Last week, I participated in the CCAPS Shifting Conflict Patterns in Africa: Drivers of Instability and Strategies for Cooperation conference, during which policymakers, practitioners, military personnel and scholars discussed the various demographic, political and environmental drivers of instability in Africa. Participants at the conference identified strategies for improved collaboration with African nations so as to mitigate the risk of instability and conflict.
The conference highlighted how climate-related extreme weather events and environmental degradation may exacerbate underlying social and political tensions, inequalities and demographic conditions that are already putting pressure on resources and governments, many of which are fragile and lack state capacity. In particular, climate change will accelerate cross-border migration and urbanization, which could fuel regional tensions and destabilize local governments if they do not have the resources and infrastructure to support the influx of people.
After four years, it is bittersweet for me to close this chapter of my professional life. Today is my last day at CNAS and at the helm of the Natural Security program. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be moving down the street to the august halls of the U.S. Senate.
I came to CNAS in April 2009 to join a team dedicated to exploring, at the time, a niche research area on the intersection of natural resources and national security policy – what you know as, “Natural Security.” And it is quite amazing to see how quickly this area of study has garnered serious attention in the national security community.
Before, policy concerning natural resources and the security implications of natural resource consumption were often considered, in defense parlance, things “other than war.” But today, the defense community is giving more attention to how sustainable access to natural resources can produce huge dividends for America’s war fighters. The Department of Defense, for example, is making deliberate choices about how it consumes energy, with ever more attention to reducing the vulnerability of its dependence on petroleum through conservation and efficiency measures. Meanwhile, DOD is making smart investments in alternative fuels to ensure that the U.S. military can operate on a variety of energy sources, making every effort to provide our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with the fuel they need to complete their missions and safeguard American interests.
Tomorrow is our annual June conference, affectionately referred to by one of my colleagues as Woodstock for wonks.
We have a terrific agenda lined up, with a special address from The Honorable Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and a co-founder of CNAS, and a conversation with The Honorable Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank.
The program will cover a variety of our research issues, from Afghanistan and defense in an era of austerity, to the Middle East after the Arab Spring and veterans reintegration.
Like every year, the conference will feature a variety of CNAS reports released in recent weeks. Some of them are directly or loosely related to the work we do on natural security; the ones that are not are nevertheless great contributions to the national security and defense policy debate.
Here is a breakdown of some of the natural security issues woven into this year’s conference papers, in no particular order:
In this report, Lieutenant General David W. Barno, USA (Ret.), Dr. Nora Bensahel, Matthew Irvine and Travis Sharp argue that the Department of Defense should organize and operate America’s armed forces in new ways. According to the authors, one of the ways to do this is for the Department of Defense to increase leap-ahead research and development investments in important areas, including energy conservation and alternative energy.
It’s time again to reflect on our Natural Security policy hopes for the New Year. Some items on this list are more realistic than others, of course – especially considering that it’s a presidential election year and politics will get in the way of some of these goals. But this is always a fun exercise, and we see surprising results each year. For example, on our 2011 wish list we hoped that the Department of Defense would designate a single Combatant Command as lead for the Arctic, and last April the Unified Command Plan shifted major responsibilities for the Arctic to U.S. Northern Command. Will the Natural Security team fare better this year for our policy goals for 2012? Here are 10 items I’d personally like to see this year, in no particular order:
1. With increasing attention to geoengineering, the U.S. government should do scenario planning to better understand the security implications of engineering the global climate, including the potential security dilemmas that could manifest from states trying to make themselves more “climate secure” (e.g., in the Indian subcontinent).
2. Building on last year’s wish list…a smart approach to “green alliances” from the Obama administration. Incorporating resources and environmental issues into our international partnerships and formal alliance relationships is necessary and a positive step for a modern U.S. approach to security, and may serve as the cornerstone to lasting partnerships in regions like East Asia, where the administration has recently refocused attention.
3. Continued and improved awareness among civil servants and political appointees about natural security issues, both at home and at our missions abroad, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, where resource challenges will contribute to those countries’ long-term security and stability.
4. A robust strategy for the Arctic that clearly states U.S. priorities and backs those priorities with the appropriate and necessary resources. In particular, U.S. policymakers need to invest in U.S. Coast Guard Arctic capabilities, including more icebreakers and other assets that allow the Coast Guard to accomplish its statutory missions in the High North.
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.”
This week, the CNAS Asia-Pacific Security team is in South Korea where we co-hosted a conference with the Seoul-based East Asia Institute, The ROK-US Alliance: Planning for the Future, and launched a new CNAS report – which you should definitely checkout when it becomes available tomorrow – Securing South Korea: A Strategic Alliance for the 21st Century.
Concerning natural security, I wanted to highlight two points from the conference that were particularly memorable.
First, according to a few panelists, more attention should be paid to the desperate state of human security in North Korea as a component contributing to potential instability. Indeed, two aspects of human security in North Korea deserve examination: the lack of food and environmental security. For years, North Koreans have suffered from food shortages, exacerbated by both perennial drought and flooding. Further, environmental issues such as soil degradation and deforestation plague rural areas of North Korea, hindering effective farming practices and intensifying food shortages. While the international community remains focused on North Korea’s aggressive provocations and recent nuclear revelations, food shortages, widespread starvation and environmental woes persist. In short, the North Korean people quietly suffer as their regime loudly provokes the international community, devoting resources to enhance military capabilities rather than the delivery of desperately needed public goods and services.
