Environmental Security Study

Section 2 - Definitions of Environmental Security

Few countries have an official definition of environmental security that unifies thought and action. Among the countries that do have definitions are: The Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States; the United States which has several working definitions and a DoD Directive which includes a programmatic definition; Embassy Representatives from Argentina and India indicated that their countries did have an official definition, but the text has not been received at this writing. Respondents in China, Australia, and Hungary said their governments were currently creating a definition. China considers environmental security under the umbrella of "environmental protec-tion."

The relevant international organizations have not created a definition to guide policy. For example, the United Nations Environment Program and the World Heath Organization do not have definitions for environmental security and the United Nations Development Program only refers to it briefly in its 1994 annual report on human development on page 28: "Environmental threats countries are facing are a combination of the degradation of local ecosystems and that of the global system. These comprise threats to environmental security."

A recent report on world security from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund asserts that even a general definition of security in the post-Cold War has "proven elusive,"... "despite massive efforts." There are a range of views about environmental security reflected in official statements, policies, and international agreements. This section presents a sample of that range.

After a preliminary literature search the staff condensed a range of definitions into five candidates and presented them to the Environmental Security Panel in a questionnaire. Each definition is given below, in order of the panel's rating using the scale below, plus a distillation of their comments.

1 = Excellent. Should be used as the definition
2 = Extremely useful. With some modification could be used as a definition
3 = Very useful, but needs elements of others to make it more complete and useful
4 = Useful but incomplete. It could be used to add to other definitions
5 = Not useful. Misleads the policy discussion

2.1 Preliminary Definitionsand Comments

1. Environmental security is the relative public safety from environmental dangers caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design and originating within or across national borders. This definition was rated the best among thought offered with the average score of 3.2 as very useful, but needs elements of other definitions to make it more complete and useful.

Panelists' comments on the first definition: A really good definition, equal to any I have read. I would like to see it acknowledge the complexity and the long time scales involved in cause - effect processes to foster appreciation of risk, uncertainty and longevity. Justice issues between and among generations could also be stressed...It is difficult to operationalize very subjective issues like ignorance and mismanagement....This definition ignores (a) protection of the environment for its own sake, for aesthetic and similar reasons, or for its potential future value; b) the environmental legacy left to future generations, and c) the role of the environment in intensifying or triggering other threats to human security...It implies that any perturbation affecting public safety is a "national security" issue. This would include far too many issues......Use of "public" safety seems inappropriate -- environmental security is not the role of any "security force" -- makes it sound like a police matter! There is also emphasis implied on the nation-state as the unit of concern. "Relative" is used, but "relative" to what? Environmental dangers? Ignorance of what? Mismanagement of what?...Shouldn't competition for a scarce resource be included, such as water between sectors or across borders? Also the definition addresses the human need side of the equation but it does not address protecting the environment as an end in itself....I am as concerned about the relative environmental safety from "public" (i.e human-induced) dangers as I am about public safety from environmental dangers....seems extremely close to what is normally thought of as the domain of environmental policy and hence, redundant...definitions are not necessary; we need a new theory, new concept....add social factors, such as pursuing private profit, which effect environment security.

2. Environmental security is the state of human-environment dynamics that includes restoration of the environment damaged by military actions, and amelioration of resource scarcities, environmental degradation, and biological threats that could lead to social disorder and conflict. This definition was rated the second best with the average score of 3.45, as needing elements of other definitions to make it more complete or could be used to add to other definitions.

Panelists' comments on the second definition: It has a useful operational focus....Very usable but "the state of human-environment dynamics" is not suitable for public communication....why limit to military & violence issues?...It suggests that the subject is the domain of the military and security planners who are at best only one actor among many in the environmental security field...combines two different definitions. "Environment damaged by military actions" is a very narrow approach (probably too narrow, but one which current military institutions would probably be most likely to accept). Perturbations which might lead to social disorder and conflict is, like the first definition, too broad....The bottom line is social, economic, and political stability maintained by maintenance of a healthy environment....Environmental security requires that we work to prevent and repair the damage we cause, in order to protect life on Earth, including our own. In terms of international issues, there is substantial concern regarding how one country's abuse of its resources may impact people and systems elsewhere....Include reclamation and restoration of damaged environments. This definition addresses the environmental side but not human side environmental security...security is a state, restoration and amelioration are actions.

