The Military and the Environment – 2

In February, news of Louise Say’s 1997 thesis The Military and the Environment was published on this site; and some points made in Chapter 1 will now be summarised.

Louise SayLouise, now a producer of TV documentaries, points out that – though environmental degradation is mainly caused by civilian activity, in particular, human economic activity – military resources can make an important contribution to improving environmental conditions. The total release of carbon dioxide as a result of military activity could be as high as 10% of total global emissions.

Though nation states continue to regard military security as the most important aspect of national security and have continued to maintain it by military means, there is evidence suggesting that environmental factors and not military threats have made state boundaries less secure: these include transboundary pollution, population movements and disputes over access to scarce resources, especially oil.

johan galtungConcern has long been expressed about overcrowding and conflict (Meadows et al, ‘Limits to Growth and others).

In 1982, Johan Galtung published Environment, Development and Military Activity: Towards an Alternative Security Doctrine, Oslo, Norwegian Universities Press.

Brigadier Michael Harbottle, a former Chief of UN Peacekeeping in Cyprus, argued that security must “embrace those non-military aspects of economic, humanitarian and environmental security”.

michael harbottle leaving cyprus

Louise cited his consideration of a holistic approach to security, requiring a ‘change in mindset’, which was set down in What is Proper Soldiering? (Centre for International Peacebuilding, 1992).

SIPRI 1994 figures record a period of ‘intense militarisation’ in the 1980s, with a proliferation of weapons, particularly nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to the less-developed countries.

Sovereign immunity & military secrecy

There is evidence (Worldwatch Institute 1984) that during the Cold War period many military activities caused environmental pollution, but that ‘sovereign immunity’ protected armed forces from the threat of legal prosecution in a number of countries. More of this in Chapter 5.

Military exercises, training and weapons development cause damaging environmental pollution, even in peacetime. A 1992 study undertaken by The Working Group on Militarism and the Environment at the University of Toronto, reviewed by Mary Kehoe, assessed the environmental impact of world military establishments which use large tracts of land and airspace and deplete energy resources; one quarter of all jet fuel is consumed by military aircraft (Michael Renner, Lester Brown). Other points included:

“Land use for war games destroys soil, wildlife, vegetation and natural water levels. Labrador, where the Innu have for years protested low-level flight training by NATO forces, is but one region where human beings and wild life have been severely disturbed by continuing flight training.

“Civilian workers employed in the production of explosives and other military “tools” may suffer unprotected exposure to harmful substances which can result in cancers and impairment of internal organs, the study notes. Military secrecy is one factor impeding the calculation of the total damage resulting from nuclear testing and accidents”.


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