Controversies in Military Ethics & Security Policy
Why We Need a Green and More Comprehensive International Security and Defence Policy
New security challenges and traditional response mechanisms
In Western democracies, the overall objective of security and defence policy aims to protect the nation state and its citizens from the full spectrum of security risks and threats. Typically, this includes assurance of territorial integrity and of national sovereignty, but also encompasses a wide spectrum of risk mitigation and threat prevention, comprising i.a. readiness, preparedness and resilience.
That was the main objective behind the creation of NATO and has helped allies of the North Atlantic Area to cooperate in defence matters and align their capabilities around a same objective. Thanks to the principle of collective defence enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, we have been enjoying peace and security for over seven decades.
The European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy, follows a similar principle of defence solidarity and aims for increasing cooperation among EU Member States, thereby gradually building a Union capable of defending its values and interests in a globalized world.
The underlying capabilities, strategies and military doctrines representing the firepower of both organizations have however so far largely been used to respond to one major threat, namely a potential aggression by Russia. Rising tensions with Russia in the aftermath of the Crimea annexation in 2014 have contributed to further cementing this view and kept NATO’s Strategic Concept largely focused on traditional deterrence and defence on the eastern flank.
The world has however changed dramatically over the past 30 years: the rise of new and more assertive (super)powers and the arrival of agile non-state actors have increasingly influenced international security debates. Furthermore, new technologies, such as the internet, social media and the increasing digitization and interconnectivity of our supply chains, economies and societies have revealed new vulnerabilities. In addition, new and steadily growing risks and threats are arising from human made impacts on the world’s ecosystems.
Climate change and its effects
Although human beings are not the most populous species to inhabit planet Earth, our footprint on this planet is by far the largest and has only been increasing since the industrial revolution. Due to a productivist and largely fossil fuel-based economic system with an enormous hunger for natural resources, such as food, timber and land, humanity's ecological footprint is now almost 60% higher than what the world’s ecosystems can renew.1 The effects of such a massive ecological overshoot manifest as climate change, biodiversity loss, stress on freshwater, deforestation and loss of fertile land and soils.
Climate change may be the most prominent impact of overshoot. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the atmosphere currently contains the greenhouse gas equivalent of 500 ppm CO2 equivalent.2 In contrast, according to the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 450 ppm CO2 equivalent is the threshold beyond which we have less than a 66% chance to cap global warming at 2°C.3
In 2018, the IPCC issued an alarming special report on the impacts of a global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. It stated that at 2°C of global warming, greater proportions of people would be exposed to risks across the food, water and energy sectors, which could create new and exacerbate current hazards, exposures, and vulnerabilities. Small island states, arid and semi-arid regions as well as economically disadvantaged populations are particularly vulnerable and may even face existential threats.4
Extreme weather events are a security risk
If left unchecked, a global temperature rise of 1.5 to 2˚C over the next three decades will produce more frequent and extreme weather events leading to natural disasters, such as severe heat and drought, more powerful and destructive storms and floods, and rapidly spreading health risks. Those can further fuel instability, such as food and water scarcity, disaster-related human displacement and the disruption of production and supply chains, threatening peace and security across the world, often with a greater impact on the most vulnerable populations and posing major humanitarian challenges.
Thus, in its 2020 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum ranks “extreme weather” as number one of the top ten global risks in terms of likelihood to occur.5
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reports that, since 2008, natural hazards – many of them linked to climate change – have forcibly displaced approximately 265 million people6, more than three times as many as those displaced by conflict and violence. In 2019 alone, 24.9 million people were reported as internally displaced as a result of weather-related disasters.7
The international security community has thus a responsibility to prepare for and mitigate the risks and impacts related to climate change-induced extreme weather events. In many countries, military forces already support civilian first responders to natural disasters and the disaster risk management community. This role is likely to increase with growing security risks and occurrence of such disasters.8
Climate change, decreasing natural resources and the risk of conflict
More and more evidence has also shown the implications of climate change for peace and security. The most immediate effects of climate change occur in terms of internal conflicts, particularly in institutionally fragile contexts.9 According to the Climate Security Expert Network, 70% of the countries most affected by climate-related security issues belong to the top quartile of most fragile ones.10 In many parts of the world, and particularly in the EU neighbourhood, these often present as tensions or conflicts around the access to natural resources, such as fertile agricultural and pasture lands and/or water resources.
