Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Finding Protection in Definitions: The Quest for Environmental Security

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Finding Protection in Definitions: The Quest for Environmental Security

Article excerpt

The waning salience of superpower confrontation in the past decade has given rise to new flexibility in the concept of national security. Once limited in scope to a defined set of external military threats, the label now frequently underscores the centrality of concerns such as environmental protection, economic development, and global sustainability. The phrase "environmental security" is increasingly finding favor within both common usage (Wagner, 1997) as well as governmental policy. Named as a concern in international affairs, the concept of environmental security is being used to define our interests with regard to other countries in a number of contexts. The Kyoto agreement limiting global greenhouse gases, for example, has been attacked (Ashcroft, 1998) and defended (Goodman, 1998) based upon its effect on America's "national security." Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher in a 1996 speech at Stanford University emphasized the determination of the Clinton administration "to put environmental issues where they belong: in the mainstream of American foreign policy" (in Matthew, 1996, p. 39). Following suit, President Clinton has named environmental security as one of a handful of 'Millennial Challenges' facing America in the next century (Edley, 199, p. c01). The linkage of environmental and defense issues is also reflected in new offices and rifles: the defense structure currently includes a National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence as well as a Pentagon Undersecretary for Environmental Security.

The basic concept of environmental security represents an attempt to draw attention to issues of environmental degradation by explicitly tying them to formerly military concepts of security. "The new sources of danger," Lester Brown wrote in 1986, "arise from off depletion, soft erosion, land degradation, shrinking forests, deteriorating grasslands, and climate alteration" (p. 195). To Brown, these dangers "threaten not only national economic and political security, but the stability of the international economy itself' (pp. 195-6). According to supporters of the environment-security linkage, the dangers of environmental degradation are at least as severe as the military threats which we generally include under the security umbrella and the emergence of these new threats should cause us to rethink our concept of national security. Norman Myers (1995), argues:

All in all, then, national security is no longer about fighting forces and weaponry alone. It relates increasingly to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources, climate, and other factors rarely considered by military experts and political leaders, but that taken together deserve to be viewed as equally crucial to a nation's security as military prowess (p. 258).

The argument for environmental security can either be expressed in the claim that environmental degradation may cause security threats, such as tension and war, or in the claim that environmental degradation functionally constitutes a security threat. In both cases, proponents argue for increased attention to the national and international importance of eco-system health, but the latter case holds special interest for students of argument since it represents an attempt to increase the salience of a traditionally neglected area by definitionally linking those concerns to an area with high traditional emphasis: The environment is placed on the agenda through identification with the conventional state interest in security.

It is at this point of identification that the argument for an environment-security linkage finds its critics. Many scholars writing within the peace research perspective have sharply criticized efforts to harness environmental aims to the concept of national security. Daniel Duedney (1991) writes:

Nationalist sentiment and the war system have a long established character that are likely to defy any rhetorically conjured redirection toward benign ends. …

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