24/02/2021 |

Report: Militarism and Environmental Crisis: A Necessary Reflection

This is a reproduction of the Executive Summary.
The full report can be found (in Spanish) at the website of Centre Delàs.

The environmental crisis, which includes a large number of interrelated phenomena at the planetary level, will be the great global problem of the 21st century. For decades, and guided by the absurd myth of unlimited growth that some defend, we have come to exceed the capacity of the Earth to generate resources, we have broken the ecological balances and we have been approaching a multiple point of no return. A point such that, if we pass it, we will disappear as a species. We know that global warming has gotten out of control, we see that the depredation of natural resources is advancing without any kind of regulation, new pandemics surprise us, but some, and especially the centres of power and large corporations, continue to prioritize short-term economic benefits for a few instead of the well-being of the majority of the people and the sustainability of the planet. We know that human activity facilitates pandemics, because deforestation and loss of biodiversity (extinction of species due to anthropogenic causes) favour the leap of pathogens from animals to people, in addition to contributing to global warming and the climate crisis. The global temperature continues to rise, with the annual average of deforested hectares exceeding 26 million, with proven effects on warming and on the spread of new viruses and epidemics. We face fast and unforeseen crises, such as global pandemics, which coexist with the climatic crisis, slow and almost imperceptible, but which can have devastating effects for our descendants. The current environmental crisis can easily turn into a complete planetary collapse.

According to a recent IPBES Report[1], developed by 150 international experts assisted by 350 contributing authors and drawn from the analysis of more than 15,000 scientific publications and from the study of local and indigenous knowledge, climate change is a direct driver that increasingly exacerbates the effects of other drivers on nature and human well-being:

 “On average, about 25% of the species of animal and plant groups assessed are threatened, so that around a million species are already in danger of extinction, many within a few decades, unless measures are taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss. If no action is taken, there will be a further acceleration in the rate of extinction of species around the world, an extinction that now is already tens, if not hundreds of times higher than the average of the last ten million years”.

The Report continues explaining that “current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress on 80% (35 out of 44) of the specific targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land”.

But we cannot speak about the Environmental Crisis without taking into account Military Spending and militarism. Because, as the Covid’2019 pandemic has shown, neither the national security model based on the security concept nor its militarized solutions, can solve the great problems that humanity has and will have, given that the environmental crisis is essentially global while security solutions, designed to defend the borders of nation-states, are useless in these cross-border challenges.

We need fewer soldiers, less military aircrafts and weapons, and instead we need more medical doctors, more hospitals, green energy and solutions to meet the needs and guarantee the rights of all people. For decades we have been wrong in setting our priorities. It is time to consider that military spending has absorbed a large amount of public resources, providing a false notion of security that has nothing to do with the needs of the majority of the population and with the right to have access to health care, education, energy justice, housing and quality of life, which would require sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions. And it is time to note that the military system is also one of the major contributors to emissions and global warming. Constructive solutions are needed for people and the planet, not destructive “solutions” based on imposition, curtailment of rights, violence and armed conflict. It is time, therefore, to demand a change in priorities and a transfer of resources, transferring military budget funds to items related to the construction of new security systems serving all people.

The main results of this report are, in relation to the privileges that require a depredation of resources:

  • The main arms exporting countries together represent 35.48% of the world’s population, accounting for a 82% of global military spending and being responsible for two thirds of the world’s CO2 emissions.
  • These countries generate 67.1% of the global CO2 emissions that cause global warming and concentrate the Centres of Power that effectively control more than 63,000 Transnational Corporations.
  • China, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea, Ukraine, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Canada, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Japan, add up to just over a third of the world’s population (35.48%), but they manufacture and export practically all the weapons made in the world, weapons that end up triggering conflicts and killing people, especially in the countries most affected by climate change.

In relation to the dominant system, militaristic power and armed conflicts:

  • Environmental degradation leads to a scarcity of resources that generates greater confrontations between population groups, thus increasing the possible outbreak of armed conflicts.
  • The inclusion of climate change as a relevant factor in NATO’s strategic plans is an indicator of the militarization of the climate, showing that it is in fact an opportunity to justify increases in military spending, nuclear deterrence strategy, and operations of the Allied military.
  • Recent security policy documents, both in Spain, the United States, the European Union and NATO, point to climate change as a relevant security element, as a “risk enhancer” or “threat multiplier”. However, approaching climate change as a security issue carries a clear risk: militarization.
  • The concept of climate wars eludes human responsibility in these wars, by claiming that the cause of these conflicts lies in uncontrollable climatic factors.
  • The 11 countries that are considered to be at the highest risk of humanitarian crises and natural disasters globally are Somalia, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Yemen, Niger, Burundi, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. All of them are currently immersed in armed conflicts.

