The New York Times reported today that, with relatively little fanfare, Iraqi Kurds are moving forward with a referendum on a proposed constitution for Kurdistan, with a vote likely to be held later this year. The proposed constitution is drawing the ire of Baghdad, because, among other things, it gives the Kurdistan Regional Government (as opposed to the Iraqi government) the rights to oil and gas within the region, and defines Kurdistan as encompassing several disputed (and, incidentally, energy-rich) areas of Iraq, including all of Kirkuk Province and parts of Ninevah and Diyala. The natural security implications of this sort of move are fairly self-evident – Iraq is concerned that Kurdistan is essentially moving towards outright separatism rather than federalism – and show how competing resource claims can drive conflicts between, or, in this case, within states.
The Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad have been at loggerheads for some time now (The New York Times notes that Prime Minister al-Maliki is not on speaking terms with Kurdish president Massoud Barzani), and energy has played a front-and-center role in their disputes. The government in Kurdistan has already signed a number of contracts with foreign oil companies, much to the displeasure of Baghdad. As Willis Sparks writes in Foreign Policy, the Iraqi government does not recognize these contracts between oil companies and the Kurdish Regional Government, and has “blacklisted” companies who sign them. To this point, all of the supermajors have avoided signing contracts with Kurdistan, preferring instead to wait to try to develop the giant oil fields in the south of the country. However, given the recent fiasco that was the auction for development rights held by the Iraqi government, it’s possible that this trend will begin to reverse. While not a supermajor, Sinopec is now a major player in Kurdistan with their recent acquisition of Addax, and if the Iraqi Oil Ministry continues to be unable to come to terms with bidders, more firms may begin to gain interest in Kurdistan, which is showing itself much more willing and able to work with foreign companies to this point. The danger in all of this is that if Iraq is unable to make significant progress in auctioning its development rights, and Kurdistan is, the Kurds will likely feel more and more empowered, and perhaps emboldened enough to push for complete independence, which could have disastrous implications for Iraqi – and regional – security.
For Pakistan and India, according to recent analysis, this life-sustaining liquid may have the potential to exacerbate already tenous relations and add to instability. In the past, the priority of water security has incentivized collaboration between the two states, including the Indus Waters Treaty, but climate change threatens to tip that delicate balance, as rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers deplenishes the region’s freshwater reserves. In the years to come, will water still serve as an area of cooperation between India and Pakistan, or will increased clamoring for a diminishing resource escalate tensions?
Photo: A sign, written in Urdu, advertizes for a jury-rigged drinking water fountain. Courtesy of flickr user kash_if.
With the hubbub over Michael Jackson’s funeral, a rather grisly case of grave-robbery, and interest in the beginning of the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, numerous events occurred in Washington this week with relatively little fanfare. However, this past week featured several developments in the legislative and executive branches of the government which have potentially far-reaching natural security implications.
On the Hill, two events in particular stand out. The House this week voted to reauthorize the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), but with a significant alteration from past years. Since 2003, companies in which a venture capital investor owned a majority stake were not eligible for federal funds; the new reauthorization bill has removed this provision. As Kim Hart explains in the Washington Post, this has caused a significant amount of controversy in the venture capital and start-up worlds, with venture capital firms largely backing the provision, and small businesses weary of it. One might ask, where does this fit into natural security? Quite simply, a number of firms working on developing alternative energy sources, as well as a number of venture capital groups backing them, stand to be affected by this change. For years, one of the major sticking points in funding the development of new energy technologies has been the transition from the innovation phase to the commercialization of a technology – the so-called Valley of Death. At CNAS’ April 29 conference, members of the venture capital community indicated that a reform of SBIR regulations could be one way of finding the funding necessary to commercialize new energy technologies. Whether or not this alteration in the funding guidelines will prove to be the necessary change has yet to be seen, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
Day five in Colorado with my family brought us to what is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth - Rocky Mountain National Park. But there's trouble in paradise.
I took this photo in the park - this is actually the Colorado River. Hard to believe that this gorgeous mountain stream will go on to be the primary water source for 27 million people in 7 U.S. states and 2 countries, irrigating 3 million acres of cropland along the way. Or will it?
A recent National Academies of Science study noted that given even conservative climate change projections, "currently scheduled future water deliveries from the Colorado River are not sustainable." The good news, however, is that it might not have to be that way if the consumers of the water manage the resources better, according to the study.
But there's a potentially even more devastating story in this bucolic photo. If you look carefully, you might notice that the forest in the backdrop is changing color. If you're scratching your head about how the Rockies could be experiencing Fall in July, consider that those are "evergreens."
