Environmental Security and Japan

Takashi Sekiyama
Associate Professor, Graduate School of Advanced Integrated Studies in Human Survivability, Kyoto University

In recent years, extreme weather such as droughts, intense heat, and heavy rains has been becoming more frequent and dangerous around the world. In 2019 alone, Australia had the lowest annual rainfall since 1900, while exceptionally low rainfall was registered for Central Malay to Java, East to Central Europe, and southwest Canada. Heat waves occurred in Northern and Central Europe from June to July, and in some countries including France and Germany, their records for the highest temperatures were beaten. Meanwhile in Japan, the typhoons No. 15 and No. 19 caused flooding and levee breaches in vast areas from the Pacific side of northern Japan to the Pacific side of eastern Japan, causing damages to agriculture, forestry and fisheries worth ¥ 8.148 billion and ¥ 31.80 billion, respectively. In the continental United States, the annual rainfall in 2019 was the second highest since 1895. (Japan Meteorological Agency, 2020)

Threats brought about by extreme weather and environmental changes are attracting the attention of not only environmentalists but also of security experts around the world. The UN Security Council has since 2007 been discussing the impact on security of climate change, the depletion of resources, energy and water, and ecosystem changes. (United Nations, 2019) The EU also states in its document on common foreign and security policies that "Climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation are interlinked and have a far-reaching impact on the resilience of communities and the ecological support systems upon which life depends. They are the cause or contributing factors to many conflicts worldwide." (European Union, 2017)

In Japan, the notion of environmental security is not very familiar. If, for example, you consult the indices of the Japanese Defense White Papers from 1970 to 2019, you will not encounter the term environmental security anywhere. Likewise, looking at the Japanese Environment White Papers, the word environmental security cannot be found in their tables of contents for at least the past five years. Presumably reflective of low political concerns about the topic, environmental security has not received much attention in academe in Japan. A search as of the end of January 2020 for "environmental security" in the National Institute of Informatics' online article index database "CiNii Articles" has discovered only 24 related papers in all (just five papers for the 10 years from 2010 to 2019), including those that are not highly relevant. Compared to 703 search results for the analogous notion of "human security," Low concerns at home about environmental security are striking.

However, environmental security is, as described later, not a negligible notion in security policy. In fact, European countries and the United States have been conducting research into and working on counter measures associated with environmental security. To date, research institutes such as the University of Toronto in Canada, the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway, and the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, as well as the aforementioned government agencies of the United States, the EU, and the United Nations have served as global centers for environmental security research. Japan seems to lag behind in this trend.

In what way is environmental security different from "human security" or "non-traditional security?" Why are environmental issues related to security? Are there any specific cases where a particular environmental issue actually caused some conflict? How does the recent extreme weather affect environmental security? How should Japan's foreign security policy address environmental security issues?

The present paper is intended to review previous overseas research on environmental security and discuss the above questions. Section 1 is to review the development of previous research on security and environment that constitutes the background of this paper. Section 2, through the review of previous research, will discuss the definition of environmental security, the causal relationship between environmental changes and conflicts, specific conflicts stemming from environmental changes, and the potential effects of climate change. Based on these discussions, Section 3 will conclude this paper with recommendations for Japan to adopt on environmental security issues.

1. Background

Security is an equivocal notion. There are a variety of notions about security --- national security, food security, energy security, human security, and information security. Generally speaking, security can be said to defend "something" (object) from "something" (threat). There are many threats to our society --- violence from others; foreign attacks; shortages of food, resources and energy; the exposure of secrets; and the spread of plagues. Safeguarding the nation from military threats; protecting humans from hunger and poverty; and guarding the ecosystem from human-derived pollution --- all of these may fall under the category of "security."

