Alternative Views of Environmental Security in a Less Developed Country: The Case of Bangladesh

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Since the end of the Cold War, there has been renewed interest in what is now called 'non-traditional' security issues. As late as 1985, the old cold warrior George Kennan wrote in Foreign Affairs, identifying the threat to the world environment as one of the two supreme dangers facing mankind. But it was really in the post Cold War era that the world saw a dramatic increase in international activity around environmental issues. The United Nations Environmental Program has reported that about 170 treaties have been negotiated in recent years on various issues of the global environment. (1)

The link between environment and security is still being worked out. The Stockholm Conference on Environmental Stress and Security in 1988 stated that: "So far, most of these statements of interconnections between environmental destruction and security are hypothetical. There is thus a need for sound empirical research to find out whether these hypotheses are valid or should be scrapped as only 'apparent truths'. (2) Mark Halle notes that "the relationship between environment and security feels right. It seems intuitively correct to assume a direct correlation between environmental degradation on the one hand and social disruption and conflict on the other." (3) The moderate critic (4) regards this linkage between security and environment as "insights without evidence" while the hard-line critic calls it "muddled thinking". (5) As stated in the Stockholm Conference, intuition should be corroborated with empirical research.

There is, however, a sizeable literature that seeks to broaden the definition of security to include environmental concerns. Along with many others the United Nations Security Council states: "The absence of war and military conflicts amongst States does not itself ensure international peace and security. The non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security." (6)


A number of International Relations Theories can be applied to the issue of environment. Many of these theories only deal with the environment indirectly and peripherally. But it is useful to review the expanding literature of international-relations theory as it relates to the environment.

Realism: The two central concepts of Realist theory are power and the national interest. The international society is an anarchical state-system. The system is therefore a self-help one. Realism assumes that states and their populations need natural resources to survive. There is a competition between states for these scarce resources. War is often the result of such competition and conflict. It leads to "the struggle for power and peace," as Hans Morgenthau put it. (7)

Extreme versions of Realism, such as the geopolitical theories of major-general Karl Haushofer, look at the security implications of strategic raw materials. Both German and Japanese expansion in the 1930s was partly a search for raw materials. Some see President George Bush's intervention in Iraq as an attempt to secure the oil resources of the Middle East.

Malthusianism: Thomas Malthus, an 18th century English cleric, believed that because population grew in geometric progression and food production followed arithmetic progression, there would come a time when population growth would inevitably outstrip a country's food production and starvation would result. Although this did not happen because of technological progress, Malthusianism breathes through many arguments of global environmental politics. Some examples are The Club of Rome's Limits to Growth and Paul Ehrlich's famous 1968 book The Population Bomb. Indeed, the opposite is true today. Instead of a population explosion we see the signs of a population implosion. There is a severe decline in the fertility rate in the rich countries and also a decline in the rate of population growth in the developing world. …