The Military and the Environment – 3

First time readers: earlier posts on Louise Say’s thesis may be read in: and:

Chapter 1 presents evidence indicating the substantial destructive impact of military operations on environmental conditions.

Caveat: we should bear in mind , as Ms Say stresses, that the main cause of environmental degradation is civilian activity and, in part, human economic activity. All environmental threats present an invisible threat to international security.

She refers to military forces’ manipulation of the natural habitat in which they operate in order to achieve their strategic objectives and gives two examples:

During the Vietnam War, the United States military engaged in three variants of this type of environmental warfare – leading to the coining of the term ecocide:

ecocide vietnam

  • They used defoliants (mainly Agent Orange and Agent White) on dense jungle in an attempt to destroy forest cover and expose the Vietcong guerrilla fighters.
  • They attempted to alter regional weather patterns by a process of cloud seeding. By manipulating cloud formations, the US forces hoped to enhance their target performance in air raids and to cause flooding.
  • Thirdly, they destroyed enemy food crops (mainly rice) using Agent Blue.

Military forces also engage in environmental warfare by destroying man-made structures such as dykes and dams, which indirectly cause massive environmental devastation. US military forces also bombed the dam-system in North-Vietnam causing widespread flooding in the area.

During the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait large quantities of crude oil were pumped into the Persian Gulf and as the Iraqi soldiers retreated, they set fire to around 700 well-heads in Kuwait. See more on the environmental consequences here.

 kuwait oil fires

During the first Gulf War the deployment of the Mass Air Delivery fuel-Air Explosive also caused environmental devastation over wide areas. Depleted uranium was used fir the first time, causing radioactive contamination in the battlefield – see Arkin, Durrant and Chernis.

state world 1991 coverSubstantial quantities of toxic and radioactive waste have, and continue to be, produced by the operation of military equipment. In the 1991 Worldwatch State of the World report, Michael Renner records that the Research Institute for Peace Policy in Starnberg, Germany, has estimated that 10-30% of all global environment degradation has been caused by military-related activities. He also noted that, in recent years, military activities in the US have generated between 400,000 and 500,000 tons of toxic waste annually. He stated that this pollution exceeds that emitted by the top five U.S. chemical companies and that a quarter of all jet fuel consumed is used for military purposes.

The development, maintenance, use and disposal of military weapons – conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear – has caused varying degrees of environmental degradation.

Louise Say advocates the lifting of military exemption from and compliance with environmental legislation, coupling this with undertaking the sort of good practice recorded by Brigadier Michael Harbottle in the annex to his 1991/2 study. He gave 135 examples of the new philosophy of military service in action in 21 countries: including recycling of kitchen and human waste, afforestation, development of alternative energy sources, protection of wildlife and flora, limiting of soil erosion, protection of coastal and inland waters from pollution, assistance in containing oil and chemical leaks & forest fires and control of poaching.


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