Politics, whether be within or outside borders, has but one rule and which was crafted well in the sentence: ‘There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.’ Interests, most of which are well on stake because of a seemingly innocuous factor; climate change.
The phenomena did not intrigue much debate in security circles until recently when Thomas Homer Dixon brought up the issue and highlighted its ramifications for security. In his researches conducted in the early 1990’s, Dixon pressed that depleting resources would propel an increase in mass violence. The time frame for these occurrences to foster is dangerously diminutive.
As if water covering 70% of the earth’s area was not enough already, global warming has paved the way for the sea to eat more of the land. The sea level is rising rapidly post -1850 and has already seen a rise double than that in the previous two millenniums. While half of the world’s total population resides within 60 km of shorelines, we are well on our way to witnessing major migrations which would not be people moving further inland only, but also flowing across borders as some countries are set to lose entire territories to the rise in sea level. Maldives is a case in point. Even more so, the situation is not very rosy in the places people would be migrating to either, because if global warming at one side has accelerated the rise in sea level, it has also contributed to plummeting fresh water sources for host countries to cater to an inflow of migrants.
While half of the world’s total population resides within 60 km of shorelines, we are well on our way to witnessing major migrations which would not be people moving further inland only, but also flowing across borders as some countries are set to lose entire territories to the rise in sea level.
Unpredictable rainfall patterns, faster melting glaciers resulting in floods, and soil erosion is affecting the productivity and yield of agriculture production. Potentially, resource scarcity is the scariest aspect of climate change. The world is already fighting over fresh water sources, a case none the more prominent than that between Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon who are all staking a claim over one shared water source; Lake Chad. The lake itself is quickly depleting and so is the relationship between the countries. How further that can escalate can be examined by India and Pakistan’s 70 years long dispute over Kashmir that has its roots in water resources and is nowhere near resolution. Agrarian economies are already paying their toll for global warming with increasing temperatures and ensued droughts. States are struggling to meet their own requirements and migrants are likely to stress that further. We have already witnessed El-Salvador and Honduras going into a one-hundred-hour ‘soccer war’; a conflict that reached its pinnacle on and around the football ground in context of the inflow of Salvadoran refugees into Honduras that significantly reduced the quality of life for Hondurans. This model from 1969 can very well fit the ‘Bangladesh – India migrants’ situation which has had its occasional violent outbursts and has structured the local politics of the North Eastern states of Assam and Tripura in India around the issue of non-native ‘land grabbers’.
A more daunting notion is that the phenomenon has contributed to the driving factors exploited for global terrorism in the recent past. Boko Haram in Nigeria was the result of increasing desertification which itself was a result of droughts, affecting the means of living for the local population; life stock and agriculture. Droughts in Syria caused rural-urban migration while urban centers were already stretched for resources and lacked employment opportunities because of the Iraqi refugee influx post the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Resource scarcity amalgamated with the grievances of the people suffering under an autocratic regime, provided a sustainable foot hold to the Al-Qaeda, fighting for its survival in Iraq which ultimately reincarnated into a more demonic hybrid of itself; ISIS.
ISIS has since proved that it has the ability and means to jeopardise the security of the otherwise secure states in Europe as well as the US. A group that was on the verge of extermination with most of its top tier in Iraqi captivity, breathed new life through the terminally dented social fabric of Syria due to the worst drought in the region’s history; the drought that beside all the other critical factors provided an opportunity to militant groups to re-organize and flourish, feeding on the lack of governance and instability. The outflow of migrants from the war-torn country then gave ISIS a suitable cover for infiltrating into other parts of the world. In NATO’s top Commander, General Philip Breedlove’s words, ‘The Islamic State terror group is “spreading like a cancer” among refugees’. The lack of acceptance of the refugees in the host communities and Islamophobic attacks like the recent Christchurch mosque attacks will only water breeding grounds for groups like ISIS.
A rising sea level is grabbing more land in its claws than man can afford, displacing people within and outside their native states. Depleting resources are stressing economies, providing both a breeding ground to terrorist organizations, creating unrest internally in addition to refugees contributing to the exhaustion of resources and escalation of hostilities. Undergoing such predicaments push states to take desperate measures including intensifying security on borders and enforcing stricter visa regimes. As a result, we are already witnessing anti-immigrant politics holding firmer grounds in most parts of the world. Only recently the American public voted in power a person whose election campaign was based on flaring anti-immigrant sentiments so much so that he vowed to build a wall on the US and Mexico border to stop the inflow of immigrants from resource stressed countries in its neighborhood. Furthermore, Brexit stands an example as to where the British people voted for an exit from the European Union for the reason that the population from the smaller countries in European Union are taking over jobs and opportunities in Britain.
A group that was on the verge of extermination with most of its top tier in Iraqi captivity, breathed new life through the terminally dented social fabric of Syria due to the worst drought in the region’s history; the drought that beside all the other critical factors provided an opportunity to militant groups to re-organize and flourish, feeding on the lack of governance and instability.
Shared resources that are constantly diminishing are likely to push nations to each other’s throats. South China Sea is another example in the tug of war over resources between some of the major emerging powers that can result in escalation of tensions at any point in time. Pakistan and India, both nuclear powers have fought three full-fledged wars in the past and have a history of hostilities towards each other over the occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, which is a major water source for the primarily agrarian economies of both countries.
Climatic factors, by far, do not work on their own accord but serve as triggers. They combine with other factors like fraught governance, grievances from authoritarian regimes, ethnic and religious issues, operating under the guise of all these problems. It may not be very obvious but it has for years worked as an underlying agent in disruption of peace. With the expected rise in catastrophes of climate change the world is fast plunging into an era where the fore mentioned issues will determine the faith of relations between states and civilizations.
Ayesha Ilyas has completed her M.Phil in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. She is currently working as an intern at the CSCR.