a decades-long trend around shrinking food production:
Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.
The United States and other western nations have been largely insulated from instability surrounding rising food prices for much of the last decade in part because, unlike developing nations, the cost of buying food represents a much, much smaller percentage of annual incomes in developed countries. But in nations where people spend 50 percent of their salary or more to feed their families, price spikes have much worse implications, including by “[worsening] hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen,” the Times reported. “The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.”
This week the Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde, visited Washington to hold two days of meetings with some of his U.S. counterparts. This was the first time a Chief of the General Staff visited the United States in seven years. Although the issues that got most of the media coverage were General Chen’s statement that China’s military wasn’t strong enough to challenge the United States, as well as his statement on U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, there were indications that natural security issues emerged as potential areas of cooperation between the United States and China.
For example, in his joint press conference with General Chen on Wednesday, Admiral Michael Mullen described five areas where the Chinese-U.S. militaries had shared concerns, including around “nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change, energy security and piracy,” according to the China Daily. In a statement released by General Chen and Admiral Mullen, they listed combined natural disaster relief missions as an area ripe for cooperation, according to CNN. Although little reported, these sentiments seem to have been echoed in General Chen’s speech at the National Defense University. One recap of the speech, for instance, noted that General Chen said cooperation around food security and climate change were potential opportunities for future collaboration.
Photo: Admiral Michael Mullen and General Chen Bingde shake hands outside the Pentagon on Tuesday. Courtesy of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega and the Department of Defense.
When the articles in the new Foreign Policy “Food Issue” first hit my RSS feed about a week back, I snidely Tweeted: "Doesn't look like FP's food issue will stack up to Wired's food issue...from 3 yrs ago http://bit.ly/f7dLvK" That Wired issue was great. But I didn't give FP a fair chance until it arrived on my desk and I read through the entire issue. Now, I say, it's definitely worth making the Summer Reading List
President of the Earth Policy Institute Lester Brown provides the main article, “The New Geopolitics of Food.” At first, this piece reads as a little bit deterministic about trends, and makes some static assumptions based on population growth and other factors. I see this problem often with analysis on natural resource scarcity presuming linear patterns of production and consumption. Yet I get the sense that with this piece, Brown is more so highlighting what challenges our business-as-usual policies will create. Trends will change, but likewise our policies for managing resources must change to prevent shortages in commodities like food from turning into political turmoil and outright security risks. Indeed, this is where Brown ends: by identifying the major components of international food policy that need to change to ensure that the envisioned future of geopolitical tension and even conflict over food scarcity doesn’t manifest.
Jacques Diouf, Director General of the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is expected to step down soon after serving in this capacity since 1994. Diouf will seek a bid to run for the Senegal presidency in the 2012 election, Bloomberg reported this week.
At least six candidates have emerged to replace Diouf as Director General, according to a report by The Guardian. Three candidates have emerged as frontrunners, according to Reuters: Franz Fischler, a former European Union Agricultural Commissioner; Jose Graziano da Silva, head of FAO in Latin America and the Caribbean; and Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain’s former foreign minister. All six candidates have outlined their proposals for running the agency should they be selected.
The transition comes at an important time for the FAO which, as one of the UN’s largest anti-hunger agencies, will have a leading role in combating hunger in the face of rising global food prices. In discussing his candidacy to be the FAO’s next Director General, Franz Fischler noted that this food inflation threatens global stability arguing that "Food security is becoming more and more also an issue of national security."
Photo: FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at the 36th Session of the Committee on World Food Security October 14, 2010. Courtesy of the FAO.
The world’s focus since last Friday has rightly been on the post-earthquake efforts in Japan. For the past few days, most attention has been directed to the troubling situation at Japan’s nuclear power stations. While we have been closely monitoring that situation, we have also been curious about the food situation which appears to be getting far less attention – at least here in the United States – but seems just as urgent.
Here is some useful information that I was able to dig up. First, the Japanese government has been closely monitoring the food situation. Much of the work in securing and distributing adequate food supplies is being coordinated by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). MAFF set up the Earthquake Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters to deal with the crisis which has held nine meetings since the disaster, according to the briefing summaries of each meeting that were released on their website.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao delivered a speech on China’s five year plan at the Eleventh Party Congress on Saturday. (The Wall Street Journal provided a transcript here.) His remarks covered the gamut of state policy issues, but natural security challenges played a prominent role throughout. Since China plays a vital role in the topics we address on this blog, Premier Wen’s remarks are worth recounting at length.
Wen’s speech linked China’s economic growth and energy policies to environmental issues like climate change. This emphasis on climate change and environmentally friendly policies was one of the more noteworthy parts of the new five year plan, with Wen boldly pledging to “actively respond to climate change.” It seems that dealing with climate change is now seen by the Party leadership as an important element for sustaining economic growth. In fact, in a February 27, 2011 webinar, Wen told citizens that rapid economic growth would not come at the expense of the environment, according to Xinhua News. At times, Wen’s speech implied that dealing with environmental issues was also important for social stability. This was particularly true with regard to pollution. On pollution, Premier Wen said that Beijing would address marine, water, air and heavy metal pollution. Wen also pledged to “carry out major ecological restoration projects, intensify the protection and management of major functional ecological zones…. [and] protect natural forest resources.”
As the attention of the world turns towards the East over the coming decades, India will become an increasingly important power. As a recent CNAS report began, “The emergence of India as a new major global power is transforming the world’s geopolitical landscape, with profound implications for the future trajectory of our century and for America’s own global interests.” Other CNAS working papers have demonstrated the extensive mutual interests India and the United States will continue to share in the areas of defense, the global commons, and private sector trade. Natural security is another potential area for cooperation between Washington and New Delhi, and we therefore felt it would be worthwhile to highlight some of the natural security aspects of the India’s new budget that was released yesterday.
One of the largest priorities of the new budget is reducing the price of food. India has recently struggled with food price inflation, which reached a one-year high in December. Food prices rose 11 percent through the month of January and 11.49 percent by mid-February. It was therefore not surprising when, in his address to Parliament Monday unveiling the budget, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “Our principal concern this year has been the continued high food prices.”
The new budget proposes a number of steps to combat the rise in food prices. Most of these involve agricultural reform. For instance, the Singh administration proposed increasing funding for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) a development program launched by the Indian government in 2007/2008. It aims to achieve 4% greater agricultural growth through providing incentives for holistic approaches to farming. Funding for RKVY in the new budget has been pegged at 78.6 billion rupees, a substantial increase from the 67.6 billion rupees it received last year.