Acute droughts between 2007 and 2010 in Syria resulted in a reduction of the GDP of rural regions by 40% on average. As a result, many considerably impoverished rural populations emigrated to the cities, contributing to unemployment and extra pressure on public services. Perceived or real feelings of grievance led to popular uprisings and subsequent political upheavals.
In the Sahel region, erratic rainfall and prolonged periods of drought greatly contribute to a decline of the fertility and productivity of agricultural and pastoral lands, while population densities continue to increase substantially. This situation has not only exacerbated land overuse (further reducing its fertility), but has also multiplied tensions and conflicts around the access and the tenure of agricultural and pastoral lands, which are in most cases are still governed by, nowadays totally overburdened and ineffective, informal land tenure systems.
As a result, the number of violent conflicts, in particular between sedentary agricultural communities and nomadic or semi-nomadic communities have greatly increased and, in 2019, the number of victims of inter-community violence exceeded those linked to terrorist attacks. The creation of self-defence militias by several ethnic communities to defend what they consider to be “their” lands risks to further exacerbate tensions and conflicts.
Concurring observations report that jihadist circles systematically target the recruitment of young combatants at communities feeling most neglected by public institutions. In the Sahel region, targets would mainly include members of nomadic or semi-nomadic herder communities, often of Islamic belief, and, by virtue of their nomadic lifestyle, less territorially anchored and politically less well represented. In the Middle East, jihadist recruits often belong to fringes of rural populations strongly affected by recurrent droughts who feel let down by the lack of response of public institutions to provide support.11
While the effect of climate change on armed conflict within states has been modest so far, it is expected to rise with rising global temperatures.12 Careful modelling suggests that changing climate patterns could lead to a 50% increase in conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. This would result in several hundred thousand additional deaths and the displacement of millions as well as contribute to transnational terrorism and mass migration.13
Apart from the Sahel region and the Middle East, similar impacts of climate change on natural resources and intra-state conflict have been described from Bangladesh14, Darfur15 and Colombia16.
Whilst climate change is certainly not the only cause of the aforementioned conflicts, it nevertheless exacerbates the causes of conflict and is considered by experts as a "multiplier of risks and threats". Thus, the International Crisis Group included it in its list of “Ten conflicts to watch in 2021”, describing it as “an accelerating phenomenon with an increasingly discernible impact on conflict”.17
It is therefore imperative that risks arising from climate change as well as from institutional failure be systematically integrated into our security assessments as well as in our development, security and defence policies.
Climate change affects military readiness
In its 2020 World Climate and Security Report, the International Military Council on Climate and Security describes the effects of climate change on military infrastructure, force readiness, military operations and the broader security environment. Thus, NATO deployments in the Middle Eastern region have experienced a degradation of force readiness due to water scarcity and extreme heat impacts on base infrastructure and operations. NATO military installations along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts are facing rising sea levels and increased flooding that further impact systems, personnel, and force readiness.18
The United States’ Department of Defense published a study in January 2019 stating that the majority of U.S. military installations are at risk, with 53 of its 79 bases being at risk of flooding, 43 of drought and 36 of wildfires.
When hurricane “Michael” hit Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in 2018, 95% of the base’s buildings were either severely damaged or destroyed. The installation was also home to one-third of the Air Force’s pricey fleet of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters with 17 of them being damaged. The cost of all these repairs was almost $5 billion. No enemy attack on U.S. bases in Iraq or Afghanistan has ever caused that much damage.19
Potential second-order effects of climate adaptation and mitigation
As climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies emerge, it seems already clear that even a gradual transition from a hydrocarbon-based economy to one based on renewable energy will not only drastically improve our energy bills, but also have an enormous economic impact on oil and gas exporting countries. A resulting decrease of their relative economic and geopolitical weight could not only reduce some ongoing tensions, but may also be a source of future instability, which we ought to start anticipating and preparing for.
At the same time, we may see a new geopolitical competition, particularly around scarce mineral resources required in the green transition and thus highly sought after. This growing vulnerability needs to be addressed by promoting and implementing viable business models of circular economy in all industrial sectors as well as defence, allowing for a reuse of components, materials and resources, and by establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with countries exporting such resources.
The Defence sector’s ecological footprint and how to reduce it
Global security and defence are not only affected by, but also contribute to global warming. In a recent study, the 2019 carbon footprint of the EU Defence sector, including both national armed forces and military technology industries based in the EU, was conservatively estimated at approximately 24.8 million tCO2eq.20 This exceeds the total emissions of a country like Croatia and is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of about 14 million average cars21. With efforts underway to further increase defence capabilities, this figure is likely to rise further, unless less carbon-intensive energy sources are used.
