“Poverty, disease and environmental decline are the true axis of evil,” according to Christopher Flavin, head of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. Speaking January 12 at the National Press Club, Flavin presented a global security agenda as described in the newly released State of the World 2005: Redefining Global Security.
Unless the world takes action to improve economic and environmental conditions around the world, security officials will face an uphill battle in dealing with the many consequences of vulnerable societies — from wars and terrorism to heightened impacts from natural disasters.
This year’s State of the World takes on this “true axis of evil” with a range of arguments on how environment, health, and demography constitute a global security agenda.Book co-editor Michael Renner, and Worldwatch itself, are long-time players in the debates over environment’s place in security. In fact Worldwatch founder Lester Brown was one of the earliest calling for “Redefining National Security” in a 1977 Worldwatch monograph. So Michael is qualified to pen the intro chapter, “Security Redefined.” Those who remember Jessica Mathews and Norman Myers calling for a redefinition of security in 1989 in Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy will hear familiar echoes. But Michael brings these arguments forward to today’s precarious security context and integrates some of the analytical improvements made in environment security studies over the past 15 years.
It should be said I am not a dispassionate observer on this book. For the first time, Worldwatch included outside contributors and I co-authored a chapter on environmental peacemaking and a chapter on water conflict and cooperation. Both chapters attempt to turn up the volume on the cooperative and peace-building potential of environmental issues. Environmental security discussions have historically focused heavily on environmental scarcity (water/arable land/fish) or natural resource abundance (forests) as contributing causes of violence. Too little attention, either research or policy, has been devoted to understanding and pursuing environmental pathways to peace.
Lots of other things to like in the book. Check out the work Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish Minister of Environment, is doing with his UNEP Post Conflict Assessment Unit. He even has the Iraqis and Iranians talking through plans for restoring the Mesopotamian Marshlands that Saddam drained. Those who are more demographically inclined can get the skinny on population and security connections from Mr. Security Demographic, Richard Cincotta of Population Action International.