July 19, 2011

Through Military Engagement, Harnessing Natural Resources for Peacebuilding

On Wednesday, I’ll be at the Wilson Center for a daylong symposium,
Natural Resources for Peacebuilding: Lessons From U.S. and Japanese Assistance
where I’ll join a panel of development and security practitioners for a morning
discussion on the roles of natural resources in conflict and peacebuilding. The
symposium will be the third in a series of symposia for a project I’m attached
to that seeks to improve
American and Japanese post-conflict security and diplomacy initiatives
helping policymakers understand the importance of integrating natural resource
management and infrastructure redevelopment into peacebuilding efforts.
Specifically, the Wilson Center’s Geoff Dabelko and I will be discussing the
role of military-to-military engagement on the environment and natural disasters,
emphasizing how the lessons from these activities can be integrated into
post-conflict management.

Militaries have a rich history of engaging with each other
on the environment and using these exchanges as opportunities to further
security goals. The Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation, for example, was
a military-to-military exchange between the United States, Norway and the Soviet Union that was aimed at improving military ties between the Cold
War foes through joint exercises to reduce the environmental impact from their
naval presence and early warning radar systems in the Arctic. In these kinds of
exchanges, the environment generally serves as a means for militaries to engage
and further their security goals by improving transparency, relations between
officers and training which can help reduce tensions and suspicions
between competitor states, or build good will between allies. 

Natural disaster training and response are also
opportunities for militaries to strengthen their relationships and can result
in tangible peace dividends. In 1999, both Greece and Turkey were struck by
devastating earthquakes that prompted both nations to come to the other’s aid,
with each nation providing military search-and-rescue assistance and other
capabilities to support their neighbor during their recovery. Despite the
longstanding grievances between Greece and Turkey over their competing claims to
the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, many viewed these exchanges as the beginning
of warming relations
between the two, dubbing it the period of “earthquake
diplomacy.” More recently, the United States and Vietnam have engaged
in noncombat naval exercises, such as search-and-rescue training
that will
enable Vietnam to develop better resiliency in the wake of natural disasters, which
will be especially important moving forward given the projected implications of
climate change in the region. These noncombat exercises, including around
disaster training, mark the beginning of strengthening military ties between
the United States and Vietnam that clearly help both nations achieve specific
security goals.

Many of the military-to-military exchanges we have
researched in our work are considered conflict prevention; that is, they are
conducted during times of peace. Yet the lessons learned from these exchanges
carry equal weight in post-conflict settings when one considers that the thrust
of post-conflict peacebuilding is largely to prevent conflict from reoccurring.
In that sense, conflict prevention tools can be applied to prevent conflict
from occurring, or from occurring again.
We will put this into better context tomorrow. Be sure to join us then when
Geoff and I will explain in greater detail why these types of exchanges are
important in post-conflict settings and where we believe militaries will see
more opportunities for cooperating on the environment and natural disaster
training and response.