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GNOSIS 1/2010
Planet Security

The ‘environmental’ security

Gianluca Ansalone

If the Energy sources were the real causes of the last World War and of more recent conflicts, of high and low tension – access to water, famines as a consequence of climatic changes or the utilization of arable land for purposes other than crop cultivation - with all probability they will be at the origin of new tensions, susceptible to degenerate in area wars, precondition for wider involvement. And precisely this is the new frontier of the analyses of Intelligence, delineated in the interview of Gianluca Ansalone, who draws your attention to the natural catastrophes and to the inattention to the effects of the climate changes on the great masses of the populations. In this framework, the Intelligence is not asked to deny or endorse the scientific previsions, but to assess risks for the security that, in the new Century, could result in failed prevention of the risk and correct assessment of the interaction between man and the environment.
(Foto Ansa)

Nothing appears more controversial in the debate within the scientific community than the effects of climatic change. Scientists are divided with respect to the consistency and to the time factors involved in an alteration, more or less profound, in the equilibrium of the biosphere.
Since modern science has existed, the engineers and operators have advanced this controversial debate, at times, conducted in rather bitter tones, on the basis of the evidence of the facts and of the predictable trend of effects. But the main results were obtained the moment in which the circle of experts widened their vision to accept different and unorthodox opinions. A necessary transition when addressing many sided issues of the life of the organized community, of States and of their security.
This is precisely the case in the debate relative to the climatic changes, the global importance of which implies a transversality in the analysis of the effects already present – potential or alleged – of a climatic upheaval.
Assessing the impact of embryonic social phenomena on the management of the security has become increasingly the preserve of the strategic sciences, with particular regard to the capacity of preventing non-conventional threats able to alter the status quo and the equilibrium of the forces in the field. This is the case of the analysis relative to the present economic and financial crisis, which has entered permanently into all the principal intelligence documents and in the operative plans of the structures responsible for safety. In fact, the effects of a contraction in the economic growth are evaluated from the perspective of a destabilization of social scenarios already particularly fragile in Countries on the edge of collapse, where the pressure caused by unemployment, malcontent or simply by a general poverty can lead to diffused violence, and in extreme cases, can create an ideal breeding ground for terrorism of the fundamentalist stamp.
On the basis of these assumptions, also in the technical world of safety, a growing sensitivity is making inroad with regard to climatic change; no top military or security analyst can make any meaningful contribution to the scientific debate tout court. But the prevision of the effects induced by the phenomena of climatic imbalance is now an essential part of the strategic planning for the great powers, which analyze the security scenarios along temporal long-term projections (a 20 year period or, in more extreme cases, a fifty year period).
This is worth while, in that it spreads a good dose of awareness and sensitization for political leaders and decision-makers, who are called to make relevant decisions to face completely new threats which have multiplied after the thawing of the two blocks and the end of the Cold War. It is a new challenge for the intelligence community, consistent with the need to produce new instruments of analysis and prevention which no longer relate to the traditional categories of symmetry and deterrence.

