Environment and Security in the Asia-Pacific 2002

(November 19-21, 2002)

Executive Summary

Environmental factors are significant and increasing shapers of the Asia-Pacific regional security environment.  Key USPACOM activities such as forward deployment, theater security cooperation, and the global war on terrorism (GWOT) can be impacted negatively if environmental factors are ignored.  Alternatively, these activities may be enhanced through the incorporation of environmental security techniques.  The Environment and Security Conference sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) was held on 19-21 November. The conference was organized into two parts. The first addressed the impacts of environmental factors on key regional states as well as transnational security threats such as drug trafficking and infectious disease.  The second part focused on how environmental issues effect specific operational areas such as “Roles and Missions of Regional Armed Forces”, “Theater Security Cooperation”, “US Forward Presence”, “Civil-Military Operations”, and “Intelligence Applications and Analysis” as well as how environmental security practices could be used to increase the effectiveness of the US and its regional counterparts in these activities.  Participants and attendees included:  military officers; civilian government analysts and environmental specialists, scholars and State Department personnel from 7 countries.  Following are the key findings to emerge from the conference:


● Environmental factors significantly contribute to or exacerbate internal instability and conflict.  They undermine economic development and political legitimacy in key states of the region while sharpening interstate tensions.


- Water scarcity in China has the potential to trigger internal conflict, mass migration, and minority unrest (early signs of which are appearing) that could produce a national government crackdown.  Water scarcity also acts as a constraint on China’s economic development and national power.  Failure to effectively address the water issue will seriously hamper China’s economic growth.  Addressing water problems will require large amounts of political will and economic resources at the expense of other endeavors.


- In Indonesia, environmental issues have contributed to political instability for several decades. With the fall of Suharto the impact of years of harmful natural resource management policies are showing themselves more clearly.  Natural resource issues are a driver of conflict and insurgency (Irian Jaya, Kalimantan, Aceh, Northern Sumatra and others) on par with ethnic and religious issues and will play a contributing role in conflict and instability within during the foreseeable future.


- In the Philippines unsustainable resource use/mismanagement of natural resources and critical ecosystems has undermined economic development. Poverty in combination with inequitable distribution of land (exacerbated by population growth) have undermined state legitimacy and are prime drivers of instability, communist and Moro insurgencies, and terrorism. 


  Environmental factors (e.g. deforestation, land degradation, air/water pollution) combined with demographic pressures (population growth, urbanization) influence the emergence and diffusion of transnational threats such as piracy, infectious disease and drug production/trafficking. 


 - A primary driver of opium cultivation in SE Asia is land scarcity and agricultural

 decline (related to the effects of deforestation and soil degradation).


- The growing infectious disease threat in the region is partly related to environmental factors such as water pollution, air pollution, and reduction of  biodiversity (creates environmental conditions favorable various diseases and vectors while resulting in the loss of  potentially precious medicinal resources), and climate change.

● Negative environmental impacts (real and perceived) of US bases abroad provide focal points for anti-base movements thus threatening US forward deployment. 


- Current US environmental practices are state of the art and often better than those practiced by the host country off-base.  The US has not capitalized on this and subsequently remains more vulnerable to accusations of poor environmental stewardship and demands to relocate facilities/ reduce training than need be the case.  This represents a significant lost opportunity in public diplomacy.


 - The proposed relocation of Futenma NAS to Henoko has created common cause between anti-base activists and environmental movements, posing a significant challenge to local acceptance of US presence in Okinawa .


● Throughout the region, roles of armed forces are changing to include environmental missions such as disaster relief, CMO, environmental monitoring, anti-poaching, migrant interdiction, and development.


- The Philippines have integrated environmental protection missions into counterinsurgency and civil-military operations.


- The Indian Army has a territorial (TA) battalion designated  as an ecological task force.


● These mission/role changes and the increasing importance of environment as a security variable opens the door to numerous security cooperation opportunities.


- Interstate cooperation:  transborder environmental problems can serve as starting points for dialogue and cooperation.  For instance, the only area of cooperation that has withstood all tensions between India and Pakistan is the Indus Water Treaty.


- Theater Security Cooperation:  environmental assistance provides non-threatening/non-sensitive engagement venues that can build domestic legitimacy for military forces in newly democratizing countries as well as provide vehicles for inculcating respect for rule of law, good governance, human rights, and environmental stewardship.


- Cooperation and assistance in the environmental sector can be used as a confidence

building measure in situations where more traditional forms of military cooperation/assistance may be unacceptable to the host country.


Global War on Terrorism.


- Environmental security engagement activities provide valuable and non-threatening confidence building measures.  CENTCOM environmental security engagement activities were cited as a key reason behind the willingness of several Central Asian countries to provide US  base access.


- Environmental hazards (e.g. dams, nuclear power plants, toxic waste storage sites, etc.) can be exploited by terrorists against nearby US facilities. Such hazards must be considered in base camp site selection and vulnerability assessments for existing and future US facilities. 


- Incorporating local communities into base environmental /resource management activities extends reach of base commanders into host communities, builds goodwill, and information flow – creating “social fences” and relationships that enhance local force protection/I&W.


