The fact that the military may play humanitarian roles does not mean it is the best institution for this task. Some military leaders oppose armed forces involvement in humanitarian efforts believing it distracts from preparations for war. Even if they embrace the role, there are dangers of the military moving into humanitarian responses, particularly in conflict situations or where humanitarian responses coincide with military strategic objectives. As US foreign policy expert Erik Battenberg openly admits in the congressional magazine, the Hill that ‘military-led disaster relief is not only a humanitarian imperative – it can also serve a larger strategic imperative as a part of U.S. foreign policy’.
13. How are arms and security companies seeking to profit from the climate crisis?
The industry is profiting in different ways. First, it is seeking to cash in on attempts by the major military forces to develop new technologies that do not rely on fossil fuels and which are resilient to the impacts of climate change. For example, in 2010, Boeing won a $89 million contract from the Pentagon to develop the so-called ‘SolarEagle’ drone, with QinetiQ and the Centre for Advanced Electrical Drives from the University of Newcastle in the UK to build the actual plane – which has the advantage of both being seen as a ‘green’ technology and also the capacity to stay aloft longer as it does not have to refuel. Lockheed Martin in the US is working with Ocean Aero to make solar powered submarines
. Like most TNCs, arms companies are also keen to promote their efforts to reduce environmental impact, at least according to their annual reports. Given the environmental devastation of conflict, their greenwashing becomes surreal at points with the Pentagon in 2013 investing $5 million to develop lead-free bullets
that in the words of a US army spokesperson ‘can kill you or that you can shoot a target with and that’s not an environmental hazard’.
Second, it anticipates new contracts due to governments’ increased budgets in anticipation of future insecurity arising from the climate crisis. This boost sales of arms, border and surveillance equipment, policing and homeland security products. In 2011, the second Energy Environmental Defence and Security (E2DS) conference in Washington, DC, was jubilant about the potential business opportunity of expanding the defence industry into environmental markets, claiming that they were eight times the size of the defence market, and that ‘the aerospace, defence and security sector is gearing up to address what looks set to become its most significant adjacent market since the strong emergence of the civil/homeland security business almost a decade ago’. Lockheed Martin in its 2018 sustainability report heralds the opportunities
, saying ‘the private sector also has a role in responding to geopolitical instability and events that can threaten economies and societies’.
14. What is the impact of climate security narratives internally and on policing?
National security visions are never just about external threats, they are also about internal threats
, including to key economic interests. The British Security Service Act of 1989, for example, is explicit in mandating the security service the function of ʻsafeguard[ing] the economic well-beingʼ of the nation; the US National Security Education Act of 1991 similarly makes direct links between national security and the ʻeconomic well-being of the United States’. This process accelerated after 9/11 when the police were seen as the first line of homeland defence.
This has been interpreted to mean the management of civic unrest and preparedness for any instability, in which climate change is seen as a new factor. It has therefore been another driver for increased funding for security services from policing to prisons to border guards. This has been subsumed under a new mantra of ‘crisis management’ and ‘inter-operability’, with attempts to better integrate state agencies involved in security such as public order and ‘social unrest’ (the police), ‘situational awareness’ (intelligence gathering), resilience/preparedness (civil planning) and emergency response (including first responders, counter-terrorism; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence; critical infrastructure protection, military planning, and so on) under new ‘command-and-control’ structures.
Given that this has been accompanied by an increased militarisation of internal security forces, this has meant that coercive force is increasingly aiming inwards as much as outwards. In the US, for example, the Department of Defense has transferred over $1.6 billion worth of surplus military equipment
to departments across the country since 9/11, through its 1033 programme. The equipment includes more than 1,114 mine-resistant, armoured-protective vehicles, or MRAPs. Police forces have also bought increasing amounts of surveillance equipment including drones, surveillance planes
, cellphone-tracking technology
The militarisation plays out in the response of police. SWAT raids by the police in the US have rocketed from 3000 a year in the 1980s to 80,000 a year in 2015
, mostly for drug searches and disproportionately targeted people of colour
. Worldwide, as explored earlier police and private security firms are often involved in repressing and killing environmental activists. The fact that militarisation increasingly targets climate and environmental activists, dedicated to stopping climate change, underlines how security solutions not only fail to tackle the underlying causes but may deepen the climate crisis.
