Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Modeling Environmental Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Modeling Environmental Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formula omitted.)


History and contemporary events have demonstrated that environmental stress often results in conflict, frequently along ethnic schisms (recent examples include Chiapas, Rwanda, Somalia, and Darfur). This reality is exacerbated by population pressure, resource shortages, environmental change, and natural hazards. Evidence suggests that this trend will persist because environmental change will continue to stress marginal environments, especially in places with weak governance, making clear the relationship between regional stability and environmental factors (Butts 1994; Homer-Dixon and Levy 1995).

Non-sustainable environmental practices, migration, and resource shortages, which are common in developing states, may further de-stabilize states with weak governance (Schwartz and Randall 2003; Gleditsch et al. 2007). These regions are defined by endemic imbalances in the distribution of wealth, staggering health problems, fragile political systems, regressive social systems, and disenfranchised youth susceptible to the lure of extremism, thus making conflict more likely. We do not contend that the nature of modern conflict is new: in fact, insurgency, ethnic clashes, and civil war are ancient modes of warfare. We do maintain, however, that increased levels of environmental stress are enabling a surge in the frequency of conflicts with an environmental component. Furthermore, we contend that this is not a simple, deterministic relationship. Indeed, environmentally triggered conflict is fueled by dynamic, complex, and interacting processes; thus, a framework for analysis is necessary to understand causes and consequences.

With conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda, East Timor, and Kosovo as the precedent, the use of Western and United Nations (U.N.) military force to address humanitarian dimensions of regional conflict has been now well established (Dulian 2004). Conflicts with an environmental component coupled with divisive ethnic dimensions, such as those observed in Rwanda, have increased pressure on the West and the U.N. to commit resources to stability efforts (Drapeau and Mignone 2007).

In fact, strategic policy documents produced by the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) and Department of Defense (DoD) have delineated U.S. strategic interests in environmentally enabled instability. The environment first became an element in the U.S. National Security Strategy in 1991, when the NSC pointed out that, "stress from environmental challenges is already contributing to political conflict" (NSC 1991, 2; Butts 1994). By 2005, the DoD identified environmentally related instability as a fundamental strategic concern because evidence suggested that environmental stress is an important contributor to contemporary conflicts. Furthermore, environmental conflict typically manifests itself along ethnic lines, thus making its international management difficult (DoD 2005). With continued environmental destabilization in weaker states and the exploitation of ungoverned spaces by violent transnational actors, government leaders and military commanders as well as directors of non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental bodies will have to deal with humanitarian disasters and ethnic violence. Hence, a framework for analysis can be a useful tool to articulate and delineate the fundamental causes of environmentally triggered violence. To that end, this paper examines the nexus between the environment and conflict and demonstrates the need for careful environmental analysis by presenting findings for a model illustrating the relationship between natural resources and political stability. The results suggest that a statistically significant relationship exists between arable land and access to fresh water, and political stability and non-violence.

For our analysis, we propose a comprehensive definition of environmental security, which is consistent with links between people, governance, and environmental stressors. …

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