I launched into Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World by author/reporter/editor Tom Zoellner in my hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, appropriately in view of the 889 megawatt Davis-Besse nuclear plant on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie. The perfect spot to begin contemplating Zoellner’s tome.
BBC reports that G8 leaders have agreed to set the goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2050; they are now set to try and reach a more comprehensive deal to limit global warming during meetings with a select group of leaders from emerging nations. Reuters highlights a new study warning that climate change could create conditions allowing dengue fever to spread across the continental United States as mosquitoes survive warmer winters. Meanwhile, issues with water scarcity continue to trouble the Iraqi Government, as an official from the Ministry of Agriculture has warned that the country faces “severe losses of arable land.” In Afghanistan, land use and the implementation of advanced farming techniques continue to play a significant role in U.S. strategy.
“When it comes to the stability of one of the world's most volatile regions, it's the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night,” warns Stephan Faris in Foreign Policy, on the specter of Pakistan unraveling as natural resource consumption and climate change take their toll on this withering nuclear club member.
The Himalayan glaciers are the primary source of the Indus River and its six tributaries that flow through Kashmir to form freshwater supplies for millions of Indians and Pakistanis. To date, Pakistan and India have amicably governed the shared Indus waters under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which established a governing body – the Permanent Indus Basin Commission – to adjudicate grievances associated with water management between the two rival states. For many, governing the Indus waters has been a hallmark example of how resource issues can act as an opportunity for peace and engagement rather than as the basis for conflict. But, as Faris writes, “the treaty's success depends on the maintenance of a status quo that will be disrupted as the world warms.”
BBC News reports that an international group of academics has recommended that world leaders ditch current policies related to climate change due to continued failures, and completely redesign their strategies moving forward. And although this probably was not exactly what the academics had in mind, Reuters reports that the world’s biggest polluting nations have agreed to drop their goal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that European nations, while happy about the progress the United States has made on setting climate goals, fear that the United States and China will reach an independent climate deal on their own. Finally, a new study has concluded that geoengineering will be largely ineffective in reducing CO2 levels and ocean acidification. In energy news, billionaire T. Boone Pickens has called off a $10 billion plan to build the world’s largest wind farm. And, while attacks continue in the Niger Delta, crude oil prices have fallen for a sixth day.
In the wake of recent volatility in the commodities market, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is considering significant reforms to reduce harmful speculation. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu are heading to China next week to work towards increasing U.S. exports of clean energy technology. In other China-related news, CNN profiles an alternative energy project underway in Yunnan province, and Xinhua reports that China will start building the first 10 million-kw-level wind power station later this month – a project dubbed the “Three Gorges on Land.” An emerging El Nino weather pattern is threatening to pose a variety of challenges, including triggering forest fires that will cause a spike in greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Turkey has lost financing from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland for the Ilisu hydroelectric dam due to concerns over the project’s environmental ramifications.
While analysts inside and outside of DOD have been studying the potential effects of climate change on the future operating environment of the U.S. Navy – including CNAS’ own report on the subject – an assessment on the implications of climate change on future air missions is harder to come by. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that as the climate changes and resources become increasingly scarce, U.S. air power will feel the effects, and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will have to adapt to a changing operating environment. The U.S. Air Force has acknowledged the complexity of the challenge climate change presents, noting in its December 2007 white paper, The Nation’s Guardians: America’s 21st Century Air Force that “dislocating climate, environmental, and demographic trends... are salient features of [an] increasingly complex, dynamic, lethal, and uncertain environment.”
Specifically, the U.S. Air Force will likely face a significant uptick in the number of humanitarian missions they will be expected to take part in over the coming decades. From the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the World Bank and the U.S. government, there is a consensus that climate change has the potential to wreak havoc on many coastal areas, both in the domestic United States and internationally in areas of geostrategic importance. Ever since the Berlin Airlift, American air power has played a front-and-center role in humanitarian missions and disaster relief for the U.S. military, and this shows little signs of changing. American air power was prominent in the responses to Hurricane Katrina, for example, with the USAF tracking the storm before it made landfall and then airlifting supplies in and the injured out. Additionally, American air power was critical to the response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the relief effort following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, during which the Air Force was at the forefront of the international relief efforts.
This week’s installment of “Reading Old Magazines” takes us to January 1978, with a Foreign Affairs piece called “Scarcity and Strategy” by Geoffrey Kemp.