This militarisation seeps into emergency responses too. The Department of Homeland Security funding for ‘terrorism preparedness’ in 2020
allows the same funds to be used for ‘enhanced preparedness for other hazards unrelated to acts of terrorism’. The European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection (EPCIP)
also subsumes its strategy for protecting infrastructure from the impacts of climate change under a ‘counter-terrorism’ framework. Since the early 2000s, many wealthy nations have passed emergency power acts that could be deployed in the event of climate disasters and which are wide-ranging and limited in democratic accountability. The 2004 UK’s Civil Contingencies Act 2004, for example defines an ‘emergency’ as any ‘event or situation’ which ‘threatens serious damage to human welfare’ or ‘to the environment’ of ‘a place in the UK’. It allows ministers to introduce ‘emergency regulations’ of virtually unlimited scope without recourse to parliament – including allowing the state to prohibit assemblies, ban travel, and outlaw ‘other specified activities’.
15. How is the climate security agenda shaping other arenas such as food and water?
The language and framework of security have seeped into every area of political, economic and social life, in particular in relation to the governance of key natural resources such as water, food and energy. Like with climate security, the language of resource security is deployed with different meanings but has similar pitfalls. It is driven by the sense that climate change will increase vulnerability of access to these critical resources and that providing ‘security’ is therefore paramount.
There is certainly strong evidence that access to food and water will be affected by climate change. The IPCC’s 2019 special report on Climate Change and Land
predicts an increase of up 183 million additional people at risk of hunger by 2050 due to climate change. The Global Water Institute
predicts 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. Much of this will take place in tropical low-income countries that will be most affected by climate change.
However, it is noticeable that many prominent actors warning of food, water or energy ‘insecurity’ articulate similar nationalistic, militaristic and corporate logics
that dominate debates on climate security. Security advocates assume scarcity and warn of the dangers of national shortages, and often promote market-led corporate solutions and sometimes defend the use of military to guarantee security. Their solutions to insecurity follow a standard recipe focused on maximising supply– expand production, encourage more private investment and use new technologies to overcome obstacles. In the area of food, for example, this has led to the emergence of Climate-Smart Agriculture focused on increasing crop yields in the context of changing temperatures, being introduced through alliances like AGRA, in which major agroindustry corporations play a leading role. In terms of water, it has fuelled the financialisation and privatisation of water, in the belief that the market is best placed to manage scarcity and disruption.
In the process, existing injustices in energy, food and water systems are ignored, not learnt from. Today’s lack of access to food and water is less a function of scarcity, and more a result of the way that corporate-dominated food, water and energy systems prioritise profit over access. This system has allowed overconsumption, ecologically damaging systems, and wasteful global supply chains controlled by a small handful of companies serving the needs of a few and denying access completely to the majority. In a time of climate crisis, this structural injustice will not be resolved by increased supply as that will merely widen the injustice. Just four companies ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus for example control 75–90 per cent of the global grain trade. Yet not only does a corporate-led food system despite massive profits fail to address hunger affecting 680 million, it is also one of the biggest contributors to emissions, now making up between 21-37% of total GHG emissions.
The failures of a corporate-led vision of security has led many citizens’ movements on food and water to call for food, water and sovereignty, democracy and justice in order to address head-on the issues of equity that are needed to ensure equal access to key resources, particularly at a time of climate instability. Movements for food sovereignty, for example, are calling for the right of peoples to produce, distribute and consume safe, healthy and culturally appropriate food in sustainable ways in and near their territory – all issues ignored by the term ‘food security’ and largely antithetical to a global agroindustry’s drive for profits.
16. Can we rescue the word security?
Security will of course be something that many will call for as it reflects the universal desire to look after and protect the things that matter. For most people, security means having a decent job, having a place to live, having access to healthcare and education, and feeling safe. It is therefore easy to understand why civil society groups have been reluctant to let go of the word ‘security’, seeking instead to broaden its definition to include and prioritise real threats
to human and ecological wellbeing. It is also understandable at a time when almost no politicians are responding to the climate crisis with the seriousness it deserves, that environmentalists will seek to find new frames and new allies to try and secure necessary action. If we could replace a militarised interpretation of security with a people-centred vision of human security this would certainly be a major advance.
There are groups attempting to do this such as the UK Rethinking Security
initiative, the Rosa Luxemburg Institute and its work on visions of a left security. TNI has also done some work on this, articulating an alternative strategy to the war on terror
. However it is difficult terrain given the context of stark power imbalances worldwide. The blurring of meaning around security thus often serves the interests of the powerful, with a state-centred militaristic and corporate interpretation winning out over other visions such as human and ecological security. As International Relations professor Ole Weaver puts it, ‘in naming a certain development a security problem, the “state” can claim a special right, one that will, in the final instance, always be defined by the state and its elites’.
Or, as anti-security scholar Mark Neocleous argues, ‘Securitizing questions of social and political power has the debilitating effect of allowing the state to subsume genuinely political action concerning the issues in question, consolidating the power of the existing forms of social domination, and justifying the short-circuiting of even the most minimal liberal democratic procedures. Rather than securitizing issues, then, we should be looking for ways to politicize them in non-security ways. It is worth remembering that one meaning of “secure” is “unable to escape”: we should avoid thinking about state power and private property through categories which may render us unable to escape them’. In other words, there is a strong argument to leave security frameworks behind and embrace approaches that provide lasting just solutions to the climate crisis.
