Over the past 30 years, environmental security concepts have evolved. The concept of environmental security, once a sub-field within Security and Peace Studies that focused on how environmental issues relate to modern security theories and policies is now rapidly merging with security and environmental sectors. The center of these merging fields is Dimitrios Kantemnidis, a former Greek Naval Officer in Hellenic Navy. His military background provides insight into the growing environmental security risks and possible responses for civilians and military actors.
Kantemnidis, a career Naval Officer was well-versed on how environmental phenomena can affect the success of military operations. Kantemnidis also witnessed the environmental impact that military exercises can have on the environment through mass consumption of fossil fuels, anti-submarine exercises and weapons testing. Kantemnidis is a Fellow at the European Doctoral School at The European Security and Defense College and studies the integration of environmental security by EU actors. Kantemnidis shared his thoughts on security and environment developments in NATO and the European Union in a recent interview.
Are there different actors able to agree on what Environmental Security means?
Dimitrios Kantemnidis (DK):The subject has been the subject of academic debate. Environmental securityTwo reasons. The first is that there is not a consensus on the definition of security. Different actors use it for different purposes. For example, the United Nations uses concepts such as human security. Governments are interested in national security. The European Union is concerned with the security of its citizens. Different actors have different perspectives about security.
Second, there are many sources of environmental risk and many resilience options for different stakeholders. California has different impacts from Ethiopia on water scarcity than California. Climate change’s effects on sea level rise have different impacts on Tuvalu, a small island in the Pacific, and Pakistan than on Russia or Denmark. Some environmental problems are of immediate security concern to certain countries, while others face different threats, making it difficult for countries to decide on priorities.
What are the similarities between civilian and military approaches in environmental security?
DK:Both military and civilian approaches to protecting the environment recognize climate change as a significant trend that must be addressed immediately and globally. Major security agencies and civil institutions warn that climate change could disrupt peace and stability at all levels. We often see environmental reports from civilian institutions like think-tanks, nongovernmental organisations, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warn us about the potential impact of climate change on human security.
There are also security actors like the UN Security Council and NATO, the European Defense Agency and the EU Military Committee that conduct analyses on environmental degradation, climate change and resource scarcity. The debate about the environmental risks posed to military operations and the potential risks to individuals by short-term and long-term changes in the environment began in academia. It has now spread to security institutions.
What are the differences in military and civilian approaches for environmental security?
DK: There are many differences between civilian and military approaches to environmental security. The debate over the environmental risk posed by military operations as well as the risks to individuals from short- and longer-term environmental changes began in academia. Security institutions have now taken up the cause.
The role and function of military institutions are to protect citizens first from military threats and second from indirectly threatening ones such as those that affect the environment. For example: NATO’s mandateIt is clear that there will be a conflict between operational imperatives Environmental Protection principlesand policies, the operational imperatives are going to prevail. Both civilian and military entities recognize the importance of differences. Environment and security communities must have mutual understanding, shared meetings, conferences, research efforts, and mutual understanding in order to work together.
Why is it important to discuss security and environmental threats together, rather than separately?
DK: First, from an environmental standpoint, it is important that security actors’ objectives are met with as little environmental impact as possible. Military exercises can be avoided if scientific knowledge is used to protect the environment.
Second, the ability to predict changes in the environment by a number of security agencies may have a significant effect on strategic planning. On an operational level, armed force need to be more environmentally resilient, lessen their environmental footprint, gain energy autonomy, and operate in remote locations. The security community could learn from the environmental community in all these dimensions.
Realizing that security and the environment are interconnected, we can design interdisciplinarity studies that will benefit both.
How can NATO and EU leaders prepare for environmental security threats in a proactive manner?
DKTo achieve the environmental security objective, it requires sustained and broad leadership support by NATO agencies and EU institutions. Politicians and policymakers at the highest levels can play a crucial role in maintaining the basic consensus expressed by the United Nations over two decades and translating it into concrete commitments and ownership among Member States. Leaders in NATO and the EU must incorporate their understanding of environmental hazards into all aspects, including diplomacy and defense.
Alexis EberleinVoinovich Scholar. She is currently working in the Dabelko Research Group at Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. She is a honors student in Political Science at the Honors Tutorial College, and a Charles R. & Lizabeth K. Emrick Cutler scholar.
Sources:Podcast from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Policy People
Photo Credit:abac, Serbia: To protect the city from flooding, people used sandbags.. Thanks to Marko Zamurovic, Shutterstock.com.