Some predictions on climate and security

Today, it is calculated that a good 21 Countries around the world, in which circa 600 million people live, are at risk of chronic food crises caused by a growing shortage of water. If this dynamic is projected in the next two decades, another 36 Countries, for a total of a further 1.4 billions people will finish in this category.
According to the estimate of the World Bank, the global demand for food will have grown 50% by 2030, as a consequence of the world population increase and a decided change in eating habits of an ever-growing middle class in the Countries at high potential of development. The financial speculation tied to the food commodities, which already today, affects the net availability in the procurement of food, will further affect the amount of staple foods, due to the pressure determined by the always more diffused use of bioethanol and biofuels. It is calculated that a subtraction of 10% of the food crops for the production of biofuels – a rate which is already adopted in Brazil today – will cause several hundreds of millions more starving people in the coming years.
These are only a few of the dynamics that are studied and projected by International Economic Bodies, organizations committed to the help and development, research centers. If the analysis is widened, however, also to the strategic perspective, beyond the major humanitarian consequences of such emergencies, new and significant threats arise from these premises, able to destabilize the geopolitical order of the national States.
The first direct consequence concerns the size of the number of those people forced to migrate due to the endemic drought, the lack of food or the impossibility of finding food. A demographic pressure never known in modern history, which could not but put into crisis the social cohesion of certain areas of the planet, with heavy repercussions also in terms of security.
In 2006, the work group on the economic effects of the climatic changes, chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern, published the results of their analysis, sustaining that the damage caused by the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the poisoning of watercourses will cost the whole of humanity as much as two world wars. In that same report, it is shown how, within 2050, the climate will be directly responsible for the forced displacement of 200 million people on the planet: that is, the so-called “environmental refugees”. A figure which, statistically, is not far from that registered in the different geological ages, only that in the last 300 years it has had a mainly internal or regional dimension; the new migrations will have, instead, a marked characteristic of trans-nationality and will create a strong social and economic pressure, above all, in Europe, the United States and Australia.
According to estimates of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees), today, there already exist 344 million people at life-threatening risk of tropical cyclones and 521 million at risk of violent flooding.
The unanimous opinion of the analysts is that the climatic change will act as multiplier of the already unstable situations in the crisis areas. In the case of fragile regions or governments on the edge of breakdown, the impact of the climatic change will be decisive in the collapse of such systems, opening geopolitical black holes likely to create a domino effect in terms of regional conflicts.
A typical example is the dramatic conflict in the Darfur, where the ethnic, tribal and religious tensions, already particularly evident, have been exacerbated following the persistent drought, which involved 40% of the territorial extension of the vast province of Sudan, even causing the physical movement of the State border by 60 miles, in very few years. The first signs of revolt were repressed also through the recruitment of Arab militias, the Janjaweed, who became protagonists of the massacre of 500,000 people and whose violence has provoked the forced movement of almost two million refugees.

Not a zero-sum game

But if for the more authoritative scientific forums the climatic change represents a dangerous degeneration and will put at risk the stability and the survival of all mankind, for the strategic sciences, it is not necessarily a zero sum game. From the effects of the evolution of the climate, some protagonists will lose strategic space, be unable to project force and guard interests; others will come out strengthened and will see new competitive advantages and opportunities unfold, made accessible by the new morphology of the physical map of the planet
The climatic changes, for example, could make it possible to cultivate large zones in Africa, in part controlling prices to offset the speculative pressure on foodstuffs. Already today, in the Horn of Africa or in the Southern Regions of the Continent, they are expanding arable land, thanks to the slow, but constant, increase of the irrigated areas.
Two participants who will improve their position following the climatic change will be, for example, Russia and Canada. The first possesses enormous quantities of natural gas and oil entrapped in the Siberian and Arctic ice fields. Milder temperatures at those latitudes could make it easier to access these reserves. Furthermore, the melting of Arctic ice fields will allow Russia to exploit new and more direct commercial routes to the North-East and North-West.
Likewise, for Canada a more temperate climate in the Hudson Bay would open new prospects for the exploitation of commercial routes and for the extraction of hydrocarbons.
The status of Arctic power, which today, represents a handicap in the global arena, will represent, for both these Countries, a considerable geopolitical and strategic bonus in the future.
The Arctic, with the climatic change, will be the heart of the new strategic competition. According to estimates of the American National Snow and Ice Data Center, in 2060, we may know an Arctic Circle seasonally without ice. The two direct implications of such a scenario are the possibility of accessing a large quantity of oil and the opening of shorter commercial routes. The transit by the North Sea for the North Atlantic and North Pacific routes could save, on an average, 5,000 nautical miles (compared to the present routes which go through the Suez Canal), equal to a week of navigation less, on an average.
To travel from Europe and to Asia through the North-West Passage, instead of by the Panama Canal, would lead to a saving of 4,000 nautical miles.
Although the technologies useful for the exploration of hydrocarbon deposits in an impervious area like the Arctic will not be available before 2050, already today, a lockout competition is in course for a new strategic positioning in the area. In confirmation of this is the Referendum for the independence of Greenland – under Danish administration for three hundred years – and which, in virtue of a strong popular consensus, expressed in September, 2008, the wish for major autonomy. The birth of an autonomous Government will increase, as a first effect, the volume of the royalties for extraction of enormous quantities of oil and natural gas trapped in the ice fields.
In August, 2007, the submarine Arktika provokingly planted a Russian flag on the sea floor of the North Pole, a move which the USA condemned as an act of “illegal territorial subtraction”. In July, 2009, for the first time since the Cold War, the Russian Navy decided to permanently deploy part of its naval fleet in the Arctic Circle.
In that same period, the strategic document periodically published by the Canadian Ministry of Defence, and known as the “Canada Defence Policy” committed the Government of Ottawa to increase financial resources for the defence of national interests and the sovereignty of Arctic Countries.
During its last Plenary Assembly, the FAO, body of the UNO that supervises the policies for food security, pointed a finger against the threat constituted by the so-called “land grab”. As a direct consequence of population increase and food demand, which meets the growing desertification and the impossibility of cultivating submerged or contaminated land, certain governments have created money safes of cash for the sole purpose of purchasing territories. A common practice in the epoch of more aggressive colonialism, during which time, however, the great imperial powers garrisoned transboundary territories to deploy troops, stimulate commercial circuit, to guarantee for themselves strategic control, also in terms of energy supply.
The post-modern colonialism has, instead, a completely different scope: the purchased land (and not taken by armies) is cultivated with wheat, rise, oats and other cereals, making proper extra-territorial plots, which can be used in large quantities in the event of a global food crisis
As a consequence of the effects of the climatic change, food becomes a factor of strategic superiority.
Russia has even formerly sanctioned the status of indispensable goods to the National security, equating it to the military-industrial rank, using the old tank maintenance hangers as warehouses, filling them with enormous quantities of cereals.
The land grab is the contemporary face of the struggle to conquer, which has inspired the desire for power of the Nations from their very beginnings. Today, the competition is played to the sound of SWFs and hard cash.
The recent strongest and emblematic images for public opinion, with respect to the effects on the security of the climatic change are, undoubtedly, those of the tsunami in Asia and Hurricane Katrina in the USA. In the latter case, the mobilization of the American military machine was massive and has led to a profound revision of the internal security strategy of the United States.
The storm caused damage amounting to 80 billion dollars, killing 1,800 people and forcing 270,000 to abandon their homes; more than 70,000 soldiers were mobilized, at a time when the USA were strongly concentrated on the two scenarios of crisis, Afghanistan and Iraq. The hurricane had also a devastating impact on the critical infrastructures: many oil wells were seriously damaged and the extraction and pumping activities were suspended for weeks; without counting the material damage to the road networks and the telecommunications system.
Although there is not necessarily a unique relation between climate change and the fury of Hurricane Katrina, the catastrophe represented a collective awareness with respect to the consequences in terms of security – as well as humanitarian – of natural disasters.

