Natural resources are often analyzed solely in terms of their ability to contribute to conflict. Yet this one-sided perspective ignores their potential to lay the foundations for confidence-building and peacemaking, explained Environmental Change and Security Program Director Geoff Dabelko at a brown-bag lunch at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) on June 20, 2007. Effective management of shared resources can help prevent conflict. The Nile Basin Initiative, for example, was founded in 1999 as a forum for the 10 countries of the Nile to discuss and implement water-sharing policies.

Shared natural resources provide an opportunity for countries or communities with tense relations to engage in constructive dialogue, he said. Environmental dialogue can serve as a lifeline in an otherwise-contentious relationship. For instance, Israel and Jordan held secret "picnic table" talks to coordinate management of the Jordan River throughout the decades when the two countries were officially at war.

In war-torn countries, Dabelko said, environmental issues—particularly resource management—are often considered luxury items. But prudent environmental policies are in fact crucial to jump-starting the economy and restoring productive livelihoods in post-conflict periods.

Dabelko also addressed the ways in which climate change may affect security. Outcomes such as extended drought or coastal flooding could result in significant migration, forcing more people to share less land and fewer resources. In these situations, cooperation among countries and communities will be extremely important in order to avoid conflict.

Finally, Dabelko discussed U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), a new command that President George W. Bush announced in February 2007. Dabelko suggested AFRICOM could build trust and confidence on key environment and development challenges facing the continent by collaborating with host militaries and a range of civilian governmental and nongovernmental actors. Such environmental engagement could serve as part of its strategy for "Phase Zero" operations aimed at conflict prevention and capacity building.

ACSS, headquartered at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C, supports U.S. strategic policy toward Africa by promoting dialogue among African, American, European, and international military and civilian leaders.