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Edited by Dr. Kent Hughes Butts. | April 1994
The end of the cold war has brought with it a milieu in which superpower control of client states has been greatly reduced and regional conflict has been exacerbated. Many formerly suppressed variables that contribute to political instability and regional conflict are now seen as important targets of foreign policy. One of the most important of these is the role of environmental issues in undermining the stability of newly formed democratic regimes. As stated by the National Security Strategy, "The stress from environmental challenges is already contributing to political conflict." Recognizing the importance of environmental issues to U.S. national security interests, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security defined DOD's role in environmental security to include "mitigating the impacts of adverse environmental actions leading to international instability."
The Secretary of Defense in his analysis of the future threat environment described the four primary threats to U.S. national security interests as regional dangers, nuclear dangers, dangers to democracy, and economic dangers. All of these threats have significant environmental components and all could involve U.S. combat forces in regional conflict. By participating on a preventative basis in the resolution of transnational environmental issues that could lead to such conflict, DOD can forestall future Somalia-like involvements before they occur, a course of action that is extremely cost effective.
DOD has the broad spectrum of capabilities that allows it to take pro-active measures that could prevent conflict and obviate the need for costly involvement of U.S. forces overseas. By so doing, DOD would be supporting the National Security Strategy objectives of encouraging new democracies, enhancing the humanitarian agenda and promoting global engagement and the peaceful settlement of regional conflict.
The environment will continue to have a significant role in international stability and should, therefore, be seriously addressed by U.S. national security policy. As a key executor of this policy, DOD has capabilities that should be used in resolving the environmental challenges that the United States must face. Through effective leadership, partnership, and resources, U.S. federal agencies can serve as an environmental security magnet effectively bringing together the international community to mitigate issues that could lead to instability and conflict, promote sustainable economic development and preserve our planet.
The change in the international arena since the end of the cold war has given rise to an entirely new approach to viewing U.S. security interests, and a recognition of the importance of environmental factors in international stability and the onset of conflict. During the cold war, parenting by both the United States and the Soviet Union limited regional conflicts or ensured that sufficient superpower attention was paid to preclude their escalating into nuclear war. In the absence of superpower control, long festering regional, ethnic and religious enmities have erupted into conflict that defies international management and threatens U.S. security interests. With Somalia as the precedent, the use of U.S. forces to address the humanitarian dimensions of this conflict has been established and public, media, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) pressure exists to commit additional U.S. forces to humanitarian and peacemaking missions. Because the U.S. Government's ability to manage multiple conflicts and fight multiple wars is limited, there is an increasing need for the United States to become proactive in addressing the causes of such conflicts before they occur, significant among them environmental issues. As an element of government with significant interest in solving regional problems before they escalate into conflict, the Department of Defense (DOD) should play a major role in problem resolution and conflict prevention. This report examines adverse environmental actions as potential causes of conflict, assesses DOD capabilities to mitigate these actions, and recommends policies for the DOD to proactively address environmental issues.
The DOD environmental security mission has its roots in the fact that environmental problems that lead to instability and contention are being ignored, and U.S. combat forces are becoming involved in the resulting conflict. In addition, DOD's environmental security mission supports the National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States and must be understood in that context.
The NSS is the document written by the National Security Council to reflect U.S. national interests and objectives and the strategic concepts for achieving them. These interests guide U.S. foreign policy, and their objectives are achieved using the traditional elements of power: political, military, economic, and social. The environment became an element of the National Security Strategy and a recognized objective that supports U.S. interests in 1991, when the NSS pointed out, "the stress from environmental challenges is already contributing to political conflict," and listed as a primary U.S. objective to "achieve cooperative international solutions to key environmental challenges."2 DOD has a larger role beyond the physical defense of the nation. As an element of power with unique technical attributes, DOD is an appropriate and well-qualified entity with which to achieve environmental objectives of the National Security Strategy. The question needs to be asked, "if not DOD, what agency has the resources and experience to execute the U.S. environmental security mission?"
In the 20th century, international environmental problems have contributed significantly to international instability and conflict, and therefore have the potential to involve U.S. combat forces. As the current environmentally related crises in Haiti and Somalia make clear, DOD has a vested interest in mitigating environmental problems before they evolve into difficult-to-manage state or regional conflicts. Regional wars that threaten U.S. interests potentially can involve U.S. forces, and incur substantial operational and public support costs to the United States and to DOD. By participating on a preventive basis in the resolutions of environmental issues that could lead to such conflict, DOD can forestall future Somalia-like involvements before they occur--an action that is extremely cost effective. Recognizing this phenomenon, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security has defined DOD's role in environmental security to include, "mitigating the impacts of adverse environmental actions leading to international instability."3 This role reflects the Secretary of Defense's recognition that the four primary threats to U.S. national security interests are: regional dangers, nuclear dangers, dangers to democracy, and economic dangers.4 All of these threats have significant environmental components and all could involve U.S. combat forces in regional conflict. Such involvement carries high costs to DOD in terms of lives, dollars, and, as the media graphically portrays the resulting casualties, the potential loss of public support for the military and other DOD missions.
DOD can address environmental security objectives across a broad spectrum of operations, taking preemptive measures that could alleviate the need for the direct involvement of U.S. combat forces. Such measures draw upon DOD's variety of technical skills and noncombatant capabilities, and may be executed in partnership with other U.S. agencies and international organizations. Moreover, they would directly support the NSS objectives of supporting new democracies and the humanitarian agenda, preventing conflict, and promoting global engagement.5
This report addresses how DOD can best utilize its resources to mitigate adverse environmental conditions that could lead to international instability or conflict and, therefore, pose a threat to U.S. national security.
The environment will continue to have a significant role in international stability and should, therefore, be seriously addressed by U.S. national security policy. As a key executor of this policy, DOD has capabilities that should be used in resolving the environmental challenges that the United States must face. Through effective leadership, partnership and resources, U.S. Federal agencies can serve as an environmental security magnet, effectively bringing together the international community to mitigate issues that could lead to instability and conflict, promote sustainable economic development, and preserve our planet.
3. Sherri Wasserman Goodman, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, (Environmental Security), Statement Before the Subcommittee on Installation and Facilities, May 13, 1993.
4. Les Aspin, Bottom Up Review, Washington: Department of Defense, 1993.
5. National Security Council, "Draft National Security Strategy 1994," Washington: National Security Council, 1993.