The Intelligence analysis

In March 2007, a parliamentary motion, signed by the American Senators, Richard J. Durbin (Democratic – Illinois) and Chuck Hagel (Republican – Nebraska) committed the Intelligence Community to evaluate the possible impact of the climatic change on security. Since then, the National Intelligence Estimate, the reference document of the Community that draws the boundaries of the analysis, constantly carries a section devoted to this topic.
In that same year, the Security Council of the UNO (on the initiative of the United Kingdom) held a special session dedicated to the impact of the climate change on the international peace and security.
In 2006, the American National Security Strategy had already estimated the effects of a large scale diffusion of the pandemics, comparing them to an attack conducted with weapons of mass destruction by a group of terrorists.
Also the recent earthquake in Haiti was assumed by the Pentagon as a case study to verify the impact of a natural disaster on the National security, in terms of massive migration of environmental refugees to the American coasts.
One of the case studies most deeply analyzed by the military and Intelligence apparatus is that of Bangladesh. The violence of an nth monsoon could hit the Capital, Dhaka, which has 12.5 million inhabitants, forcing a good part of the population to migrate beyond the frontier with India and Pakistan, two key Countries for the United States security strategy and for the world equilibria. Such a humanitarian emergency could not but require massive intervention by the American Armed Forces – and possibly European – with the purpose of mitigating the impact of a dangerous regional destabilization.
According to the most recent NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) water stress, due to growing world populations and desertification, will be one of the main causes of conflict between States, starting from 2030. In particular, the document shows the case studies of Cambodia and Vietnam, which could soon abandon the friendly intentions of a diplomatic negotiation, and in a non-conciliatory manner, leave it to the arms to resolve the controversy relative to the exploitation rights of the Mekong River delta. These two Countries, together with the Maldives, which could soon disappear from the map, because of being submerged by tides, are considered the most vulnerable in terms of security tied to climatic changes.
In North Africa, the effects of the desertification will soon result in a growing political and social pressure, with the increase of the urbanization and unemployment of the young. In particular, such phenomena will increase the migration thrust of the Maghreb and Mashrek towards Europe, the social-demographic equilibrium of which will be badly perturbed by the arrival of hundreds of thousand of migrants over the next decade.
A further effect on the inter-State dynamics will involve the redefinition of the maritime boundaries and the exclusive economic zones (EEZs), which already today, in many cases, see a strategic competition activated on a vast scale: China claims ample stretches compared to its Sea of Japan and South China Sea neighbours.
The impact of the climatic change not only concerns the highest and endemic poverty areas of the planet. The effects, in terms of the civil and economic life, will affect also the liberal economies. A Canadian Research Center has, for example, studied the impact of global warming on the availability of certain staple goods and water. Also in the more structured liberal economies, governments could be tempted to stop the process of liberalization of the essential public services, taking them away from the rules of the market. The water, also in the West, would return to be a public asset, controlled and managed by the State, the political and social value of which would be very high if the role of the central power is equated to “supplier” of well-being. At present, it is a common condition in all the developing Countries, where water is the property of governments and is utilized as a leverage instrument of political consensus. The intensive use of water resources in agriculture, for example, is the principal source of waste for an asset already so rare in the arid or semi-arid regions of the planet. And this only exasperates the inefficiency in the water distribution and creates further tension in terms of security.

