China – Enviormentalism as a National Security Issue

In the simplistic view of things, there are the tree hugging hippies who care about the enviorment and “pansie” issues above all else with the opposite side you have the realist obssessed with state power.

Polution Issues are Security Issues

But as one partial to the realist camp, I believe this sort of simplitic portrayal needs to be rejected. State power can be defined not only by the number of tanks and guns a country has nor oil, but the number of colleges, schools, hospital, energy conservation and, yes, the state of the enviorment. Case in point, check out Slate’s “As Green as a Neocon Why Iraq hawks are driving Priuses“.

There many reasons to support enviormentalist causes: 1) Less pollution => healthier people => healthier and more productive workforce + potential source of manpower 2) If we perform energy conservation instead of drilling Alaska’s ANWAR means less dependence on foreign oil and puttings some oil reserve (ANWAR) “in the bank”, for when we really need the oil. 3) Investing in alternative energy sources now, allows us to help withstand the coming oil shock that will also effect our enemies. And so on…

Then, there are the more practical concern like simply antagonizing the people of the state. See this Washington Post report back in June 2005:

[Up] to 20,000 peasants from the half-dozen villages that make up Huaxi township had responded to the alarm, participants recounted, and they were in no mood to bow to authority. For four years, they had been complaining that industrial pollution was poisoning the land, stunting the crops and fouling the water in their fertile valley surrounded by forested hills 120 miles south of Hangzhou. And now their protest — blocking the entrance to an industrial park — was being put down by force.

The confrontation was also a glimpse of a gathering force that could help shape the future of China: the power of spontaneous mass protest. Peasants and workers left behind by China’s economic boom increasingly have resorted to the kind of unrest that ignited in Huaxi. Their explosions of anger have become a potential source of instability and a threat to the party’s monopoly on power that has leaders in Beijing worried. By some accounts, there have been thousands of such protests a year, often met with force

In this week’s Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Nathan Nankivell covers a piece on the linkages of China’s pollution issue with local unrest and geopolitics:

[Economic Effect]

[Cost] of environmental destruction could, for example, begin to reverse the blistering rate of economic growth in China that is the foundation of CCP legitimacy. Estimates maintain that 7 percent annual growth is required to preserve social stability. Yet the costs of pollution are already taxing the economy between 8 and 12 percent of GDP per year [1]. As environmental problems mount, this percentage will increase, in turn reducing annual growth.

[Geopoltical Effects]

In addition to the concerns already mentioned, pollution, if linked to a specific issue like water shortage, could have important geopolitical ramifications. China’s northern plains, home to hundreds of millions, face acute water shortages. Growing demand, a decade of drought, inefficient delivery methods, and increasing water pollution have reduced per capita water holdings to critical levels. Although Beijing hopes to relieve some of the pressures via the North-South Water Diversion project, it requires tens of billions of dollars and its completion is, at best, still several years away and, at worst, impossible. Yet just to the north lies one of the most under-populated areas in Asia, the Russian Far East.

In an extreme situation, such as national water shortages, social unrest could generate widespread, coordinated action and political mobilization that would serve as a midwife to anti-CCP political challenges, create divisions within the Party over how to deal with the environment, or lead to a massive show of force… Though most violence would be directed toward dissident Chinese, a ripple effect would be felt in neighboring states through immigration, impediments to trade, and an increased military presence along the Chinese border. All of these situations would alter security assumptions in the region.

The United States faces its own issues with resources, enviormentalism and especially energy. While globalism and being a global player make it all but impossible for major states in pursue autarky (full indepedence, as in no dependence on other states, in economic issues), the more a state depends on resources for its growth the more vulnerable it is to shocks in the market – such as an oil shock. The continual and growing issue of water in the westerns states of the U.S. are also a source of contention, constraning the growth of cities and with it the growth of the economy.

Enviormentalism needs to broaden its focus beyond “saving the Earth” merely for its own sake or some concept of “saving for the future generation”, but rather direct and visible impact on the state in the long term – in the health of the people (workforce), economic security, energy security et cetera.

PS: On a darker note to be fair as I mentioned taking a realist position, a country could intentionally poison a weaker state through dumping waste in/directly on a weaker state or provoke a state in to conflict.




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