restricted access Is the Environment a National Security Issue?
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NationalSecurityIssue? I when the U.S. government was trying to put its less-than-successful intervention in Somalia behind it while contemplating future troubles in Haiti, an Atlantic Monthly article painted a picture of the world in which such conflicts could be expected to magnify and spread. Robert Kaplan’s ”The Coming Anarchy” captured Washington’s attention with its dire vision of a world beset with collapsing state authority. President Clinton was reported to have scribbled marginal notes on his personal copy, and citation of it became practically de rigueur for Cabinet members appearing before Congress. Much of Kaplan’s analysis centered on the role of environmental degradation in sparking ”the coming anarchy,” and his article therefore marks a decided elevation of the environment and security debate. However, to call it a debate is to stretch things. Since the late 1980s, when public discussion of environment and securitylinks began in earnest, a ground swell of support for the core proposition that environmental degradation constitutes a security risk has encountered hardly any voices of dissent.’ Critics of the core idea have voiced their opinion by way of silence rather than debate, perhaps hoping the discussion would fade away. But because the ideas are getting more, rather than less, attention, it is time to subject them to a serious review. Marc A. Levy is Instructor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. I am grateful to Jill Cetina and Jason Holley for research assistance, and to Peter Barsoom, Shinju Fujihari, Ron Mitchell, Ted Parson, and participants in the Olin Institute workshop on Economics and National Security, December 3, 1993 for comments on an earlier draft. Tad Homer-Dixon helped to correct some errors in an earlier version. Support for this work was provided by the Olin Institute’s Project on the Changing Security Environment and American National Interests. 1. The only significant exception is Daniel Deudney, ”The Case Against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security,” Millennium, Vol. 19,No. 3 (Winter 1990),pp. 461476; also see Daniel Deudney and Richard Matthew, eds., Contested Ground: Security and Conflict in the New Environmental Politics (Albany: SUNY Press, forthcoming); and Richard A. Matthew, ”Environmental Security: Demystifying the Concept, Clarifying the Stakes,” Environmental Change and Security Project Report, No. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 14-23. A somewhat critical and very thoughtful review is found in Lothar Brock, ”Peace Through Parks: The Environment on the Peace Research Agenda,” journal of Peace Research, Vol. 28, No. 4 (November 1991), pp. 407-424. International Security, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall 1995), pp. 35-62 0 1995by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 35 International Security 20:2 1 36 This essay examines the proposition that global environmental degradation is a security threat to the United States. I focus on three distinct forms of connection between the environment and security,which I term the existential, the physical, and the political. This article reviews each link and evaluates each on its own terms. All of these views pertain to linksfrom processes of environmental degradation to deterioration in security positions.Connectionsthat run in the opposite direction (from use of force to deterioration in environmental quality) are not examined here.' Adherents to the existential view, such as Jessica Tuchman Mathews and Norman Myers, argue that certain aspects of the global environment are so intimately connected to our deepest national values that they are constitutive of our security interests. When these environmental values are threatened, our security is threatened, ips0 facto. I argue that this position has no basis except as a rhetorical device aimed at drumming up greater support for measures to protect the environment. These advocates probably hope for more than is realistic in this regard, because the rhetorical act of pointing out that environmental degradation endangers important national values begs the question of how such values ought to be traded off against one another. In addition, the political task of gaining support for the environment may in many cases fare better on the level of low politics than high politics, as I explain. I find that proponents of the direct physical link between environment and U.S. security have serious arguments worth considering...