3. Environmental security is the cycling of natural resources to products, to wastes, to natural resources in ways that promote social stability. This definition received the average score of 4.4 as between incomplete and misleads the policy discussion.

Panelists' comments on the third definition: Arbitrarily narrow, vague, simplistic, economistic, and overly academic. If read literally, it suggests, for example, that recycling of plastic bottles promotes social stability. This may be true, but only in an indirect way which superficial readers are not likely to quickly realize....Not cycling - environmental security is a concept, social stability is a privilege of a healthy environment....from a global, national state, or traditional security community points of view, this is far too broad. Tying it only to natural resources it cuts out huge issues (ozone depletion, or loss of habitat, which could have some national security implications)....This definition focuses on environmental processes, not security processes.

4. Environmental security is the maintenance of the physical surroundings of society for its needs without diminishing the natural stock. This definition was rated 4.1 as being useful but incomplete. It could be used to add to other definitions.

Panelists' comments on the fourth definition: Similar to the standard definition of sustainable development, a notion which has arguably proven to be of little instigative value....Excessive emphasis on natural resources only as commodities for use by humans.

5. Environmental security is the freedom from social instability due to environmental degradation. This definition received an average score of 4.15 as being useful but incomplete. It could be added to other definitions.

Panelists' comments on the fifth definition: There is much more at stake than social stability....This definition implies identifying a cause & effect relationship between social instability and environmental degradation. However, the fact that a community, region, nation, etc. is environmentally insecure does not mean that insecurity is solely or even primarily a result of environmental degradation. In other words, where social instability and environmental degradation coincide, the latter is not necessarily the cause of the former. It can actually work the other way, and other equally significant factors may be at play - such as inequities among groups (e.g., ethnic groups), population dynamics ( e.g., migration).... Environmental Security is a concept, social instability is not the only by-product of environmental degradation, but an umbrella for political and economic instability. This definition misses saying that a healthy environment is the cornerstone of security....this is a result not security.

Too succinct, narrows the gamut of concerns about environmental degradation. It could also be easily appropriated by narrow military/security interests....Very vague, how would instability be defined? Also arbitrary, why should it matter whether instability is caused by environmental degradation or some other cause?....leaves out some important issues like energy security.... degradation is only part of the equation; natural disasters, and resource depletion are issues too....too unfocused....It could be first sentence of the definition 2.1....combine with 2.4.

2.2 Alternative Definitions

The following alternative definitions were provided by the international panel.

1. Environmental security is the proactive minimization of anthropogenic threats to the functional integrity of the biosphere and thus to its interdependent human component. (Barnett, J, 1997, 'Environmental Security: Now What?', seminar, Department of International Relations, Keele University, December 4 1997.)

Staff Commentary - what is missing in this, otherwise excellent, definition is that anthropogenic threats to "the human component" of the biosphere can also come from the natural environment (excessive natural radon emissions from the ground) or natural environmental change (earthquakes, floods, mountainous mud flows, though many of them now are becoming more human-induced).

2. Environmental security is a term used by scholars and practitioners to posit linkages between environmental conditions and security interests. Although competing notions of environmental security abound, they generally fall into three sets of claims: (1) States and non-state actors should guard against environmental degradation for the same reason they guard against organized violence; both kinds of threats can harm human, material, and natural resources on a large and disruptive scale. (2) Local and regional environmental degradation and/or resource scarcities (exacerbated by population growth, inequitable wealth distribution, and global environmental changes) are an important contributing factor to sub-national political instability and violent conflict. (3) Military and security institutions (including intelligence agencies) can and should play a greater role in environmental protection. The rise in popularity of environmental security slogans has accompanied the increasingly prominent calls for new definitions of security to replace Cold War concepts predominantly rooted in Realism.

Staff Commentary - a very good, though a bit lengthy, definition explaining a number of underlining issues.

3. The term environmental security refers to a range of concerns that can be organized into three general categories;

i. Concerns about the adverse impact of human activities on the environment - the emphasis here is on the security of the environment as a good in itself, for the sake of future generations, as the context for human life.

ii. Concerns about the direct and indirect effects of various forms of environmental change (especially scarcity and degradation) which may be natural or human-generated on national and regional security. Here the focus is on environmental change triggering, intensifying or generating the forms of conflict and instability relevant to conventional security thinking. Research suggests that interstate war is less likely than diffuse civil violence. A subsidiary question is: what can conventional security resources do to address these threats? Suggestions include: using intelligence data gathering and analysis assets, promoting technology transfer and dialogue through military to military contact programs, using the army corps of engineers to help tackle specific environmental problems, etc. A related question is, can military training, testing and war fighting activities be made less harmful to the environment.

iii. Concerns about the insecurity individuals and groups (from small communities to humankind) experience due to environmental change such as water scarcity, air pollution, global warming, andso on. Here the focus is on the material well-being of individuals and there is no presumption that this is a traditional security issue or that traditional security assets will be useful.

