Environmental Ethics in the Military: Between Warfare and Ecosystem Protection

Environmental Ethics in the Military: Between Warfare and Ecosystem Protection

Marina Malamud (National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/IJT.2018070105
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Environmental security can be framed in environmental risks towards security, such as extreme climatic events that incite new conflicts in local populations, and the security impact on the environment as a result of human-induced damage to the ecosystem. As a result, the fact that climatic-related events can pose a threat to security and the environmental footprint can undermine peace has thus raised a concern in many militaries of democratic nations. This research article introduces the mainstream environmental security literature through the geopolitical, human security and biocentric perspectives and main social trends to analyze ethical issues in the relationship between ecology and the armed forces. It is argued that there are two major ethical challenges for the military: the securitization of the development agenda that can lead to a militarized conservation in conflict areas; and the search for a corporate sense of responsibility in terms of efficient and still ecologically sustainable operational systems that comply with international environmental agreements.
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The relationship between security and the natural environment is considered a combination of risks posed by catastrophic climatic events and human-induced damage on the environment that entail ex-post risks of emerging violence. This paradigm has emerged in the Mid-2000s to explain climate change as a destabilizing factor in already fragile countries by forcing migration and intensifying conflicts over natural resources (Boas & Rothe, 2016). In the following pages the three main perspectives of environmental security are discussed; second, some facts and figures are presented to illustrate key trends in the field; and finally, military ethical issues are analyzed. It is argued that these complexities remain as question marks for strategic planning, training and operations on the ground posing a new ethical challenge for the postmodern military.

The mainstream in the field argues that as a result of earth system science contributions some parameters of global security have changed so that human beings are more aware of the Anthropocene era and security has become a concern in terms of ecological considerations (Dalby, 2007, 156). In fact, the idea of an Anthropocene epoch itself enlarges the political scope into planetary politics by acknowledging the relationship between social and geophysical forces (Johnson & Morehouse, 2014, p. 448).

Nevertheless, the rise of a 21st Century environmental ethics can be divided into a theoretical and practical level. From a conceptual viewpoint, Avner De Shalit (2017, p.559) considers that there are two ways to conceptualize environmental ethics: the environmental awareness implies solutions and actions derived from an educational sphere and the environmental consciousness is focused in modifying political institutions. In the application of these environmental ethics, Pablo Iannone (2016, p. 17) argues that practical ethics operate both through an institutional scope (formulation of policies, practices, rules of conduct and evaluation) and a care-taking level that focuses in every-day decisions in the application of institutions, policies and rules (Iannone, 2016, p. 17). The ecological awareness in the military analyzed in the following pages considers the question of awareness from a practical level.

To begin with, some security hazards to the ecosystem and human health are threats caused by pollution, the unsustainable consumption of natural resources, armed conflicts, climatic disasters and a poor management of natural resources, particularly when controversies between countries have not been resolved (Mrema 2015, p.19). In that regard, there are at least three environmental security perspectives: geopolitical, anthropocentric and biocentric (Cuddworth & Hobden, 2011).

The first vision maintains that conflicts caused by soil erosion, climate change and other human-produced disturbance of the ecosystem impose an increasing risk of environmental conflicts (Gleditsch, 1998, p. 387). This state-centered idea focuses on territorial doctrines and national security approaches to environmental security complexities (Cuddworth & Hobden, 2011). The geopolitical paradigm points out that scarcity or abundance of resources and the risks posed by alterations on the environment increase the prospects for conflicts towards the control of renewable and non-renewable natural resources (Institute for Environmental Security, 2015; Klare, 2012; Le Billon, 2008).

There are also rising concerns regarding wildlife and forest crimes. The United Nations´ classification of environmental crimes points out the trade, export, consumption, processing or possession of wild flora and fauna in contravention of national or international law (UNODC 2014).This form of illegal exploitation of the flora and fauna undermines biodiversity and has become one of the largest transnational criminal activities because it commonly involves other types of criminality such as money laundering or fraud (UNODC, 2014).

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