See also: Neocleous, M. and Rigakos, G.S. eds., 2011. Anti-security. Red Quill Books.
17. What are the alternatives to climate security?
It is clear that without change, the impacts of climate change will be shaped by the same dynamics which caused the climate crisis in the first place: concentrated corporate power and impunity, a bloated military, an increasingly repressive security state, rising poverty and inequality, weakening forms of democracy and political ideologies that reward greed, individualism and consumerism. If these continue to dominate policy, the impacts of climate change will be equally inequitable and unjust. In order to provide security for everyone in the current climate crisis, and especially the most vulnerable, it would be wise to confront rather than strengthen those forces. This is why many social movements refer to climate justice rather than climate security, because what is required is systemic transformation – not merely securing an unjust reality to continue into the future.
Most of all, justice would require an urgent and comprehensive programme of emission reductions by the richest and most-polluting countries along the lines of a Green New Deal or an Eco-Social Pact, one that recognises the climate debt that they owe to the countries and communities of the Global South. It would require a major redistribution of wealth at national and international levels and a prioritisation of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The paltry climate finance the richest nations have pledged (and yet to deliver) to low- and middle-income countries is completely inadequate to the task. Money diverted from the current $1,981 billion global expenditure on the military
would be a first good step towards a more solidarity-based response to the impacts of climate change. Similarly, a tax on offshore corporate profits could raise $200–$600 billion a year
towards supporting vulnerable communities most affected by climate change.
Beyond redistribution, we need fundamentally to start tackling the weak points in the global economic order that could make communities particularly vulnerable during escalating climate instability. Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty
suggest seven key characteristics that make a community a ‘resilient’ one: diversity, social capital, healthy ecosystems, innovation, collaboration, regular systems for feedback, and modularity (the latter means designing a system where if one thing breaks, it doesn’t affect everything else). Other research has shown that the most equitable societies are also much more resilient during times of crisis. All of this points to the need to seek fundamental transformations of the current globalised economy.
Climate justice requires putting those who will be most affected by climate instability at the forefront and leadership of solutions. This is not just about ensuring that solutions work for them, but also because many marginalised communities already have some of the answers to the crisis facing us all. Peasant movements, for example, through their agroecological methods are not only practising systems of food production that are proven to be more resilient than agroindustry to climate change, they are also storing more carbon in the soil, and building the communities that can stand together in difficult times.
This will require a democratisation of decision-making and the emergence of new forms of sovereignty that would necessarily require a reduction in power and control of the military and corporations and an increase in power and accountability towards citizens and communities.
Finally, climate justice demands an approach centered around peaceful and non-violent forms of conflict resolution. Climate security plans feed off narratives of fear and a zero-sum world where only a certain group can survive. They assume conflict. Climate justice looks instead to solutions that allow us to collectively thrive, where conflicts are resolved non-violently, and the most vulnerable protected.
In all of this, we can draw on hope that throughout history, catastrophes have often brought out the best in people, creating mini, ephemeral utopian societies built on precisely the solidarity, democracy and accountability that neoliberalism and authoritarianism have stripped from contemporary political systems. Rebecca Solnit has catalogued this in Paradise in Hell
in which she examined five major disasters in depth, from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to the 2005 flooding of New Orleans. She notes that while such events are never good in themselves, they also can ‘reveal what else the world could be like – reveals the strength of that hope, that generosity and that solidarity. It reveals mutual aid as a default operating principle and civil society as something waiting in the wings when it’s absent from the stage’.
See also: For more on all these subjects, buy the book: N. Buxton and B. Hayes (Eds.) (2015) The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World. Pluto Press and TNI.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Simon Dalby, Tamara Lorincz, Josephine Valeske, Niamh Ní Bhriain, Wendela de Vries, Deborah Eade, Ben Hayes.
Nick Buxton is an experienced communications consultant and works as a publications editor and future labs coordinator for TNI. He works actively on issues of border politics, climate change, militarism and economic justice and was co-editor of The Secure and the Dispossessed – How the military and corporations are seeking to shape a climate-changed world (Pluto Press, 2015). He is founder and chief editor of TNI’s flagship annual publication, State of Power. His published work includes “Politics of debt” in Dignity and Defiance: Bolivia’s challenge to globalisation (University of California Press/Merlin Press UK, January 2009) and “Debt Cancellation and Civil society” in Fighting for Human Rights (Routledge, 2004). A dual US-UK citizen, he is currently based in Wales but has also lived for a number of years in California, Bolivia, Pakistan and India.