The implications of security in international relations have altered with the changing international situations. Early in the Cold War era, security seems to have been perceived in a relatively comprehensive manner and understood as a value like economic well-being (Dunn, 1949). However, as the Cold War intensified from the late 1950s to the early 1960s with the increasing fear of nuclear war, security became more confined to the military context and more associated with such issues as nuclear deterrence (Baldwin, 1995). After the end of the Cold War, experts were active in redefining security, or in discussing who should defend what. (e.g. Buzan, 1991) Regarding what to defend, the state (and its people) was exclusively focused on as an object of security during the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, individuals, regions, and the entire Earth became the foci of discussions. As for defending against what threats, concerns extended from the military to the non-military spheres, and some experts argued that human rights, resources, economy, disasters and domestic issues should be included in the concept of security.

Debates over environment and security have derived from this trend of the redefinition of security. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, energetic research efforts were made on how environmental changes would threaten the security of individuals, states and the international community. (e.g. Deudney and Matthew, 1999; Myers, 1989, 1993; Ohlsson, 1999; Renner, 1989) In the 2000s, attempts to consolidate such environmental security debates became prominent. (Barnett, 2001; O'Brien and Barnett, 2013; Gleditsch, 1998, 2012)

Debates over environmental security temporarily lost momentum shortly after the 2001 September 11 attacks, as security experts shifted their focus to the issue of the war against terrorism. In recent years, however, environmental security debates have gained momentum again, as climate change is becoming increasingly significant in the international policy agenda.

2. Literature Review and Discussions

This section is intended to discuss, through a review of previous research, issues related to the definition of environmental security; the causal relationship between environmental changes and conflicts; specific conflicts stemming from environmental changes; and the effects of climate change.

(1) What is "Environmental Security?"

What is "environmental security?" Here, we will clarify the features of environmental security through a comparison between environmental security and two analogous notions that were likewise generated from the efforts of redefining security after the Cold War.

Buzan's pioneering works on a comprehensive redefinition of security argue that not only traditional military threats but also non-traditional threats associated with politics, the economy, society, and the environment should be incorporated in the notion of security. (Buzan, 1991). The Consortium of Non-Traditional Security Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia) of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has actively served as the driving force for research on non-traditional security.

Non-traditional security studies focus on social and political instability caused by non-military and transboundary threats such as climate change, resources scarcity, infectious diseases, natural disasters, illegal immigration, hunger, human trafficking, and drug trafficking. (Caballero-Anthony, 2016). Consequently, the object of non-traditional security is not necessarily limited to the state, but is inclusive of the survival and dignity of individuals or groups.

After the Cold War, the focus of security shifted to individuals. This is so-called "human security," which is defined as "the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair." (United Nations, 2012) In today's increasingly interdependent world, issues such as environmental destruction, natural disasters, poverty, infectious diseases, terrorism, and economic and financial crises gravely affect the survival, livelihood, and dignity of people beyond national borders. Human security is the idea that individuals should be protected from these widespread and serious threats. This notion originated in Human Development Report 1994 of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and was further discussed at the UN Commission on Human Security established in 2001 through the Japanese government's initiative. (MOFA, 2016)

Then, what is the difference between environmental security and non-traditional security or "human security?" It is noteworthy that some people view environmental changes as threats, while others view conflicts caused by the environment as threats. Furthermore, environmental security deals with entities at three levels --- humans, states and the ecosystem --- depending on the type of threat. The present author classifies environmental security theories into three categories: environmental conflict theory, environmental damage theory, and ecosystem destruction theory, based on differences in terms of entities and threats.

Environmental conflict theory is an environmental security theory that focuses on conflicts caused by the environment (e.g. Homer-Dixon, 1999). This is closely related to traditional security theory that is mainly concerned with national security and the military realm. The principal concern of this argument is, as described later, conflicts associated with changes in the supply and demand and distribution of natural resources due to environmental changes. The involvement of individuals, groups, or multiple nations in such conflicts would threaten the security of these actors.

Environmental damage theory focuses on the adverse effects of environmental changes on human society. This argument, like human security, negates the notion of state-centered traditional security in the military realm, and instead focuses on the health and well-being of individuals and communities. In other words, this theory is concerned with potential risks that individuals and societies will experience --- infectious diseases, disasters, food crises, and anxieties of living --- due to environmental changes (Barnett, 2001).