First, imagine a time when the Middle East was not of great strategic importance to the United States. From the author’s 1978 vantage point, it was easy to remember a time when the nation had not yet experienced oil crises.
But from 1978, it was also easy for the author to see that more countries following the development path of the United States meant increasing competition for the same oil supplies. At that time, the author notes, U.S. strategists were highly concerned that the Soviet Union would become “embroiled in a conflict whereby it gained control over or destroyed the Saudi Arabian oil fields.” The real wisdom in this article, however, is not whether he correctly identified threats on the horizon – as his example shows, some threats manifest and others don’t – but rather that he understood the true nature of security concerns regarding scarcity. As Kemp wrote, “What matters is a particular nation’s sense of scarcity,” not just scarcity in an absolute sense. His evidence that energy reserve estimates are but one piece of the puzzle serves as a good reminder that we are looking at a broad and complicated picture in working on natural security issues.
BBC News reports that G8 leaders are set to issue a statement agreeing to try to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, including an 80% cut by rich nations. In Afghanistan, land use continues to play an important role in U.S. strategy, with units from the Nebraska National Guard Task Force Warrior agribusiness development team and the Kentucky National Guard agribusiness development team deploying to the country to assist Afghan farmers. Meanwhile, Oxfam has released a new report detailing the dangers climate change poses to less developed nations. Finally, the Los Angeles Times reports that water scarcity is beginning to seriously threaten California’s agricultural industry.
The Natural Security bloggers thank all those who have served and are serving our nation this Independence Day. We wish everyone a safe and happy 4th of July, and we’ll return with more Natural Security news and commentary next week. Here’s to you, America!
Photo: U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 1st Class Alex Roelofs raises the American flag to half mast in recognition of Memorial Day in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Courtesy of MC2 Patrick W. Mullen III and the U.S. Department of Defense.
A recently released report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature finds that over 44,000 species worldwide are now under threat of extinction. One species not facing extinction, however, is the mountain pine beetle, which, due to warmer winters in recent years, is now threatening pine forests throughout all of North America with a “beetle plague,” according to BBC News. Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that a draft document for the upcoming Group of Eight meeting indicates that the United States will officially join other developed countries in calling for reaching peak emissions by 2020. Finally, Turkey has announced that it will restart work on the controversial Ilisu hydroelectric dam on the Tigris River.
In a preview of some of the issues likely to arise at the Copenhagen climate change conference in December, India has warned that it will not agree to targeted decreases in greenhouse gas emissions. Another potential sticking point appears to be U.S. leadership, as both Europe and China have been underwhelmed by the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. In climate science news, a new study shows that Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as previously thought, reports Bloomberg News.
In energy news, The Guardian reports on a scathing report recently released by Amnesty International on the activities of oil companies in the Niger Delta, arguing that much of the violence in the region is fueled by the conditions created by the oil industry. After securing one contract, bidding in Iraq for development rights to six of the country’s oil fields has fizzled out. Finally, BBC News profiles Mexico’s struggle to balance developing biofuels while avoiding food crises.
Last week Russian gas giant Gazprom and the state-operated Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) agreed to a $2.5 billion joint venture, rather obtusely named NiGaz, to explore and develop Nigeria’s natural gas reserves. Nigeria has the largest natural gas reserves in Africa, and the seventh-largest in the world, but they are underdeveloped at this point due to issues of security and infrastructure. Gazprom plans to invest in infrastructure development, including refineries, power stations, and pipelines that could eventually be used to export Nigerian gas abroad.
Whether it’s the next generation of the PackBot, MedBot or Predator drone, there is little doubt that military robotics will grow exponentially over the next several decades as DOD shapes a new era of modern warfare, as Peter Singer writes in Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. And if the systems deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are any indicator, Singer’s science fiction battlefield is fast becoming a battlefield reality.
But with the rapid development of artificial intelligence-based military systems (not to mention new investments in clean energy technology and a more sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure), the United States is increasing its dependence on globally scarce minerals. And though supply shocks, shortage trends, and the complete unavailability of strategic minerals are concerns, the greater worry should be that when it comes to our reliance on critical and strategic minerals to meet our current and future needs, we don’t quite know what we’ll need, when we’ll need it, or if we’ll have it.