According to the European Defence Agency, transport fuels accounted for 52% of the energy consumption of 22 Member States (96,9% of EDA Member States’ overall defence expenditure) in 2016 and 2017.22
Military infrastructure and buildings are another large consumer of energy. According to the same EDA survey, in 2017, heating alone accounted on average for 32% of Member States armed forces’ energy consumption and 75% of it was generated by oil fuels and natural gas.23
Despite its high dependency on fossil fuels, the defence sector has so far never been part of any international agreement aiming to reducing carbon emissions. While the 1997 Kyoto Protocol explicitly excludes Defence – considered an essential sovereign domain – from any mitigation obligations, it is not mentioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement, leaving it to national governments whether to include mitigation efforts of Defence into their national commitments towards the UNFCCC.
Even though there have been some attempts to “green” certain aspects of military operations by increasing renewable electricity generation on bases or relying on e-vehicles for civilian duties, Defence remains the single largest institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world. Moreover, given the long life cycle of military aircraft, warships and other vehicles, Defence has locked itself into a hydrocarbon-based dependency for many years to come.
This is why it is imperative to start now by investing massively into research and development of carbon neutral fuels and propulsion systems for military vehicles on land, sea and air. Given the dual nature of such investments, they could also have some positive spill-over effects to the civilian sector, in particular for the ailing civil aviation industry, looking for less energy intensive and more cost-effective business models after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reducing emissions from heating buildings is a lower hanging fruit, as technology for improving the energy efficiency and the carbon footprint of buildings already exists. Large-scale renovations and refurbishments of military buildings would also contribute to upgrading military infrastructure with the latest digital technologies and create a better working environment for the staff. A feasibility study for a renovation and extension project of the Luxembourg Army headquarters projects a reduction of 78% of current carbon emissions from heating, despite a 25% increase in the ground surface of said buildings.
The EU is an internationally recognized leader on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change. This leadership should also include the Defence sector!
Therefore, we should urgently consider:
systematically mapping our emissions in order to address the current lack of reliable and internationally comparable data on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the Defence sector;
building on existing “green” defence initiatives in EU Member States and at the EDA to leverage and mainstream experience and best practices of carbon mitigation pilot projects into policies and operational procedures;
significantly increasing investments into a “green” defence, in particular by dedicating a specific share of Defence funding to R&D for carbon neutral fuels and propulsion systems for military aircraft, ships and other vehicles;
exploring the setting of voluntary targets to reduce the carbon intensity of military emissions;
adopting a political pledge as like-minded countries to commit our respective militaries to work towards zero carbon emissions by 2050. Such a “European Climate and Security Pledge” could be officially announced at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November this year;
seeking active cooperation and joint implementation of common initiatives together with other partners and actors in the security and defence sector, such as the UN and NATO.
The European Defence sector will have all to gain from implementing such measures, as green defence contributes to improving the effectiveness of our Armed forces. More energy efficient and carbon neutral infrastructures and technologies will significantly reduce energy bills and our external dependence on energy supply. Less fuel-intensive and fossil fuel-independent vehicles in operational theatres will also significantly decrease the logistical burden, increase operational resilience and save lives, as fuel transports are easy targets for attacks. Increased joint investments into carbon neutral fuels and propulsion systems will further promote interoperability.
Towards a more comprehensive security and defence policy
Increasing non-traditional security risks and threats arising from new technologies and global warming compel us to revisit our current security and defence policies to ensure that we are adequately prepared for the future and able to guarantee our long-term security.
The COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown us that a 21st century understanding of security needs to include non-traditional risks and threats, such as climate change, into a broader and more comprehensive concept of security in our foreign, security and defence policies.
As Ambassador Ischinger rightly put it: “Adapting our definition of national and international security is so important, because it decisively influences the way we allocate our resources. Our collective lack of pandemic preparedness—despite ample warnings—has highlighted this fact in the most painful manner”.24
A revised, broader and more comprehensive security concept encompasses current and future security risks and threats arising from hybrid, cyber and emerging technologies as well as from global environmental degradation, such as climate change, desertification and biodiversity loss.
