The last half of the 20th Century has been exclusively dominated by the Cold war conflict. There was little space in the analysis of the scholars in International relations for other minor issues of low politics, while the questions of the nuclear war and balance of terror dominated the studies of world politics. Although international agreements have been signed for about a century, the environment was simply regarded as the unchanging context of international politics. The first change occurred in the late 60s early 1970s, from a public awareness of environmental degradation due to the industrial activity. This emergence of the ecologic sensibility was translated by the creation of lobbying groups such as Greenpeace, and political parties around the Western world. But the real change in that respect was corollary to the end of the cold war. The collapse of the USSR put a temporary end to the major threat of the time, the nuclear war. New threats and a new definition of security then appeared in the study of International relations, challenging the old realist theories. These attempts to redefine concepts such as security or threat will be studied in the first part, as it is a key to understand how environment can be a security issue. There are several fashions in which environmental issues can represent international threats, and that is the focus of the second part.
[...] Levy states that “human health is the only risk that, by itself, might constitute a security risk.” Since environment degradation is a threat to human lives, it can be considered as a threat to international security. Speaking about American security, Levy argues: “environment degradation constitutes a direct physical threat to the U.S. security interest when environmental damage results directly in the significant loss of life or welfare of U.S. citizens or otherwise impairs our national values.” Skin cancer and eye damages are the most common diseases that can come due to the depletion of the ozone layer. [...]
[...] Bush as an international security threat after 9/11. The anger of poor peasants, deprived from their land or whose land was not sufficient to make a living is often used by radical political movements. This is the case in Central America, where the voices of the peasants were a great asset in the recent left wave on the continent. But it can also been used in very violent way, such as in the Philippians guerrilla against the government during the 1990s. [...]
[...] The impact the environment is more likely to have on international security comes from the social and economical disturbances it creates. On an economic scale first, Jessica Matthews argues that economic growth as we know it, would require for going on “more energy use, more emissions and wastes, more land converted from its natural state”. It is generally assessed today that if every country consumed energy as much as the United States does, humanity would need five planets to survive. [...]
[...] the definition of security is absence of threat then some of the gravest, if not the gravest threats to the survival of societies are environmental.” Looking for a definition including new types of threats, Levy quotes the attempt of Richard Ullman: threat to national security is an action or a sequence of events that threatens drastically and over a relatively brief period of time to degrade the quality of life for the inhabitants of a State, or threatens significantly to narrow the range of policy choices available to a Sate or to private, non governmental entities (persons, groups, corporations) within the State.” This definition is not well accepted among the International relations scholars, and Levy proposes its own: threat to national security is a situation in which some of the nation's most important values are drastically degraded by external action”. [...]
[...] the time one arrives at the end of the logical chain –violent conflict- so many intervening variables have been added that it is difficult to see the independent contribution of environmental degradation.” Moreover, are regional conflicts an international threat? I would argue that they are, because in our global world, they can have repercussions on international security. But the classical studies of International studies and the realpolitik can consider they are not, as long as they stay local. The little involvement of the international community in Darfur could be a good illustration of this. [...]
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