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Teaching Environment, Population, and Security: Workshop for Faculty of Military Education Institutions

Faculty at military education institutions debate military roles in responding to environmental security challenges, assess policy implications of this involvement, and identify topics for further research.

Date & Time

May. 22, 2007
9:00am – 5:00pm

Teaching Environment, Population, and Security: Workshop for Faculty of Military Education Institutions

Faculty at military education institutions gathered at the Woodrow Wilson Center for a two-day conference on May 22 and 23, 2007, to debate military roles in responding to environmental security challenges, assess policy implications of this involvement, and identify topics for further research. As part of the workshop, the educators proposed ways in which the Environmental Change and Security Program could provide educational resources and support to military instructors and researchers.

Lessons from Experience: Teaching, Research, and Policy

Over two different sessions, participants discussed ways to teach environment and population issues in military institutions. One proposal included framing course material for a military audience by providing a clear connection between environment and security, or "militarizing" issues. Another participant suggested that students might be more receptive to non-traditional threats like environment and natural resources if words with negative connotations in some quarters—such as ‘environment'—were replaced with terms that resonate more strongly with this audience, such as ‘security' or ‘regional threat.' Conversely, one participant proposed assigning reading material that would challenge students' belief systems and preexisting notions of environment and population, as a way to force them to think about topics that they often resist exploring.

Another challenge for military educators is teaching the importance of small issues, as well as an understanding of the ways in which small issues can lead to big problems. One participant noted a true international development fable often cited by Amory Lovins: In the 1950s, the World Health Organization (WTO) dropped DDT on the island of Borneo to control mosquitoes, resulting in two unexpected events. First, homes collapsed under the weight of hornets' nests that died and hardened from the DDT; and second, and more troubling, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague because the DDT affected the island's animal nutrient cycle. Small animals (lizards, insects, etc.) became sluggish, while larger animals such as cats ended up with toxic levels of DDT from consumption of smaller creatures. Eventually, all the cats died, leading to an increase in the rat population and an outbreak of bubonic plague. The WTO's solution—which worked—was to airdrop cats to deal with the rat problem, which, in turn, addressed the bubonic plague problem.

Climate and Security: Role of the National Intelligence Council

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently formed a research group to explore the ways in which climate change creates system vulnerabilities, and how these vulnerabilities affect U.S. national security. The NIC is also examining how other countries may adapt to changes in their climate, the associated costs, and the possible complications for their political systems. The NIC is addressing several national security variables, including conflict, failed states, terrorist opportunities, economics, energy, social unrest, migration, and loss of governmental legitimacy. One of the analysts contributing to the effort, Major General Richard Engel USAF (Ret.) briefed the workshop on the unclassified framework of analysis the NIC is applying, contractor provided results concerning the implications for security, and the elements of power.

CNA Report on National Security and the Threat of Climate Change

Sherri W. Goodman, former deputy under secretary of defense for environmental security and current executive director of the CNA Corporation's Military Advisory Board, briefed the workshop on the results of the advisory board's climate change and security analysis. Composed of retired three- and four-star generals and admirals, the advisory board recently released the report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, in which they state that "the nature and pace of climate changes being observed today and the consequences projected by the consensus, scientific opinion are grave and pose equally grave implications for our national security." Moving beyond the debate on cause and effect, the board focused on the military implications of this phenomenon and authored recommendations that have been taken up in pending legislation before both chambers of the U.S. Congress. Critical variables that they considered include competition and conflict for resources; water and food security; health and disease; and the stability of governments. The U.S. military must be prepared to adapt its roles and missions to respond to the security implications of these variables. Goodman challenged the workshop participants to refine their research agendas to address these security implications and to incorporate the findings of the advisory board into the curricula for their graduate and undergraduate courses.

AFRICOM Standup: Environment, Population, and Security Opportunities

U.S. Army Major Shannon Beebe briefed the group on the roles and missions of the U.S. military's new Africa Command (AFRICOM), as well as the challenges that it will face in supporting international and interagency initiatives on the African continent. He emphasized the importance of synchronizing these roles with other U.S. interagency efforts focused on diplomacy and development.

The evolving concept for AFRICOM, said Beebe, is two-fold: to help integrate U.S. interagency efforts, and to assist development and diplomacy efforts. In these two capacities, the command will address the key challenges to U.S. strategic interests in Africa: the Chinese quest for mineral access and its growing influence on energy-rich countries such as Sudan, Angola, and Nigeria; the use of African ungoverned spaces and weak states for insurgency training and the development of subversive ideologies; and access to petroleum and strategic mineral resource essential to the United States and Western partner nations. Countries essential to U.S. strategic objectives and regional stability are threatened by environmental security issues, which will be exacerbated by changes in climate. To this end, Beebe presented research priorities and directions that are essential to identifying the implications of these threats and recommended ways to mitigate them.

Beyond the traditional security functions, AFRICOM should focus on building the capacity of its African partners to reduce conflict, improve security, defeat terrorists, and support crisis response. Beebe stressed the importance of a command that is both cooperative and participatory, and whose role extends beyond so-called "kinetic" operations (military force) and actively engages in "non-kinetic" operations (capacity building).

Next Steps

The major security documents developed during the Bush administration have uniformly addressed the impact of environmental changes on regional stability and the need to use all elements of national power to ensure that regional stability. Several new reports—the fourth assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the CNA Report; the emerging findings of the National Intelligence Estimate; and the U.S. Department of Defense Directive 3000.05, "Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations"—have given the Army a challenging new mission to be prepared to address environmental security threats and their second- and third-order effects. While the military will rarely take the lead in addressing these threats, it will be required to support the initiatives of the interagency community and international organizations. Failed and failing states create dangerous opportunities for terrorists to expand their global network; through its role in building partner military capacity, the military can support good governance and ensure that environmental issues do not further erode the coalition of nations opposing terrorism.

By providing a forum for military educators to come together, ECSP is contributing to the development of competent and confident military leaders who are equipped with the intellectual skills and tools necessary to move us through these challenges and see beyond the next generation of issues.

Drafted by Alison Williams.


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