Modern Warfare Equals Environmental Damage

USA TODAY, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Modern Warfare Equals Environmental Damage


Modern warfare tactics--as seen in the Vietnam War, the Rwandan and Congolese civil wars, and the current conflict in Iraq--greatly have increased our capacity to destroy the natural landscape and produce devastating environmental effects on the planet, according to Sarah DeWeerdt, writing for the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C.

Wartime destruction of the natural landscape actually is nothing new, but its scope in more recent conflicts is unprecedented. "For one thing, there is the sheer firepower of current weapons technology, especially its shock-and-awe deployment by modern superpowers," notes DeWeerdt. "The involvement of guerrilla groups in many recent wars draws that firepower toward the natural ecosystems---often circumscribed and endangered ones--where these groups take cover."

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The deliberate destruction of the environment as a military strategy, known as "ecocide,"' is exemplified by the U.S. response to guerrilla warfare in Vietnam. In an effort to deprive the Communist Vietcong guerrillas of the dense cover they found in the hardwood forests and mangroves that fringed the Mekong Delta, the American military sprayed 79,000,000 liters of herbicides and defoliants (including Agent Orange) over about one-seventh of the land area of South Vietnam. By some estimates, half of the mangroves and 14% of the hardwood forests were destroyed during Operation Trail Dust, threatening biodiversity and altering vegetation.

Less deliberate, but still devastating, were the environmental effects that stemmed from the mass migration of refugees during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

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