- Environmental engagement can help address root causes of disaffection (e.g. poverty, inequitable

resource allocation, lack of infrastructure) that in some areas contribute to sympathy/support for terrorists.


Conference Report


Strategic Implications

Within the Asia-Pacific environmental factors significantly shape the regional security environment.  Continuing widespread environmental degradation, growing energy demand, and climate change will increase the influence of environmental factors on regional security substantially contributing to instability and conflict over the foreseeable future. 


In Indonesia environmental issues have contributed to political instability for decades.  Mismanagement and inequitable distribution of the costs and benefits of key natural resources (especially forests) in combination with corruption and cronyism have undermined state-society relations and tremendously damaged Indonesia’s rich natural environment (negatively impacting economic development).  Environmental degradation and natural resources competition will continue to fuel conflict and instability in Kalimantan, Irian Jaya (West Papua), Sumatra, Aceh, and other areas.

Unsustainable resource use and mismanagement of natural resources and critical ecosystems has undermined the Philippine’s once rapid post-WW II economic growth.  Poverty combined with inequitable distribution of land (exacerbated by population growth) has helped erode state legitimacy and is a prime driver of instability and insurgency.  The Philippine government recognizes the links between environmental factors, development, and security.  However the damage is extensive and will take years to redress especially given current fiscal and capacity constraints.  Environmental degradation and natural resource issues will persist as sources of instability.  Environmental protection, sustainable development, and environmental security should be a significant part of external security assistance provided to the Philippines as well as an integral part of government internal security programs.

Today China has water resources of less than 2,300 cubic meters per capita, one-fourth the world average.  Approximately 60 million people have trouble getting enough water for daily needs while half of China’s cities face serious water shortages.  Increasing water scarcity and declining quality hinder agricultural, hydroelectric, industrial, and inland fisheries production.  Polluted water negatively affects human health and labor productivity.  Ineffective or inadequate water policies (which seem to be the current norm) will constrain China’s economic growth and development.  This, in turn, will restrict national power (military and economic) and challenge regime legitimacy.  Concerted and effective efforts will require vast amounts of political and economic capital thus impacting financial and political priorities over the short to medium term.

Great water supply disparities exist between surplus areas in the south and east and deficit areas in the north and west.  Worsening water distribution and freshwater shortages are strengthening group identity, increasing parochialism, and spurring migration.   Competition for water access is increasing between rural and urban populations, rich and poor, minorities and Han, and region and region.  Should water issues acutely threaten social stability and economic performance government policy may shift from a focus on economic growth to stability first.  The repercussions of such a shift are unclear.  If in extremis this may lead to crackdowns, increasing nationalism and retrenchment of conservative elements in government.

In South Asia increasing environmental change and degradation will challenge and reshape the national security agendas of regional states.  State authority will find it difficult to cope with intensifying environmental problems increasing civil-state tensions especially in authoritarian regimes.  Environmental issues will exacerbate the north-south divide leading countries such as India to be suspicious of developed countries in environmental negotiations.  India will likely pursue a proactive environmental diplomacy.  Environmental degradation will help spur the on-going mass movement of people contributing to border security problems, ethnic tension, and socioeconomic instability both between and within countries.

On the Korean peninsula transboundary environmental issues have the potential for increasing both interstate tension and cooperation.  For instance:

▪ pollution of the Yellow Sea and overexploitation of marine resources sour China/ROK relations.

  fishery disputes exacerbate Japan/ROK tensions over contested Sea of Japan islands.

  the DMZ provides opportunities for cooperation (establishment of a trans-boundary biosphere reserve) and conflict (impact of Keumkangsan Dam on water flow from north into ROK).

▪ environmental cooperation has moved faster than economic cooperation in the Yalu and Tumen

rivers basins.  The environmental sector may be a promising place to begin confidence building between DPRK, ROK, Japan, China, Mongolia, and Russia.



Environmental change and degradation contribute significantly  to the expanding infectious disease threat facing the US and world.   Deforestation, land conversion and rapid urbanization create opportunities for human exposure to unknown or uncommon infectious diseases and provide niches for more well-known concerns such as malaria to flourish.  Air (indoor and outdoor), water pollution and lack of sanitation take an enormous toll on human life and reduce labor and economic productivity in much of the Asia-Pacific.  HIV/AIDS poses an important threat to economic development and stability in the region, particularly in China and India.

Favorable ecological conditions, cultural traditions, population growth, land scarcity, and soil degradation are key drivers of opium production in highland Southeast Asia.  Successful and sustainable crop substitution programs must address the cultural-ecological dimensions of opium cultivation.  Thailand has had tremendous success in eradicating opium cultivation.  However, failure to significantly reduce population growth in former opium growing areas has undercut the long-term sustainability of rural development efforts.   Poverty, increasing drug use, and HIV/AIDS plague former opium growing villages leaving a high-degree of uncertainty about the future and raise the specter of hill tribe relocation.

Agricultural and fisheries help spur piracy in Southeast Asia.  Land shortages, soil degradation, deforestation and population growth help push illegal migration across the region.