Combining these we might conclude that the condition of environmental security is one in which social systems interact with ecological systems in sustainable ways, all individuals have fair and reasonable access to environmental goods, and mechanisms exist to address environmental crises and conflicts.

Staff Commentary - a very good definition covering, in fact, interrelationships between environmental security and sustainable development, equity issues, and conflict resolution.

4. Environmental Security is a state of the target group, either individual, collective or national, being systematically protected from environmental risks caused by inappropriate ecological process due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design. Security in Chinese is "An- Quan," "An" means safe confidence and "Quan" is total or system. So environmental security, according to Chinese thinking, should be a kind of confidence of the target group in surrounding physical conditions of its safety and health (individual and ecosystem), wealth (economic and natural assets or stock), and social, national or global stability.

Staff Commentary - it is a good idea to bring in 'environmental risks,' but this definition does not explicitly consider "the security of the environment." It can be inferred from the idea of protecting from environmental risks, e.g. environmental risks may arise if there is no nature (environmental) conservation, such as conservation of biodiversity. Otherwise, this definition is excellent and succinct.

5. Environmental security is the relative public security from environmental dangers caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement, weak management (actor pursuing private benefit so as to translate public environment capital into private economic and social capital), or by design and originating within or across national borders.

Staff Commentary - It is overly limited to public security and fails to stress individual, community kinds of security. It is not explicit in regard to the existence of national, international and global kinds of security. In addition, the enumeration of human failures may be redundant.

6. Environmental security is the concept that social (and thus political and economic) stability controls, as is controlled by, the abundance and distribution of natural resources.

Staff Commentary - This could be improved by using the notion of "sufficiency" instead of distribution of "environmental resources" (such as the assimilating capacity or resilience of ecosystems, the water cleaning capacity of wetlands, carrying capacity, etc.). Yet, the understanding of sufficiencies are not universally accepted. Although the above is a clear conceptual statement, it is not a definition from which one could create policy.

7. Environmental security is the relative public safety from environmental dangers caused by natural causes, economic activity or military actions; it includes the amelioration of resource scarcities, environmental degradation and biological threats that could lead to conflict.

Staff Commentary - the word "Relative" brings in ambiguity.

8. Environmental security addresses the consequences of environmental degradation, broadly defined to include depletion or degradation of natural resources such as air, water, land; unwise development or land use practices that may contribute to societal, political or economic instability or conflict.

Staff Commentary - This avoids the idea that the environment can be the target of an aggressor to destabilize an opponent.

9. Public safety from environmental dangers and freedom from social instability due to environmental degradation.

Staff Commentary - Defining security in terms of safety can be misleading. In some languages - Russian is one - there is only one word for both 'security' and 'safety,' one can find the difference between them only in use. For example, Russian internal programs discuss 'environmental safety' issues, primarily as a response to the Chernobyl accident, in terms of environmentally safe factories and military activities. These discussions focus on factories and human activities being environmentally safe and sound, while 'environmental security' deals with adverse environmental impacts on humans and their societies, nation-states, and communities. When Gorbachev proposed his program of comprehensive security, the environment was treated in terms of environmental "safety," rather than security. Humans seek environmental safety in factories and environmental security in adverse changes in the environment (although, those changes may result from environmentally unsafe factories). Some view the above merely as a matter of semantics.

10. Elements of 2.1 & 2.2 of the initial definitions from the Round 1 Survey should be combined for a more complete definition.

11. Combine definitions 2.5. and 2.1 of the initial definitions from the Round 1 Survey to make: Environmental security is the freedom from social instability due to environmental degradation. It means the relative public safety from environmental dangers caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design and originating within or across national borders.

Staff Commentary - Environmental depletion and degradation are missing in this, otherwise good, definition. Something like "threats to human health" could be included after "social instability" and some sense of responses to environmental threats/risks could also be included.