Ecosystem destruction theory is an environmental security argument that regards the adverse effects of environmental changes on the ecosystem as a threat. This ecosystem-centric argument principally discusses human involvement in environmental degradation. Therefore, this theory deals mainly with the ecosystem in which human beings are included as a part. The theory assumes that humans are part of nature and inseparable from it. (Swatuk, 2014) This argument challenges the traditional notion of security and reevaluates the relationship between humans and the environment.

Based on the above discussion, Fig. 1 illustrates the scope of environmental security. Among the above environmental security theories, the environmental damage theory that focuses on humans as an object of protection overlaps with the "human security" theory. Therefore, even if the term environmental security is missing, Japanese experts have, needless to say, discussed the threat of human-centric environmental problems.

On the other hand, the objects of protection in the ecosystem destruction theory are so abundant that it is hard to specify differences between this theory and environmental protection arguments. Both human-centric and ecosystem-centric discussions are so comprehensive in content that they tend to indefinitely enlarge the theoretical objects of protection, and to incorporate the entire gamut of political, economic and social issues. As a result those discussions are feared to lose meaning.

Fig. 1. The Whole Picture of Environmental Security and Its Overlapping Relationship with Analogous Notions

 Meanwhile, the state-centered version of environmental security theory has been widely discussed in Europe and the United States since the 1990s, but has little currency in Japan. In particular, discussions that focus on the safeguarding of the state from the threat of conflicts caused by environmental changes, rather than on environmental issues, fall outside the scope of non-traditional security theory, and research achievements on this topic are scarce in Japan. This paper will review previous overseas research mainly on the state-centered version of environmental conflict theory.

(2) The Causal Relationship between Environmental Changes and Conflicts

Why do environmental changes give rise to conflicts? The "Environment, Population, and Security Project" and the "Environmental Change and Security Project" undertaken by Professor Homer-Dixon and his research team from the University of Toronto are representative studies that focused on the causal relationship of environmental changes and conflicts. (Homer-Dixon, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999; Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998) They worked on the question of whether environmental changes and resources scarcity would cause violence, and if so, what causal relationship would exist there.

When environmental changes give birth to conflicts, resources scarcity is the key. Then, how does resources scarcity occur? The following three scenarios may be considered.

  • "Demand-induced" scenario: resources scarcity resulting from increased demand (e.g. population growth).
  • "Supply-induced" scenario: resources scarcity as a result of reduced supply (e.g. land erosion).
  • "Structural" scenario: resources scarcity that "have-nots" face as a result of unequitable distribution of resources (Homer-Dixon, 1998).

It is not the absolute supply of resources alone that is important in considering resources scarcity due to environmental changes. Rather, what should be examined is, first, the relative supply for demand of resources, and second, the social distribution of resources. (Schwarz et al., 2000).

These factors, sometimes interacting, exacerbate resources scarcity. When, for example, a certain resource runs short due to population growth, its value will increase. In that case, those who have power will monopolize the resource, making it less accessible to many others. Or, if fertile land runs short due to population growth and unequitable distribution, those who are displaced will migrate to ecologically vulnerable areas such as hills, rainforests, and desertification areas. This influx of population into these areas, coupled with poor land use practices, will bring about the devastation of land and further resources scarcity. (Homer-Dixon and Blitt, 1998)

Given the potential for resources scarcity due to environmental changes, Homer-Dixon et al. formulated the following three hypotheses about the causal relationship between environmental changes and conflicts.

  • "Simple-scarcity" conflicts: Shortage of available resources (e.g. water and agricultural land) will directly lead to conflicts.
  • "Group identity" conflicts: Large-scale population movement due to environmental changes and resources scarcity will cause conflicts.
  • "Deprivation" conflicts: Serious environmental changes and resources scarcity will increase economic losses; lead into disorder the principal social institutions (most importantly, the state system), and cause conflicts.
(3) Case studies

Has any environmental problem actually caused a conflict, as Homer-Dixon and others hypothesized?

