Does governments primary view of the environment as a resource prejudice or distort attempts to secure it

Environmental security is a post-Cold War issue, and there is a definite link between environmental security and economic security. State’s concerns with economic and military security interlink and have significant consequences for the environment (Dent, 1999). There has been much debate over how trade and environment should be managed. It is clear that economic issues hold a higher value than environmental concerns, with trade rules governing the majority of international dealings. Simply put, multilateral environmental agreements do not have the backing that World Trade Organisation agreements do (such as funding and an unequalled organised structure) and this displays the importance (or lack thereof) put on each. Economic security comes first – Eckersley (2003, p. 2) states “The onus is on those defending environmental norms to show that they are compatible with [World Trade Organisation] agreements.”

According to Graeger (1996, p. 109), a “multilevel approach to environmental security, involving global, regional, national and subnational decision-making levels [would result in] more dynamic framework[s] for action than the state-centred approach which still dominates security thinking and policy”. A recent step that the Rudd Government has made to attempt to address the problem of climate change has been to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In his first official duty as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has linked Australia with the other 167 countries to the agreement, in an international attempt to avoid damaging climate change.

This displays that the Australian Government has acknowledged climate change is one of the greatest economic and environmental challenges of our time, with the drying up of rivers, the rising sea levels jeopardising the Islands of the South Pacific, the severity of bush fires amplifying every season and extreme weather conditions becoming more and more apparent (Soderblom, 2008). The United States is yet to become a party to the Kyoto agreement. As the world’s number one super power, this creates concerns as to the US government’s commitment to securing the environment for future generations.

When considering the security of our environment, there is a definite link between the state-centric ideology of security and that of environmental security (Graeger, 1996). A shift away from this state-centric method would ensure a clearer understanding of the issue (Litfin, 1999). State sovereignty over environmental issues remains fluid – it is a social paradigm that is constantly transforming with differing opinions, times and connotations. Some argue that sovereignty over the environment has Westphalia system qualities, however with the transnational systems of environmental security coming into play more often, others attest to the fact that “it is under attack from a host of global interdependencies” thus requiring an international system for policy and protection of the environment (Litfin, 1998, p. 7).

Gwyn Prins, in ‘Politics and the Environment’, articulates that environmental issues are difficult to address in a political arena because standard political management does not apply – environmental issues cannot be “successfully tackled discretely, one by one” (Prins, p. 2). According to Prins (1990), international politics and the environment generally do not mix well because of the ways in which states understand them, and the ways politics and environment are separately dealt with. Prins’ article suggests four major differences regarding the ways in which each, operate:

1. Politics is run with blinkers on, providing only a limited view of the world.

2. Monetary issues are politics main concern, and the political domain has difficulty explaining anything in terms unrelated to money. This would suggest that governments view the environment as more an instrument for gaining global success.

3. Individually, people are seen as weak, but a collective state is viewed as strong. If voters came together to pressure governments to commit more to environmental issues, could politics become more environmentally based?

4. Politics is based on realism and anything that has a ‘real’ value. Unfortunately, the environment is not seen as being a ‘real’ issue in relation to the bigger picture – economics, power and international security.

States must develop policies that will facilitate transnational and national security arrangements whilst also endeavouring to protect natural resources. There has been speculation that linking ‘environment’ and ‘security’ militarises environmental security. According to Barnett (2007), state use of the military and armed forces negatively impacts on the environment. Military exercises and use of particular weapons do not take into account the effects they may have on the environment. They distort attempts to secure the environment – the military protects citizens and national borders from dangers. This may be misinterpreted as protecting the environment, but is, in actual fact, protecting the country and its interests and does not address issues such as climate change or sustainable development.

‘The Military’s Impact on the Environment’, a briefing paper by Hay-Edie, Coordinator of Disarmament for the International Peace Bureau (2002, p. 3-8), puts forward several ways in which the military negatively affects our environment.

* Pollution of air, land and water in peace time – mining related to nuclear power and nuclear arms, greenhouse gas emissions from jets. It is also interesting to know that the Kyoto Protocol does not involve sanctions regarding military endeavours.

* Immediate and long-term impacts of armed conflict – effects of wars including radiation from nuclear weapons in Hiroshima, chemical agents from the Gulf War and the United States use of ‘Agent Orange’ during the Vietnam War which has degraded over 80% of the natural forest areas of the country.

The militarisation of outer space – missile systems rely on satellites for guidance.

* Nuclear weapons development and production – uranium mining for the provision of nuclear weapons pollute the environment.

* Land-use – Military take-overs of land used for farming such as those areas in Okinawa and Cuba which have become United States military bases. Also, inadequate storage of substances such as fuels can leak (often making their way to rivers) and pollute local’s water supplies.

* Resource diversion – the 1999 figure of US $781 billion worldwide for military consumption could have been better utilised tackling global environmental issues.

These points demonstrate how international military actions dismiss effects on the environment. For military purposes the environment is exploited, not protected.

Many programmes have been put in place, such as the United Nations “Earth Summit” in Rio in 1992, but this did not specifically apply to military actions and the environment (Hay-Edie, 2002).

If states were to focus more on environmental security, (and lessen military exercises and use of land for military gain), would this cause decline in national security and hence provide a softer target for terrorism and organised crime against the state? (Soroos, 1999). This again highlights the need for an international system of environmental security which will not prejudice against the environment by focussing on other national security issues.

From a human security standpoint, environmental transformations affect standard of living such as health, food, economic capabilities, social elements such as human behaviour and relationships, resource shortages, employment and so on (Soroos, 1999; Barnett, 2007; Bessant and Watts, 1999; Lonergan et al, 1999). Security in relation to valued entities, along with attitudes relating to wealth, poverty and welfare, are all issues considered when individuals and their states reflect on the environment and its importance to our Western culture. This displays a notion whereby the environment is seen as a resource to a certain lifestyle. We hold the environment with such importance to our way of life, however our lifestyles effect negatively on the natural environment. It has been suggested that rich countries contribute to environmental problems through consumption and production markets and developing countries, through their dependence on the land, often exploit any land that is available for crops and farming (Kahl, 2005).

Globalisation through the prevalence of multinational companies can have both positive and negative consequences on human security (Bessant and Watts, 1999). An example given by Barnett (2007) relates to Timor Leste farmers. The rugged natural environment provides difficulties for farming at the best of times, but with the added stresses of drought, inferior soil quality, lacking water supplies and a onetime poverty-making Indonesian government regime, the farmers are faced with environmental insecurity and therefore experience complexities with providing basic necessities for their own families. A somewhat brighter example of globalisation is the scope of assistance via research and awareness programmes that Environmental Non Government Organisations such as Greenpeace can provide to those states that are vulnerable and in need (Allenby, 2000).

National security, economic security and human security takes precedence over environmental security when it comes to the Government and its view of what is important to its people. In the Western world, the environment is seen as a tool enabling a specific way of life. For developing countries it too effects the way of life, however citizens of these countries rely on the environment for their wellbeing and survival. The preceding essay has shown that the way in which Government’s view their environment definitely distorts attempts to secure it.

An example was provided that displayed how military actions can be hazardous to the environment, but continue to be prevalent for national security reasons. Security of the environment tends to be put on the back burner for what government’s view as more serious issues. Because of this, transnational strategies and Environmental Non Government Organisations are more likely to provide effective programmes for environmental security than state-centric ones. Environmental security remains an important issue, and must be addressed in a more stringent manner to enable a satisfactory existence for future generations.