The director of the UN’s Food an Agriculture Organization has warned that climate change will likely create an increasing number of food crises across the world over the next 20 years. The Guardian reports on a new paper in Nature Geoscience which says that climate change will also adversely affect the U.S. Gulf Coast, warning that up to 13,500 square kilometers of coastal lands surrounding New Orleans will be underwater by the turn of the century. In other news, the United States has joined the International Renewable Energy Agency, a new organization founded in January. Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is pushing hard for the development of renewable sources, announcing measures that aim to hasten the development of solar energy projects on federal lands. Finally, a consortium led by BP has accepted a contract to develop the Rumaila oil field in Iraq – the country’s largest – after the contract was rejected by the Exxon Mobil-led consortium which originally won the bidding process.
On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), but not without considerable effort. Though debates about F-22s and the economic merits of a cap-and-trade system will continue as both bills head to the Senate, it’s worth a moment to take a look at what the legislation could do to improve the natural security of the United States.
Provisions in the House version of the NDAA tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emissions head on. For starters, it authorizes the creation of a Director of Operational Energy, who would report directly to the Secretary of Defense and would review how the Department of Defense might better incorporate carbon-free, renewable fuels into its daily operations and broader strategic posture. The recommendations from the Director of Operational Energy, due no later than February 1, 2010, would address how combatant commanders, the heads of military branches, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could use algae- and other biomass-based fuels for aviation, maritime, and ground transportation and to more widely power forward operating bases.
The Waxman-Markey climate change bill narrowly passed in the House late, Friday; it now moves to the Senate where it is expected to face greater opposition. The Financial Times profiles the effects of deforestation in Kenya, and how it is leading to decreased water supply, threatening everything from the tourist industry to agriculture. One of the effects of decreasing Artic sea ice may well be the establishment of a new shipping route through the Northwest Passage. However, the New York Times Green Inc. blog warns that use of the Arctic for shipping raises serious environmental concerns. Finally, The Guardian reports that China is investing in the use of algae to absorb carbon emissions.
This week, Afghan and U.S. officials co-hosted the grand opening of Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first national park. The Afghan government’s efforts were funded by both USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society and open the door for other conservation efforts around the nation. Much of the native flora and fauna in the region are already gone, but steps like these help secure the country’s natural environment – and preserve the biodiversity necessary for agriculture and other livelihoods – as development efforts continue.
Photo: One of the six cascading lakes in Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan. Courtesy of flickr user Carl Montgomery.
This week’s news roundup takes us to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the government is beginning to be forced to deal with issues related to its natural resources as it prepares to exert full control over the country. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s ravaged land is the subject of several positive developments.
In Iraq, Water Resources Minister Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed warned that his country faces a potential “agricultural disaster” over the summer due to water shortages. Iraq is in the midst of a drought, and has been for some time now. The other factor in Iraq’s water woes is their upriver neighbor – Turkey – which has numerous dams along the Euphrates River.
In Tuesday’s edition of The Independent, Patrick Cockburn shares his observations on the outlook for Iraq in the coming year, taking a rather dismal view of the country’s future. Of particular interest is his reporting that Iraq, which at one point was forecast to be something of a breadbasket in the region, “has become one of the world’s largest food importers.”
The reason for this: a lack of water.
At our annual conference on June 11, Dr. Peter Gleick, from the Pacific Institute, provided historical examples of instances where water has been tied to or created conflicts, and discussed its potential for doing so in the future. While America’s involvement in Iraq and the current level of conflict there obviously are not due to concerns over water, managing the drought will be an important aspect of any population-centric strategy employed by U.S. forces – even a year ago the Army was speaking of the need to engage with the State Department and USAID to provide more efficient agricultural technologies to the Iraqi people.
UPI describes the role of water in the Mideast peace process following remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who stated that Israel must address the issue of water if peace talks are to happen. The Asia Times reports that water scarcity will also threaten South Asia and China, as 40 percent of the region will face a severe water crisis in 50 years if the Himalayan glaciers continue to melt at their current rate. India also faces a more immediate water threat as officials have warned that this years monsoon rains are likely to be “below normal,” threatening crop failure. Meanwhile, foreign oil companies are on their way back to Iraq, as bidding begins for $16 billion worth of technical service contracts to help develop six oilfields and two natural-gas deposits, according to Bloomberg News.
Last week, we featured a Washington Post article on the critical task of revitalizing Afghanistan’s agricultural economy. Well, the battle continues, and McClatchy reports that the Missouri National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team is at the forefront. But the challenge is not just overcoming the limitations of soil chemistry and watershed dynamics, important as they are. Indeed, the program also advises Afghanistan’s farmers on what crops are saleable and develops strategies for storing and refrigerating those goods on their way to the marketplace. Stay posted to the Natural Security Blog as we keep you posted on how land use shapes the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.