June 11, 2009

What is Natural Security?

Is it really a threat, or just a way to try to get people to pay attention to the environment, by "securitizing" something that isn’t about security? It's a good question, and one that the Center for a New American Security seeks to answer through our new Natural Security program, which we are launching today.

Every morning, President Obama gets a brief – basically the headache report (i.e., what world challenge is going to give the President a headache on any given day). We can guess what might be in that report now – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea, for starters. Not surprisingly, those are the threats that the national security community focuses on – because, quite simply, that's where the threat is and that's where our soldiers are.

But what about those places, where our soldiers are? In Afghanistan, 80 percent of the population depends on natural resources and environmental services for its livelihood in some way. The land is so degraded, between drought, war, deforestation, and other causes, that it’s hard to make a living – unless it's a drought-resistant hardy plant (i.e., poppy). Climate change is increasing the problem, including by melting the glaciers that so much of that regional population depend on for water. This is a story that's repeated for each of those front burner challenges: its water in Pakistan; energy in Iraq (including as a weapon of war for insurgents targeting the infrastructure); and food and fuel in North Korea.

There are national security implications to natural resources – in two ways. In the near term, there are national security implications in the consumption and access to the resources. In the longer term, as a growing world population with rising expectations continues to consume more, there will be consequences. The new CNAS program in natural security will look at consumption and consequences, with a focus on energy, minerals, water, land, climate change, and biodiversity, as well as the way these challenges are interlinked.

This blog will be a way for us to explore the topics and engage with experts in a dialogue. We encourage you to look at our concept paper and come back and chat with us soon!