Evolving Roles of Regional Military Forces

Throughout the region, roles and missions of armed forces are changing to include disaster relief, CMO, environmental monitoring, anti-poaching, forest fire fighting, migrant interdiction, and development.  Regional forces are also responding to contingencies and conflicts related to environmental and natural resource factors.  These trends present significant opportunities for increased cooperation and engagement. 


Theater Security Cooperation/Regional Cooperation

India, Philippines, Indonesia, China, Thailand, and Mongolia are countries participants viewed as being fruitful locations for PACOM to pursue environmental security engagement.  Military-military environmental cooperation is generally non-sensitive.  This provides opportunities to increase/initiate programs with militaries where engagement would otherwise be controversial or where historic lack of confidence/mistrust exists.  Environmental engagement provides a vehicle for transmission of values such as respect for rule of law, public service, environmental stewardship, and human rights particularly with militaries in newly democratizing countries.

Environmental engagement can help prevent or reduce internal instability that breeds insurgency and terrorism in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines.  Care must be taken that environmental cooperation does not facilitate human rights abuses particularly in situations where resettlement of squatters/populations may be considered.


Forward Deployment

Anger over real and perceived environmental impacts of US forces contributes significantly to anti-base sentiment in Korea and Japan (particularly Okinawa) and anti-access movements in the Philippines.  The relocation of Okinawa’s Futenma Naval Air Station to Henoko will face vigorous challenges from environmental groups.  Lingering resentment from past poor waste management and land use policies in both Korea and Japan is still tapped into by anti-base movements.  This threatens the sustainability of forward bases and damages the image of the United States and its armed forces.

US environmental practices are now generally state of the art and often better than those practiced by host countries off-base.  The US has not capitalized on this and remains more vulnerable to accusations of poor environmental stewardship and demands to relocate facilities/ reduce training than need be the case.  This represents a significant lost opportunity in public diplomacy.  The integration of community-based civic works projects into environmental management can dramatically reduce environmentally oriented anti-base rhetoric, provide environmental benefits to both bases and host communities, and improve the US image.  Programs at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii illustrate that environmental protection, civil-military cooperation can occur while sustaining combat readiness and training. 


Intelligence Applications and Analysis

Environmental considerations must be integrated into intelligence, strategic, and futures analyses.  Ignoring relevant environmental variables will limit and undercut the strength and integrity of analysis and assessment.  However, the dedication of intelligence platforms to the collection of environmental data is considered ill-advised.  Limited assets are best used for other missions.  Commercial remote sensing systems are cheaper with resolutions better suited for environmental analysis.  Intelligence data collected for other purposes however may have analytical value for environmental security analysis (such has been the case with declassified KH series imagery) thereby providing an incidental and existing source of exploitable data.

Global War on Terrorism

Access:  confidence and trust building achieved by environmental engagement can pave the way for access or other military cooperation in support of counter/anti-terrorism missions.  The precedence for this has been set in the CENTCOM AOR where environmental engagement activities in helped secure base access, improve interoperability, and protect health of US and coalition troops in several Central Asian countries.

Prediction/Prevention:  the incorporation of environmental factors into strategic analysis can improve the ability to predict instability and identify socioeconomic disaffection that breeds support for terrorism or terrorist ideologies.  Environmental security measures geared at preventing, managing, or remediating environmental problems that help fuel instability and disaffection may reduce the likelihood or intensity of instability/conflict.  Incorporation of environmental security measures with sustainable development programs builds political legitimacy in declining/failing states and promotes positive images of the US.  Environmental security engagement can play a significant role in long-term aspects of countering terrorism such as development, public relations, and winning “hearts and minds.”

Force Protection:  environmental hazards can be exploited by terrorists to disrupt/attack US and coalition forces.  One example cited was that of Camp Bondsteel (Kosovo).  The camp was located 300m from a battery factory that if attacked with a vehicle delivered explosive device would have contaminated the camp as well as nearby civilian areas.  Rapid industrialization and urbanization of the Asia-Pacific region and growing levels of improperly disposed industrial/hazardous waste will increase this type of threat to US and other regional forces when deployed to urban or peri-urban environments.  In the case of long-term camps/bases, the integration of base environmental protection activities with community outreach and public affairs efforts can build support for bases amongst the local community, open lines of communications between locals and base officials creating “social fences” . These measures may facilitate grassroots provision of I&W of suspicious activities and help deter terrorists who might find pre-operational surveillance and planning difficult in alert, pro-base communities. 

This report was authored by Dr. Chris Jasparro, Assistant Professor in the Department of Transnational Studies, College of Security Studies, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.





The Asia-Pacific Center (APCSS) is a regional study, conference and research center funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The Center’s mission is to foster understanding, cooperation, and study of security-related issues among civilian and military representatives of the United States and other Asia-Pacific nations. The Center provides a focal point where national officials, decision makers, and policy experts can gather to exchange ideas, explore pressing issues and achieve a greater understanding of the challenges that that shape the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region. APCSS occasionally publishes articles on Asia policy issues written by APCSS research, staff, and fellows. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Asia-Pacific Center, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.