This section will introduce an example each of the above-mentioned "simple-scarcity," "group identity," and "deprivation" conflicts. The following conflicts were not necessarily caused by environmental changes alone. However, it is noteworthy that a significant causal relationship can be found in each case between environmental changes / resources scarcity and the occurrence of conflicts.

(i) The Ogaden War

The Ogaden War is a "resources scarcity" conflict stemming from drought. In 1977 Somalian troops invaded the region of Ogaden in Ethiopia. The Ogaden is a region of eastern Ethiopia adjacent to Somalia. It is home to many Somalis, Somalia's main ethnic group. The Ogaden's climate is semi-arid, and drought frequently occurs. In 1974, people in the Ogaden suffered from chronic hunger caused by drought. The Ethiopian Mengistu administration installed refugee camps and undertook the rescue of starving Somalis in the Ogaden. Since, however, the Mengistu administration did not allow Somalis, Sunni Muslims, to practice religious rituals in the camps, the majority of Somali refugees deserted the camps and formed the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) aiming at separating and annexing the Ogaden to Somalia. Somalia supported the WSLF, and in 1977 Somalian troops invaded Ethiopian territories. Thus, a full-scale warfare began between the two neighbors. The war ended with an armistice agreement in April 1988, leaving the national borders intact, the Ogaden desolated by the outflow of refugees, and the warring parties exhausted. (Tareke, 2000)

(ii) The Football War

The war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969 is an example of a "group identity" conflict a result of resources scarcity due to an increased immigration. El Salvador has the smallest land area and the highest population density among Central American countries. Coffee production had been the mainstay of its economy since the late 19th century. The farms were monopolized by the wealthy whites, while many Salvadorans lived in misery with low incomes. They faced "structural" resources scarcity. The neighboring Honduras, on the other hand, has about six times the land area of El Salvador but about half the population of the neighboring country. Accordingly, many poor Salvadorans migrated to Honduras. Honduras welcomed Salvadoran immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, but as the number of illegal immigrants exceeded 300,000 in the 1960s, disputes over land and jobs repeatedly occurred between Hondurans and Salvadoran immigrants. In 1969, the Honduran government demanded forcibly that Salvadoran immigrants leave the country. This deportation of Salvadoran immigrants, coupled with disputes over national borders and trade friction, precipitously heightened tensions between the two neighboring countries. Finally, war broke out in July of the same year. Incidentally, this war is called the "Football War," because bilateral tensions coincided with rioting during a FIFA World Cup qualifier between Honduras and El Salvador in June 1969. (Hernandez, 2013)

(iii) Boko Haram

A typical "depravation" conflict took place in the Lake Chad region located in the Sahelian zone of west-central Africa at the conjunction of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Lake Chad shrunk in area to less than 10% between 1963 and 2001 due to the effects of large-scale irrigation, overgrazing and desertification associated with population growth in the surrounding region (Gao et al., 2011). As a result, serious water and food shortages took place there and local people suffered from serious economic loss. They had depended on the lake for agriculture, fishing and grazing. Particularly in northern Nigeria, this environmental change exacerbated existing inequality, poverty and political instability, which led to the rise of the Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram. For many jobless youth, participation in the terrorist organization is a way to improve their livelihood (Rudincová, 2017). In northeastern Nigeria and in the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, the Boko Haram revolt displaced more than 3.6 million people and destroyed basic infrastructure, health and education facilities, commercial buildings, private homes, and agricultural assets. Boko Haram is posing an international problem. (IOM, 2016) 

(4) Adaptability and Climate Change

As discussed above, there are a certain number (but not so many) of cases where environmental changes and resources scarcity have actually led to conflicts. Those cases took place mostly in developing countries that are economically, politically and socially vulnerable.

The international research team led by Baechler verified the hypotheses of Homer-Dixon et al. based on 40 case studies, and reached the following conclusions. (Baechler, 1998)

  • Demonstrative evidence is scarce for the hypothesis of "resources scarcity" conflicts.
  • "Group identity" conflicts exist.
  • There are "deprivation" conflicts, which, however, do not necessarily grow into violent conflicts.
  • Political factors rather than environmental factors have higher causality with conflicts.
  • "Environmental conflicts become a catalyst for cooperation if political compromises are seen as desirable and technical solutions as feasible."