Risks and threats arising from these “novel” threats need to be adequately assessed, mitigated and prepared for. Given the multitude of tensions and conflicts around natural resources, under pressure due to climate change, reinforced intelligence cooperation between partners and allies is key. Early warning and strategic foresight need to be given more emphasis and means, to prepare for early action and, if possible, to prevent conflicts from breaking out or worsening. Ex-ante mediation and peacekeeping efforts as well as governance support and resilience building prior to the outbreak of potential conflicts will need to become central elements of our future security and defence policies.
Given that these are not necessarily traditional areas of armed forces’ expertise, cooperation with civilian mediators and peacekeeping actors is essential to ensure that effective threat prevention becomes a stronger element in our future defence strategies, doctrines, capability developments and trainings. Moreover, a future-proof security and defence policy ought to contribute much more to resilience building efforts within a whole-of-government approach and with a specific attention to the situation of women, children and vulnerable groups.
While welcoming the fact that contemporary UN peacekeeping missions have become more multidimensional, we recommend their mandates be further expanded to help to prevent eruption of conflicts as well as to support local communities in building resilience.
A corollary of a more comprehensive security and defence policy is to allow our defence organizations to prepare for rising risks and threats with adequate means and sufficient funding. This entails investing not only into modern weapon systems, ammunition as well as logistics and transport capabilities, but also into additional sensing and monitoring capabilities, allowing e.g. for an early detection and monitoring of environmental degradation impacting livelihoods, as well as into conflict prevention, mediation and environmental peacebuilding.
Although some of these operations may be undertaken by civilian actors we suggest that the related costs be systematically financed out of budgets earmarked for defence spending. Future defence budgets ought to include, besides traditional military expenses, also costs related to civilian efforts of conflict prevention, such as mediation, peacekeeping, resilience building, support to good governance and the protection of human security.
In my view, within the current NATO 2030 reflection process and in preparation of a new NATO Strategic Concept, Allies should have an open debate about a more comprehensive security concept and the related instruments, including the criteria of what can be accounted as defence spending and what not.
As a more comprehensive defence will probably have a higher cost, it is key to communicate and explain this in a transparent manner to citizens and voters. A well explained more comprehensive security and defence policy, responding to a much wider array of security risks and threats, will not only help to prepare and mitigate those risks and threats, but also gain more easily public acceptance.
A better coordinated foreign and security policy
As conflicts are usually rooted in a combination of factors, such as competition for natural resources, weak governance and social inequality, security and defence policy needs to be embedded in and closely coordinated with other areas of foreign policy.
Accordingly, Luxembourg takes a “3D” approach to international peace and security which is based on the means of diplomacy, development cooperation and defence used in a complementary manner to contribute to international security, sustainable development, the respect of human rights and the rule of law.25
In practice, this “3D” approach implies that ministerial responsibilities related to diplomacy, development cooperation and defence are all part of one single ministry, which allows for regular coordination and joint decision making on policy options and positions to be adopted in international fora.
In this context, experience has shown that it is key to closely coordinate development cooperation, humanitarian assistance as well as climate finance with peace and security concerns. While supporting communities to adapt to climate change, it is essential that development cooperation, humanitarian assistance and climate finance become more “conflict sensitive” and avoid creating or exacerbating potential tensions between communities. Proposed solutions that do not account for local dynamics or integrate the needs and perspectives from local communities risk inadvertently contributing to additional security risks.
Although climate change has been part of the security agendas of the EU and NATO for several years, in practice, it is still all too often only dealt with on the sidelines. We should therefore take advantage of the currently ongoing reflection processes at both organizations to change this and ensure that the rising risks and threats related to climate change are fully reflected into the new NATO Strategic Concept and the EU’s Strategic Compass.
As the world looks to the UNFCCC COP-26 this November, we should capitalize on the global momentum of this climate summit to lead strong climate security action in the months ahead.
We are the generation that still can induce meaningful change. Let us not waste this opportunity and let us use all the means at our disposal to leave a more secure and sustainable world to our children.
14 Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) & Saferworld (2009): Climate change and security in Bangladesh. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/103629/Bangladesh_climat_change_June09.pdf
15 Welzer, Harald (2010): Klimakriege. Wofür im 21. Jahrhundert getötet wird. Frankfurt a. M.
François Bausch, born 1956, has held various positions in the government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg since 2013. He is currently Minister of Defense, Minister for Mobility and Public Works and Minister of Internal Security, and was also appointed Deputy Prime Minister in 2019. Previously, he served as a Member of Parliament for more than 20 years, and for more than a decade was chairman of the parliamentary group of the Green Party (Déi Gréng). He has been a member of the Green Party since 1986.