2.3 Definitions of Governments and Regional Organizations:

1. The programmatic definition for the US Department of Defense Directive Number 4715.1 February 24, 1996 is: The environmental security program enhances readiness by institutionalizing the Department of Defense's environmental, safety, and occupational health awareness, making it an integral part of the Department's daily activities. Environmental Security is comprised of restoration, compliance, conservation, pollution prevention, environmental security technology, and international activities, which are explained, as follows:

a. Restoration is identification, evaluation, containment, treatment, and/or removal of contamination so that it no longer poses a threat to public health and the environment.

b. Compliance is meeting applicable statutory, Executive Order, and regulatory standards for all environmental security functions, including FGS or the Overseas Environmental Baseline Guidance Document, as appropriate.

c. Conservation is planned management, use, and protection; continued benefit for present and future generations; and prevention of exploitation, destruction, and/or neglect of natural and cultural resources.

d. Pollution prevention is source reduction as defined in 42 U.S.C 13101-13109 (reference (nn)), and other practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants through increased efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy, water, or other resources; or protection of natural resources by conservation.

e. Safety is a multifaceted program designed to prevent accidental loss of human and material resources; and protects the environment from the potentially damaging effect of DoD mishaps.

f. Occupational health protects personnel from health risks, and includes occupational medicine e, illness and injury tend analysis, epidemiology, occupational health nursing, industrial hygiene, and radiological health.

g. Fire and emergency services enhance combat capability by preserving life and DoD property through fire suppression, fire prevention, fire protection engineering, and emergency resources.

h. Explosives safety protects personnel, property, and military equipment from unnecessary exposure to the hazards associated with DoD ammunition and explosives; and protects the environment from potentially damaging effects of DoD ammunition and explosives.

i. Pest management is the prevention and control of disease vectors and pests that may adversely affect the DoD mission or military operations; the health and well-being of people; structures, material, or property.

j. Environmental security technology consists of research, development, tests and evaluation, and regulatory certification of innovative technologies responsive to user needs.

k. International environmental activities include bilateral or multilateral agreements, information exchanges, cooperative agreements, and specific actions, consistent with the responsibilities identified in subsection E.3, above, to bring DoD resources to bear on international military-related environmental matters or as otherwise appropriate in support of national defense policy interests.

The U.S. Department of State has not settled on one particular definition or single policy response to environmental security threats. Nonetheless, there is consensus that one effective policy response is environmental diplomacy, through which we advance U.S. interests bilaterally (e.g., Pacific Salmon, cross-border pollution between Mexico and the United States); regionally (e.g., freshwater, forest conservation); and globally (e.g., climate change, marine conservation, protection of biodiversity, toxic chemicals reduction and management).

2. Russian Federation: "Environmental security is protectedness of natural environment and vital interests of citizens, society, the state from internal and external impacts, adverse processes and trends in development that threaten human health, biodiversity and sustainable functioning of ecosystems, and survival of humankind. Environmental security is an integral part of Russia's national security." (as adopted at a meeting of the inter-agency commission on environmental security on October 13, 1994, ref. "Environmental security of Russia", issue 2, The Security Council of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 1996, p.55).

3. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) adopted an advisory legislative act "On Environmental Security" 1996 with the following definitions: "Environmental security is the state of protection of vital interests of the individual, society, natural environment from threats resulting from anthropogenic and natural impacts on the environment." "Environmental danger is the state posing a threat to vitally important interests of the individual, to society and the natural environment as a result of anthropogenic and natural impacts on it (natural environment). " Earlier, on November 29, 1992, an advisory legislative act "On Principles of Environmental security in the Commonwealth states" was adopted. More recently, on December 4, 1997, a decision was made to elaborate a convention on environmental security which is being developed.

4. NATO. The 1997 NATO science program priority areas included "scientific problems related to environmental security including the reclamation of contaminated military sites, regional environmental problems and natural and man-made disasters; affordable cleanup technologies are of particular interest.

5. Although not an official military definition, Conrad F. Newberry, U.S. Navel Postgraduate School and John H. Grubbs, U.S. Military Academy offer the following definition in their paper for the 1997 American Society for Engineering and Education: "the response to perceived internal or trans-boundary threats to either the quality-of-life of the inhabitants of a state or to a reduction in quality-of-life policy options available to either private or government entities within the state."

Millennium Project home page

Environmental Security Study - Table of Content