COMMENTARY

Asean environmental security concerns

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The effects of extreme weather events caused by climate change are now felt all over the world – warmer temperature causing desertification and inadequate food supply; low lying areas inundated by rising seas; drought sparked conflicts over water supply as downriver inhabitants safeguard their share. As a further consequence, food producing areas become uninhabitable leading to disease, mass migration and conflict. Worst of all, the scarcity of oil and mineral resources raises tensions between powers that import those commodities. All these could undermine a country’s capacity to carry out its key function of providing security to its people.

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The security implications of the earth’s environmental degradation are forcing governments and militaries to review their long-term defense strategies. Defense planning is increasingly being shaped by climate and resource considerations.

Asean countries have experienced super typhoons and super droughts; storm surges and tsunamis which destroyed coastal infrastructures and properties including flooding of roads, airports, military camps and destroyed hospitals and health centers which brought about displaced people and population migration. (Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not influenced by the weather). The latest occurrence was the horrendous floods brought about by a heavy monsoon season in Myanmar which deluged 12 out of the country’s 14 regions. Rice growing areas were very much affected as flood water drains through the vast Irrawaddy river delta. The army helped the residents cope with the situation as the government embraced foreign assistance.

Security implications of severe climate change in the Asean countries include, but is not limited to, (a) huge movements of people from uninhabitable areas; (b) conflicts over basic resources like water and food exacerbating water scarcity and increase in food costs and food shortage; (c) greater incidence of malnutrition, risks of infectious disease outbreaks, and even death from rising temperatures; (d) energy production and transportation disruptions of varying lengths and magnitudes; (e) increased demand for disaster and humanitarian reliefs and limited environment for military operations, e.g. military installations near coastlines threatened by heavy rains in stormy situations and coastal erosion; (f) intensified heat waves presenting challenges to outdoor training and personnel efficiency.

Environmental disasters could even be taken advantage of for terrorism. Indeed, the impacts of global warming are becoming ever more evident and humankind must rise to the challenge.

In the light of security concerns brought about by global warming, what is the role of Asean militaries in a resource-stressed environment due to climate disruption? Take note that energy supply and other imported resources by Asean countries are overly dependent on sealanes, the Strait of Malacca in particular, between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. That alone is enough to have Asean countries re-examine and re-think their maritime priorities to have resource protection a core function of its navies.

The greater need, however, is for strengthening the Asean military capabilities in anticipation of impending climate wars. This means more soldiers with different training and weapons defense and security systems designed to operate effectively across the full range of foreseeable future environments altered by a warmer climate – resource war (oil and minerals), water wars (diminished water for agriculture and water supply shortage for domestic use) and migratory wars.

With climate change, the demand for rapid military deployments in response and recovery efforts in disastrous environmental circumstances is likely to increase too and this is a good time for Asean to plan out to protect its future security, i.e. improving infrastructures including military installations located in or near coastlines taking into account advances in engineering design, techniques and technologies. After all, it is better to work with nature rather than against it.

Definitely, strategies like Asean military to military cooperation and enhanced collaboration that boost capability and effectiveness will play an increasingly significant role in helping its most vulnerable members prepare as best they can for a changed warmer world. Whatever the result will be, humankind must adapt to global warming.

(Ambassador Amado Tolentino served as Coordinator, Asean Nature Conservation (now Asean Group on Nature Conservation and Biodiversity).

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