Thinkpiece 09/19/16

This weeks’ readings address the different theoretical approaches to environmental security issues – their different focuses, goals, and theoretical points of divergence and consensus. Having dedicated my academic career thusfar to the study of particular regions, what struck me the most in these readings was the propensity of each school of thought to reach normative conclusions so as to be able to propose solutions that would fit any culture, geographical region, political system, etc. Although certain authors, such as Soyas, recognize the need to develop region-specific political and economic strategies to curtail the potentially violent effect of environmental change and resource-based conflict her analysis, being based on quantitative data, nevertheless attempts to produce a generalized theory that largely ignores cultural and historical specificity within groups of people. I am not trying to say that she is necessarily wrong to do that, but this method always induces the risk of thinking all people-groups in Western terms. That is also not to say that these theories do not take into account multiple factors contributing to the occurrence of violent conflict in environmentally vulnerable areas, as chapter 2 demonstrates very well.

At the risk of rehashing the same old postcolonialist critique, it seems to me that the danger with this stance is that “underdeveloped” countries, recognized in these texts to be the primary victims of climate change and resource-based conflict, are denied agency insofar as it casts Western powers, societies and technologies as the only possible actors in peacebuilding and finding other resolutions to environmental issues. It also effectively ignores the great potential for resistance to Western intervention – often perceived as neoimperialistic encroachment – in what is treated as a “global” issue whilst being thought in a national framework. In fact, one of the pervading problems that appears throughout these texts is the inadequacy of security theory, grounded in traditionalist international relations theory and thus in the system of nations, as a framework for articulating a transnational issue – one that transcends borders.

Finally, I was particularly interested in a minor point in these readings: Soyas’ suggestion that “underdevelopment and human security are inextricably linked”, something that I undeniably agree with. If I were to write a paper based on this supposition, it would be one that explores the role of environmental policy, particularly the correlation between the brand of security theory adopted by the state, its trade relations, international relations and its domestic security policies – the extent to which the state has a right and even a duty to determine and control internal dissent as a security issue. “Underdeveloped” is a term too often employed to describe nations economically and politically dependent on Western institutions. Thus, instability in these countries becomes inextricably linked to issues of government legitimacy. I would argue that focusing on the state as referent object of security in the context of the environment promotes the idea that the state as the undeniable owner and steward of the biosphere contained within its borders. This can in turn contribute to the legitimation of state policies controlling its citizens and, more specifically, their bodies.*




*This idea draws on a previous paper that I wrote on the correlation between gender politics, petrol politics and national/religious methods of constructing legitimacy in Saudi Arabia.

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