Events

U.S. Central Command Workshop on Environmental Security

April 06, 2000 // 12:00am

General Anthony Zinni (USMC), Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command

Sherri W. Goodman, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, Department of Defense

Alan Hecht, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

Brigadier General Stephen Johnson (USMC), Deputy Director of Plans and Policy, U.S. Central Command

Terry Flannery, Director, DCI Environmental Center, Central Intelligence Agency

Roy Williams, Director, Office of Foreign and Disaster Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development

Stephen Lintner, Senior Advisor, The World Bank

Charles Lawson, Bureau of Near East Affairs, Department of State

Douglas McNeal, Regional Environmental Officer, Environmental Hub, Ethiopia, Department of State

Kate Watters, Director of Programs, Institute for Social Action and Renewal (ISAR)

Richard Knapp, Research Scientist, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, Department of Energy

Geoffrey Dabelko, Director,
Environmental Change and Security Project, Woodrow Wilson Center


Kent Hughes Butts, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College

April 6, 2000 — How can environmental issues exacerbate regional conflicts and how can environmental issues be used as a tool of U.S. diplomacy and as confidence building measures among regional actors? These questions framed the discussions for a joint Woodrow Wilson Center and U.S. Army War College workshop designed to provide CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) with information and ideas for integrating environmental considerations into an overall engagement strategy. CENTCOM is the unified military command responsible for U.S. national security interests in the twenty-five nations that stretch from the Horn of Africa, to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Sherri Goodman, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, remarked how environmental security "has become an issue of importance to the Department of Defense because we now recognize that it supports the three elements of the national military strategy: shape, prepare, and respond." The national military strategy stresses the importance of "shaping" the international environment to promote U.S. national interests and to prevent conflict. Ms. Goodman underscored how defense environmental cooperation "is a useful, non-threatening tool for initiating early military to military contacts, for engaging militaries in preparation for more complex, cooperative efforts and partnership, and for overall promotion of regional and hemispheric stability."

According to Goodman, the U.S. military has demonstrated that it is indeed possible to meet requirements and objectives set out by the Department of Defense and still be "environmentally friendly." Domestically, the U.S. military is involved in several activities reflecting its environmental awareness and education. This knowledge, Goodman stressed, is now being shared with foreign militaries at a negligible cost, and with encouraging results. The U.S. military's environmental training and education can serve as a model for the armed forces of other nations facing similar challenges. Environmental degradation and its potential threats, such as water scarcity, are a common denominator among the countries under the purview of CENTCOM, and it is vital for the United States to cooperate with these nations on environmental issues.

General Anthony Zinni (USMC), Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, discussed the role of CENTCOM, which includes: ensuring uninterrupted energy flow from the Middle East; access to the region, which has economic potential beyond its oil reserves; freedom of navigation; and maintaining regional stability. The latter is the most important role the United States is playing in the area. Environmental threats, either man-made or natural, are growing in the areas under the purview of CENTCOM, and have the potential to threaten regional stability.

It is not oil that will be the liquid that causes conflict in the near future, but rather water. Looking at the Horn of Africa, the importance of the Nile on the region, as well as the droughts in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti, it is easy to comprehend better the kinds of environmental problems facing this region. In addition, the Arabian Peninsula and Jordan are also experiencing difficulties in accessing water. It is estimated that the aquifer in the capital of Yemen, Saan'a, will run out of water by 2005, and Central Asia and Southwest Asia are also facing water problems.

The water issue, could lead to conflict and possibly involve the United States in the process. Interdependence among the countries in the region, such as Turkey's control over the water for Syria or Kyrgyzstan's control over the water needed by Kazakhstan are potential sources of conflict not to be underestimated. Ineffective water management from lack of experience as well as a lack of modern technology only exacerbate an already acute problem. Cultural barriers are also difficult to overcome as water, in the words of an old Islamic proverb, is not be sold or controlled, nor intended to be conserved, and thus, should be available to everybody to use and consume. Water diversion for irrigation purposes and upstream consumption also intensify the problem as they lessen the downstream flow of water. Water pollution is affecting the region as well. In Somalia, for instance, slaughterhouses located right on the water have so severely compromised water quality that not even reverse osmosis purification would be able to make the water potable and safe to use. Additionally, a lack of technological capability as well as prohibitive costs are hampering the development of techniques such as desalinization.

