June 28, 2010

This Weekend’s News: Has the Ocean Lost its Way?

Beyond the coverage and commentary on General McCrystal’s dismissal, this weekend’s news had a heavy focus on the ocean’s seafood stocks. Yep, that’s right. Both the Times and the Post prominently featured stories of seafood in their Sunday editions. Both tell of manmade present or looming disasters. Before you click away, thinking there’s no security hook (no pun intended) here, note that some great defense analysts are beginning to pay attention to the role of fish stocks in global trends. As Will and I wrote in our most recent working paper, Sustaining Security:

In 2009, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead specifically pointed to dwindling fish stocks as one of the resource concerns the U.S. Navy is taking into consideration in the future international security environment, including how scarcity will impact the livelihoods of the nearly three billion people worldwide who rely on fish as a primary protein source. Likewise, the 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE) indicated that: “Competition for access to these resources has often resulted in naval conflict…Over-fishing and depletion of fisheries and competition over those that remain have the potential for causing serious confrontations in the future."

With that in mind, The New York Times magazine’s cover story, “Tuna’s End,” provides one of the reasons why we are all paying so much attention to the Atlantic bluefin tuna these days: “For bluefin tuna and all species of tuna are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline also serves as a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.” The tuna issue is becoming contentious on the international scene, with worries arising among developing countries that industrial countries will turn to (further) exploiting their resources as they ban the production of their own resources, or as those resources critically decline.

This is a concern in itself given the world reliance on fish stocks for food and income. Even more interesting: read through this article and replace tuna with oil and Japan with the United States. The author extensively outlines the global industry (much of which is conducted beyond EEZs, monitoring, and enforcement) that has developed over the past several decades to support consumption of this fish, largely by the Japanese. He is also sure to note that “tuna were introduced into sushi only 170 years ago, when a large catch came into Edo one season” to make the claim that it is not as deeply entrenched in Japanese culture as some might claim. In fact, the timeline of this Japanese custom is not too far off from the development and growth of the U.S. custom of driving everywhere and ubiquitous car ownership that we Americans hold as a dear custom today. Both of these industries carries environmental, economic and social (and therefore, at times, security) consequences for the entire world.

Page A1 of The Washington Post hosted an above-the-fold profile of the Vietnamese shrimping community in the Gulf, affected by that disaster just as all other shrimpers in the region. (Note: by the time I looked for this piece online late Sunday afternoon, it was not even linked to on the Post’s homepage. I had to go to the Nation section to find it. Is A1 meaningless now?) We’ve seen a long trail of fishermen, shrimpers and representatives of Gulf tourism-related businesses on television and in the papers. This profile is unique among the profiles I’ve seen in that it is apolitical. It is notable for this audience in that it shows the beginnings of the lack of incomes from the Gulf’s natural resources creeping into social stability. Feelings of hopelessness and aimlessness are spreading into some once-productive families, now debt-ridden with few to no economic options. In what’s portrayed as a normally convivial community, “A fight broke out on a recent morning after aid workers ran out of food vouchers. Now a security officer guards the alley, sweltering in his brown uniform in the soupy heat.” And this is in the United States, where social mobility and physical relocation are often relatively smooth compared to other countries.

The Week Ahead:

Things are slowing down as DCers flee the nearly-100-degree weather for the summer, but Wednesday morning seems to be the time for good natural security events here in town. But first, on Tuesday, the House Armed Services Committee will have a hearing to explore the impact of wind farms on military readiness. If you’re a China fan, at 9am on June 30 the Wilson Center has a talk on “Fast and Green: China's Push for Bus Rapid Transit and Green Urban Areas.” However, you’ll be competing with a 9:30 Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee meeting on “S. 3516, a bill to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to reform the management of energy and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf,” which is sure to be intense given, you know, the crisis in the Gulf. And, at the exact same time, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce holds its much-anticipated “Hearing On Legislation To Respond To The BP Oil Spill And To Prevent Future Oil Well Blowouts.” Happy Monday everyone.