As you know, we have been following the shrewd insights of Alex Stark, formerly of the Natural Security blog, who has been covering the Cancun UN climate negotiations in person as part of the Adopt a Negotiator program, part of the Global Campaign for Climate Action. Alex was in Tianjin, China for the UN negotiations in October, and has been reporting on the Cancun proceedings throughout the week through her blog and via Twitter. Here is Alex’s latest post:
Negotiators have been working feverishly over the past several days trying to prepare an unbracketed negotiating text with several options clearly outlined on the most contentious issues. The text will be turned over to high-level ministers to resolve these remaining issues by Friday. On Monday and Tuesday, negotiators worked behind closed doors in small groups and bilateral discussions on the different issues, passing on a finalized version of their piece of the text to the chairs of the KP (Kyoto Protocol) and LCA (Long-term Cooperative Action) tracks, who worked overnight to pull together two coherent texts to present to the entire Conference of the Parties in an informal stocktaking session this morning. The COP insiders daily Earth Negotiations Bulletin newsletter reports that “the mood remained constructive in some informals groups, while in the others, some parties reported ‘a complete lack of progress.’”
Where do the issues stand now in the LCA text, what contentious problems remain and where is the United States in all of this?
Just beyond the tranquil picturesque landscape of the demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula lies modern day North Korea, a bizarre and mysterious world unto itself. The country is shrouded in uncertainty and most of what the outside world knows comes through accounts from defectors, rumors printed by the South Korean press and North Korean state-run media announcements. Case in point: at a recent U.S. Senate Hearing examining the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula, Senator John McCain asked Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (and CNAS co-founder), if Kim Jong-un was the “likely successor” to his father Kim Jong-il, who has ruled since 1994. Secretary Campbell succinctly replied, “Your guess is as good as ours, sir.”
The regime of Kim Jong-Il consistently draws the attention of the international community due to its ominous chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons capabilities and often erratic behavior. Furthermore, the humanitarian situation is extremely dire, with 8.7 million people in need of food assistance, 1 in 3 children under the age of 5 malnourished, and twenty-seven percent of the population at or below the absolute poverty level, living on less than 1 dollar a day.
However, while North Korea’s humanitarian and military challenges gain prominent attention by Western media and governments, the state of North Korean’s ecosystem is rarely covered despite the vast implications this issue will have for the Korean peninsula in the years ahead. In the case of the DPRK, the past is prologue: famine and drought in the mid-1990s precipitated rampant deforestation, land erosion, pillaging of forests, pollution, and the contamination of water supplies, which all still negatively affect the country today.
From 1994 to 1997, when the famine was at its worst, North Koreans had little or no electricity, resorting mostly to firewood to heat their homes. Undoubtedly, the use of firewood during the energy crisis led to a sharp decline in forest resources. Fires, landslides, insect damage, and drought have further contributed to the degradation of forests since the 1990s. Journalistic accounts, such as Barbara Demick’s novel, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, articulate the desperation of North Koreans during the famine, explaining that children would kill and eat rats, mice, frogs, tadpoles, and grasshoppers just to have something to fill their stomachs. Throughout the famine, North Koreans often resorted to a variety of other wild foods, such as grass, mushrooms, and tree bark, to alleviate their hunger, leaving many forests barren of vegetation or animal life. Indeed, the dietary dependency North Koreans have on the natural environment has significantly impacted the diversity (or lack thereof) of plant and animal life today.
The U.S. Navy kicked off its two-day Naval Energy Forum yesterday at the Regan Building, “Seapower Repowered: Energy as a Force Multiplier and Strategic Resource.” Unfortunately, I was not able to get across the street to listen to the numerous government and non-government officials build on the discussion the Navy has hosted on energy security over the last several years. I did, however, follow along on Twitter via @NavalEnergy, Task Force Energy’s Twitter handle.
While delivering his keynote address, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead validated CNAS’s work in this area, explicitly stating that “Natural Security will have implications on national security” (via @NavalEnergy). We were humbled to hear this, of course. Not because Roughead used a term we’ve developed to encompass our body of work, but because it suggests that more and more defense department officials recognize the increasing role that natural resources play in national security and defense policy.
On energy security, the Navy has been the most forward leaning of the services. “Energy is viewed as a critical warfighting element,” Roughead told the audience, keeping with the theme of energy as a force multiplier. “If we can ween ourselves away from fossils fuels…that reduces risk,” Roughead emphasized.
In recognition of the new, thought provoking CNAS publications released yesterday ahead of our Fourth Annual Conference, the Natural Security team will be analyzing our colleagues’ work this week on the blog, providing, of course, a Natural Security spin on the reports. Today’s featured report: To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict, by Michele L. Malvesti.
“[Special Operations Forces] are in the midst of a resurgence, with their core capabilities aligning with the irregular and potentially catastrophic security threats of today’s geostrategic environment,” writes Michele L. Malvesti in her recent report, To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict.
When it comes to Natural Security, it may not be obvious how natural resources issues and climate change engage Special Operations Forces (SOF), their interests and core capabilities. But as Malvesti points out in her report, “U.S. Special Operation Forces are ideally suited to help protect and advance U.S. security interests in an increasingly complex geostrategic environment,” including, perhaps, the complex challenges associated with climate change and natural resource issues.
Take climate change in particular. We have reported here on the blog before that SOF already play a role in responding to humanitarian crises in the wake of severe natural disasters, such as tropical storms. In fact, in a previous post here, I shared a Defense Department photo of U.S. Navy SEALs providing humanitarian relief to Filipinos in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana that left nearly a half-million displaced in the Philippines last September.