Water is not the only environmental problem affecting these regions. Depletion of resources and loss of biodiversity can cause soil degradation. This, in turn, can lead to migration to the cities, which suffer from urban explosion and become hotbeds for extremism. Population growth in Africa and in the Arabian Peninsula is also a great concern, as these regions may not be able to sustain such a high demographic density. Encroachment of territory is a severe problem affecting both the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where fisheries are being depleted. These states are unable to protect their own territorial waters, which are being raided by foreign fishing boats.

Awareness is still a major problem in these areas of the world. There is a growing appreciation for environmental issues, and the U.S. military is trying to help promote awareness and emphasize the military's commitment to the environment. Zinni cited the cooperation with the Seychelles and their local coast guard, as well as CENTCOM efforts to help Kuwait establish a local environmental protection agency. The military can do a lot to monitor, watch, and observe environmental trends and problems, as well as cooperate with allies in the region.

General Stephen Johnson (USMC), Director of Plans and Policy at CENTCOM, outlined CENTCOM engagement goals and how they relate to environmental security. CENTCOM is a novice when it comes to environmental security and how the concept fits in with its mission. The following have been identified as potentially destabilizing environmental factors:

* Water access, quality, and control
* Transboundary resource competition
* Migration, refugees, and land use
* Public health/HIV/famine
* Industrial Pollution
* Environmental degradation/desertification
* Eco-Terrorism/war

Population growth, which is a serious concern of CENTCOM, will place enormous demands on resources, and increase the likelihood of disease, migration, and border conflict. Environmental degradation, especially in Central Asia, is of concern, as its impact is not yet fully known.

Like Goodman and Zinni, General Johnson stressed how environmental security has helped foster a productive, multilateral dialogue with key leaders in the area and has fostered cooperation. Environmental security transcends some of the regional tensions, and it benefits many nations. The concept of environmental security is appropriate for us in the military to use as it is reasonably low in cost, and gives the military the chance to interact and learn from environmental experts and NGO representative. Environmental security is an engagement tool, one which has a win-win outcome.

CENTCOM has been involved in several environmental activities such as port and environmental security assessments in the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Seychelles, and more are planned in Kenya and Yemen. Humanitarian relief operations were carried out in Somalia and Kenya, as well as construction events such as a wash rack in Qatar and a water recycling system. A Fisheries Enforcement Mobile Training Team was deployed to Kenya in 1999. Education and training is also provided to representatives of foreign militaries, who come to observe how the U.S. military addresses environmental issues. However, although the scope for activity is larger, CENTCOM has no budget directly allocated to environmental security, and there are limitations to what the U.S. military can do.

The presentations and discussion of the conference all centered on non-traditional security threats, such as droughts, famine, and diseases. They presented the arduous challenges both the military and the civilian worlds must contend with in the future. Most problematic is the funding issue. Although much has been done as evidenced by the examples above, the limitations will continue without more money to increase activity in the region under the purview of CENTCOM. Concluding the meeting, the interagency and donor community representatives agreed that it was essential to work together and saw great promise in combining their efforts to address the issues of the region.

Experts & Staff

  • Roger-Mark De Souza // Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience, Wilson Center
  • Sandeep Bathala // Senior Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program, Maternal Health Initiative
  • Katharine Diamond // Program Assistant, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Benjamin Dills // Program Assistant, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Lauren Herzer // Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • John Thon Majok // Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Schuyler Null // Web Editor and Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program, Maternal Health Initiative
  • Meaghan Parker // Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Sean Peoples // Multimedia Producer and Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Geoffrey D. Dabelko // Senior Advisor, Environmental Change and Security Program
  • Ruth Greenspan Bell // Public Policy Scholar
  • William Krist // Senior Policy Scholar
  • Louise Lief // Public Policy Scholar
  • John W. Sewell // Senior Scholar

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