Baechler's findings imply that conflicts due to environmental changes and resources scarcity do not necessarily develop into social disruption or violent conflicts. Bernauer et al. have concluded through an extensive literature review that the adaptability to the effects of environmental changes depends on a series of economic and political factors. (Bernauer et al, 2012) Environmental changes and resources scarcity always exert their effects within a very complex eco-political system. In other words, environmental changes and resources scarcity are conducive to conflicts through interaction with political, economic and social factors inherent in the society. (Homer-Dixon, 1999) The causal roles of environmental changes and resources scarcity cannot be separated from these contextual factors.

In other words, what is vital is the adaptability to environmental changes and resources scarcity. Whether or not an environmental conflict occurs depends on the magnitude of environmental changes and the adaptability to these changes. And, as pointed out by Baechler and Bernauer, the adaptability to environmental changes depends on the political, economic, and social factors of the society. As a consequence, environmental conflicts have so far taken place exclusively in developing countries that are economically, politically and socially vulnerable and have a lower adaptability to environmental changes.

With the aggravation of climate change, as noted at the outset of this paper, many countries may face incidents that surpass their adaptability in the not too distant future. (Scheffran et al., 2012) As indicated by the above-mentioned previous research, environmental problems have so far rarely developed into conflicts. However, if the implications of climate change surpass the limits of adaptability not only of developing but also of developed countries, individual-based crimes and violence, group-based riots, political instability, and institutional disruption may arise. (Hsiang et al., 2013)

3. Conclusion

In this paper, we have so far discussed, through a review of previous overseas research, the definition and content of environmental security theories; the difference of environmental security from its analogous notions including "human security;" the causal relationship between environmental changes and conflicts; specific examples of conflicts; and the effects of climate change.

How, based on these discussions, should Japan address environmental security issues (in a narrow sense)? Japan should take the following foreign / security policy measures for environmental security issues:

  • Create an inventory of potentially dangerous areas (hot spots) for conflicts stemming from environmental changes and resources scarcity.
  • Study measures necessary to safeguard the national land and the people's life and properties from conflicts stemming from environmental changes and resources scarcity, and prepare necessary equipment to that end.
  • Study and implement feasible preventive measures to mitigate the threat of conflicts stemming from environmental changes and resources scarcity.
  • Advance cooperation (information sharing, joint simulations, etc.) on environmental security with the United States, the EU / NATO, and the United Nations (including the UN Security Council).

If, for instance, global warming raises temperatures by 1.5 degrees centigrade by the 2050s, as predicted by the IPCC report, it will be important to simulate what environmental changes, resources scarcity, population migration, and conflict would occur in the world and around Japan. In 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan came up with an analysis report on foreign policies taking into account the effects of climate change. But the geographical coverage of the report does not include Northeast Asia fraught with many factors most likely to affect Japan. In addition, it does not necessarily analyze the risk of conflict occurrence (MOFA, 2018). The inventory of potentially dangerous areas in the regions around Japan viewed from environmental security may not be suitable for publication in light of its political and diplomatic sensitivities, but nonetheless it is necessary to work this out.

These recommendations have a different focus from environmental protection policies. If we want to prevent conflicts stemming from environmental changes and resources scarcity, we should above all take measures to prevent the occurrence of such environmental changes. These efforts should be made as environmental policy measures. However, given the contradiction in international environmental politics that sovereign states separated by national borders must deal with environmental problems across borders, the prospect of success of environmental protection policies is not encouraging , not to mention recent international negotiations on climate change as an example. If so, the government responsible for national security and for the safety of people should make efforts to predict, prepare for, and prevent conflicts assuming the occurrence of environmental changes and resources scarcity, in parallel with its environmental protection efforts. The above recommendations have been made according to the way of thinking peculiar to environmental security.

(This paper was translated into English by Tsutomu Inuzuka, SSDP Associate)


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