In relation to the emissions and environmental damage caused by the military establishment:

  • Ecological degradation is inherent in the processes of militarization. As military expenditures increase, military environmental impacts are expected to increase.
  • All stages of the military economic cycle are related to specific damage to the environment, from the consumption of energy and resources necessary for normal military activity, testing and production of weapons as well as their transport, to post-conflict reconstruction, and even pollution caused by toxic waste, deforestation, loss of habitat, and ecosystems as a result of militarization and armed conflicts.
  • The most relevant sources of greenhouse gas emissions related to the military sector are emissions from military facilities and activities not directly related to war, emissions related to war in contingency operations abroad, emissions from the military industry, and emissions generated by attacks and oil targets.
  • The CO2 emissions of armies around the world are estimated to be between 5 and 6% of total carbon emissions.
  • US military spending is the highest in the world. The year 2019 was 732,000 million dollars; this is 38% of world military spending and more than double the sum of the military expenditures of Russia (65,100 million dollars) and China (261,000 million dollars). The US has the largest war machine in the world. The US military uses more oil and emits more GHGs than most mid-size countries.
  • If the US Department of Defence were a state, it would be the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. US military activity was responsible for the emission of 212 million tons of CO2e in 2017. These emissions are almost double the emissions of Belgium (114 million tons) or half of those of France (471 million) during the same year.

In relation to the violation of people’s rights:

  • There are militarized walls on the main migratory routes used by people fleeing climate crises. This implies that people displaced by environmental issues will have to face the militarized violence of the walls, and will have to change and lengthen their route to reach potential host countries, with the risks and costs that this implies.
  • Estimates for forced displacement due to climatic causes show that they will exceed 200 million people in 2050.
  • Of the ten countries most affected by the environmental crisis in 2018, four of them (Japan, Germany, India and Canada) are also in the ranking of the 15 most polluting countries in terms of carbon emissions in the same year. And in the ranking of these 15 most polluting countries, 4 of them (the United States, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa) have built walls that interfere with the migration routes of people displaced by environmental causes.
  • Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are three times more likely to experience violence and coercion than other human rights defenders (HRDs).
  • Out of the total HRDs defenders murders registered worldwide in 2018 (321 deaths), 77% were EHRDs, mostly linked to conflicts arising from the activity of extractive industries and macro-projects that had the support of the States.
  • In 2018, 164 environmental human rights activists were murdered, after protesting mainly against the extractive industry, the mining industry, dams, logging and agribusiness.
  • Latin America and Asia-Pacific are the regions that account for the highest number of murders of defenders, and indigenous groups are the main victims of these murders.

In relation to the necessary ecological transition from a perspective of peace:

  • The ecological transition necessarily requires disarmament and demilitarization processes: reduction of world military spending, conversion of the arms industry into a renewable energy industry, and dismantling of the nuclear arsenal.
  • It is necessary to build peace from an environmental peace approach, that is, addressing the environmental crisis from the study of violence (direct, structural and cultural) committed on nature and people.
  • In a context of climate transformation, security will be impossible without climate justice. In this sense, the proposals for an ecological transition must necessarily incorporate a rigorous study of current military spending, of arms production and trade, and of the priorities to redistribute the budgetary expenditures of the countries, in order to move from approaches based in the concept of military national security to an approach based on the needs and social rights of all people.
  • In the same way that long-term security cannot exist without social justice, human security must be put at the centre. The solution to the environmental crisis requires international demilitarization and disarmament.

In this context, we believe that it is necessary to bet on an ethic centred on all people and on the planet, overcoming this patriarchal, capitalist and militaristic model that is destroying the environment and people’s lives, and beginning to think in terms of ecological balance, of the rights of all people and in terms of care. It is essential that both the fight against the environmental crisis and the ecological transition incorporate and require the reduction of world military expenditures and the transfer of these funds to finance security policies for peace. It is essential to change the security paradigm, and to move from militarized security to human security.

This infographic was produced along with the report. Download it in high quality here.

[1] IPBES (2020):  “The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, Georgina M. Mace & Harold Mooney, Eds. – Available at:  https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf  (last visit, February 7, 2021).