Today we’ll round out the Natural Security team’s three part comparison of the recently released 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE; PDF) and its predecessor the 2008 JOE (PDF). Be sure to check out Christine’s comparison of the two energy sections and Will’s comparison of the sections on climate change. Today, I’ll be looking into how both JOE reports view the roll of food in the security environment.
While I would have liked to have seen some evidence of new thought on the topic, the 2010 and 2008 JOE are remarkably similar on food (with only slight modifications made to the text, mostly to adjust tense and grammar). Regardless, the 2010 JOE (reiterating the 2008 JOE) does offer some very good Natural Security insights into food and agriculture. First, touching on the role that military forces may have to assume in assisting in food relief operations:
JOE 2010 (p. 30)
How quickly the world reacts to temporary food shortages inflicted by natural disasters will also pose challenges. In such cases, the Joint Force may find itself involved in providing lift, logistics, and occasionally security to those charged with relief operations.
For me, this statement drums up memories of recent news reports on violence and armed personnel surrounding food convoys during Haiti’s earthquake relief operations.
At the risk of having this new feature labeled a complete cliché, I will save you the overly used George Santayana quote, and simply state that sometimes it is pertinent to look back, in order to better assess the present. Though “natural security” as a study, like your four-year-old niece, can still count its age on one hand, in practice it has been a timeless and vital key to the success of empires, war machines, revolutions and development—for those that understood its pivotal role. In this new blog feature, I’ll be sifting through the pages of the great war “how-tos”—from Sun Tzu's The Art of War to today’s feature, U.S. Army FM 3-24, a.k.a., “The Counterinsurgency Manual”— looking back to see what role natural security held in conflicts contemporary to the manual, and what its words of natural security wisdom hold in current engagements.
The COIN Manual was drafted at a time that the U.S. military had found itself in a war it had not entirely planned for, and whose outlook seemed to grow more grim every day. The United States had not exactly come with a knife to a gun fight, but in a sense had walked into a swarm of bees after gearing up to slay a dragon. The U.S. armed forces were prepared to fight a conventional war, but found that the game had changed since they last took a stroll through Baghdad’s front gate. It was time for a reassessment, the Army dug into working on it, and thus in 2006, U.S. Army FM 3-24 was born.
The manual gave a new hope for success in Iraq, as it won hearts and minds within DOD with its heightened focus on the Iraqi people and the cancerous roots of insurgency. Though penned years before the launch of natural security here at CNAS, the manual included important natural security-relevant mentions:
Currently, the Obama administration’s 2010 3D Afghanistan strategy boasts a COIN approach which prominently features coordinated agricultural efforts between the military and USAID, water and energy projects, and additional natural security-esque initiatives supported by the COIN Manual's guidance. Having risen from the ashes of earlier failures only to help guide the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the COIN Manual was as much a product of its environment, as it has now made the environment a product of itself.
Our colleagues in the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars recently released a comprehensive report, Land Grab? The Race for the World’s Farmlands, that looks at the increasing frequency of food-importing developed nations and private companies investing in huge tracts of arable farmland in less developed countries.
This is an area that, while we haven’t explored deeply, we are beginning to study more and more here in the Natural Security program. We’re particularly interested in the ways that these emerging economic trends are engaging other socioeconomic and political trends in developing countries, which could lead to instability in countries of geostrategic importance to the United States (e.g. Pakistan).
According to the report’s authors:
Large-scale land acquisitions may have a negative effect on the wider sociopolitical and economic context of the host country. There are documented cases, such as the Daewoo Logistics Corporation’s (ultimately unsuccessful) plan to lease 1.3 million hectares of land in Madagascar, where negotiations over deals have contributed to political instability and internal social conflict. These deals touch on the already politically contentious issue of land allocation and land rights, so they carry a possibility of exacerbating existing tensions.
Granted, to this point Madagascar is the only case where a land deal has contributed to widespread political instability. However, the factors at play in most host countries—land, food insecurity, and poverty—make up a combustible mix that could easily explode. In countries—such as Pakistan—where violent, extremist anti-government movements have mastered the ability to exploit land- based class divisions, the political risks are particularly high.
The report is intended for a much broader (global) audience and, rightly so, is not explicit about how these trends might engage U.S. national security interests. But for researchers like us who study natural resources and economic trends and analyze their engagement with national security, the report is robust and offers useful case studies in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe that are a great jumping off point for our further research. You should read this now!
Yesterday I took a virtual trip to check out the U.S. Institute of Peace event, Natural Resources: Plunder or Peace, via live webcast. The event featured Paul Collier, director of the Centre of African Economies at Oxford University, and Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, and focused primarily on natural resources beneath the ground (or subsoil assets, as they were commonly referred to during the event).
Paul Collier began his discussion with fun question to the audience. According to Collier, an average square kilometer of land in the richest countries in the world was valued to have $120,000 worth of subsoil assets. The statistics game started when he asked the audience whether they thought that the value of subsoil assets beneath an average square kilometer of African land would be more than that average. By a show of hands (save my own, as webcasts are only projected one-way), it seemed most everyone indicated a vote of “yes.” But according to Collier, everyone was wrong; the average in Africa amounts to roughly $23,000. By his assessment, this pointed to one obvious conclusion: we simply haven’t discovered the other assets to make up for the nearly $100,000 disparity. I temporarily accepted this fact and listened on.
Last Thursday, a somewhat motley crew gathered at the State Department to discuss the U.S. government’s agricultural efforts in Afghanistan. The panel featured Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard C. Holbrooke and newly confirmed USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah (who had been sworn in earlier that very day).
If you have been listening to what many in the Obama administration have been saying recently about U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, the first five minutes of the panel’s discussion may be just as confusing to you as it was to me. Each speaker took their turn pointing to agricultural efforts executed by the United States:
One of the great things about working in a new program area like Natural Security is that we’re constantly reassessing how to best address our research area. Recently, the implications of agriculture and food security on national security have been gaining prominence. When President Obama outlined his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he specifically noted that revitalizing the agricultural economy of that country was a step towards security. Elsewhere, reports on the links between climate change and agriculture and the importance of agriculture at Copenhagen have put our food system in the spotlight.
Several years ago I was coaching a high school debate team in Boston and my students were asked to debate increasing alternative energy incentives in the United States. As one would expect, the debate became one about the effects of climate change. Some students used the tactic of arguing that climate change was a positive phenomenon. They mainly cited an author who wrote that CO2 emissions increase plant growth – in fact this became such a popular point that I heard it argued about five times a tournament, and never well. After digging around a bit more, what I found was that most of the students making this argument were basing their conclusions on one-sided evidence: literature that examined only one aspect of climatic effects on agriculture that negated the net result of increased global emissions (such as melting ice caps and rising sea level that destroy coastal vegetation).
With that in mind, for this week’s Reading Old Magazines I decided to look at a 1994 Nature study by Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research at NASA’s Goddard Institute, and Martin L. Parry, currently at the Grantham Institute, but previously a co-chair of Working Group II at the IPCC, called “Potential Impact of Climate Change on World Food Supply.” (pdf) Parry and Rosenzweig used the latest climate change models to determine the impacts of increasing CO2 emissions on agriculture, although they only looked at the atmospheric effects and not water acidification. They then applied the results to a trade model that examined how shifts in growing patterns would affect worldwide food distribution models.