Which analysis per the climatic change?

In the face of such a pervasive threat, tied to multiple aspects of the social, economic and civil life of the Nations, the analytical approach can only be multi-disciplinary: it is not enough to unilaterally strengthen the security measures, but it is necessary to act in agreement with the rest of the international community, intervening on the parameters of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, on the vast and strategic chapter of the energy security, and on the investments to guarantee the security of the critical infrastructures.
A recent study of the World Bank showed how an expenditure of 40 billion dollars in strategies and policies for the reduction of the systemic environmental risk in the 90’s, could have guaranteed the International
Community enormous savings, compared to interventions of emergency relief of natural disasters quantifiable in 280 billion dollars.
The already cited Stern Report estimated in 4-37 the range of annual investment necessary for the international security, to mitigate the risks deriving from the climatic change.
It is, therefore, evident how, above all, in this case, the promotion of a global governance of the ecological policy is necessary, with an equal sharing of the responsibilities and burdens for all the political participants. The security tied to the safeguard of the environment is typically indivisible and is done through the implementation of transversal measures, not solely confined to the aspects of monitoring the emissions of greenhouse gas.
For example, it would be opportune to define a global map of the systemic risks, tied to the vulnerability of the landscape and biodiversity and which could favour, in the most accurate way possible, a geography of the risks.
That of the reduction of the CO2 emissions remains, however, a necessary objective and, after the failure of the Summit of Copenhagen, it must be re-launched, above all, by the principal global actors, in particular, the United States, China and India.
It is an exciting and crucial challenge for the Intelligence.
The analysis of security tied to the impact of climatic change falls into the vastest area of management knowledge and which, in the post bipolar scenario, implies a decided change of direction towards the understanding and prevention of the asymmetric and non-State threats.
The security system is called, in synthesis, to move their energies and resources from the analysis of the actors of the security to that of the factors of the security.
Concerning such large issues as the climatic change and the security scenario, the capacity of the Intelligence must be able to:
- connect the different points and elements of the knowledge;
- favour a non-linear model of analysis and prevision;
- reach new sources of analysis and evaluation of the threat.
The ground of the collaboration and the sharing of information between the systems and the apparatus of Intelligence remains essential for a non-superficial understanding of the threat and for the predisposition of adequate measures of response.
The Intelligence is not required to refute or endorse the scientific predictions on the climatic change. But it must increasingly spread safety culture which, in the new Century, assumes the contours of the prevention of asymmetric threats.
The interaction between man and the environment has always been a supporting element of the security and today, it becomes even central to adequately assess the systemic risks and the capacity to promote a human, economic and civil development which does not endanger the survival of the future generations.