Un tournant géopolitique vers le nouvel ordre mondial et la gestion de l’environnement ?

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titreUn tournant géopolitique vers le nouvel ordre mondial et la gestion de l’environnement ?
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Gyrgy Széll *


Environmental conflicts are as old as humanity. The destruction of the environment and natural resources (water, wood, etc) was always a means to overcome enemies. But the recent second Gulf conflict mainly between the US and Iraq showed up completely new dimensions of environmental destruction as a weapon.
The chapter discerns five different forms of environmental conflicts:

I.conflicts which are led over the control of natural resources

II.conflicts which are led to prevent environmentally caused mass immigration to keep one's own living standard or survival

III.destruction of natural resources

IV.transfer of environmental risks

V.defence of natural resources
Today we are further away from a peace dividend than before the end of the short dream of ever lasting socialism. Not only the fights in ex-Yugoslavia, the Ex-Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, Somalia are not taking into account environmental issues, on the contrary they destroy the environment deliberately. The export of poisonous wastes is continuing. Are the only alternatives to overcome environmental conflicts "eco-fascism" or "The First Global Revolution" as the last report of the Club of Rome proclaims? The peace and conflict research has largely neglected so far this dimension of geopolitics. It is most urgent to complement this lack.


The second recent Gulf war at the beginning of 1991 has demonstrated once again to the world the relationship between war and environmental disasters. Dramatic pictures of burning oil fields and dying birds in the oil pest made visible the vulnerability of our modern world. But the relationship between military and environmental destruction reaches far back to the antiquity. Besides that the Appennines forests have been largely destroyed to furnish wood for the construction of the Roman fleets, also in medieval times a widespread custom was to poison under besiege rivers and dwells.

But if we ask for environmental destructions in the context of historically oriented modern peace and conflict research, we find that this dimension is not present in the peace debates of early modern times. The hardships and terrors of war are described in many words in a poetic way, but human suffering stay in the foreground. The ongoing killings in former Yugoslavia may remind us of the brutalities of the Thirty-years war in the 17th century.

Military is a threat and destructive even without a war to the environment and our resources. Not only that during exercises the environment is suffering, already the exercise of military airplanes produce intolerable noises, and noise diseases have become one of the major diseases in modern societies. But also the waste of some 4.000 litres of heavily polluting gasoline per hour per combat airfighter and the CO2-pollution linked to it are tremendous. The airplanes are cleaned with chemical substances and when exercise rockets and munitions are fired - which is the reason for these kind of exercises - the environmental burden increases steadily. When US-Dollar are spent yearly for military purposes, this means that a large amount of materials have first to be extracted from the soil or water and have to be produced. The environmental destruction is therefore already built into it. Environmental destructions embrace apparently a wide domain.

For the further discussion I propose the following differentiations:

1.Conflicts which are led around the control of natural resources

2. Conflicts which develop around the prevention of environmentally induced mass immigration from poor countries, i.e. not to endanger the given living standard or survival

3.Destruction of natural resources

4.Transfer of environmental risks

5.Defence of natural resources

I."People without Space"

Especially in the German context this slogan is of particular significance. Because the natural resources were (supposedly) not sufficient any more, to feed a given population, thousands of tribes, communities, people have tempted conflicts since thousands of years for the control of natural resources outside their until then controlled regions; and often they have been successful. The numerous mass migrations in the European, Asian, African and American history are without doubt the most well known historical examples.

In the most recent history probably the Near East conflict or the Israelo-Arab wars are the most prominent examples for the struggle for control over natural resources. Largely undiscovered by the world public sphere the six-days war on behalf of the Israelis was not started to prevent an Arab attack but to secure the water reserves. The control of the Golan heights and of the Jordan river gives 40 % of Israel's water consumption.

The following Near-East wars and the settlement policies are to be seen on the same background, and the difficulties in finding a peaceful solution and the refusal to accept a Palestinian state. Only on that background we may understand, why a people who has suffered more harm than any other in history, is negating the right for self-determination of the Palestinians, does not respect UN resolutions and is ready to accept even conflicts with its patron, the US. Not "land for peace" but "water for peace" is the essential point.

Water will certainly be the most scarce resource in the coming decades - if we are not suffocated before in our own garbage. Also during the Second Gulf war it was openly discussed to divert the Euphrat and Tigris rivers, and to use this as a weapon against Iraq. But already the dams in Turkey have endangered the water supply of Syria and Iraq.

The struggle for natural resources has dominated all human history. Colonialism and imperialism are terms to designate these situations. The new Second Gulf war was impregnated by this interest.

2."The earth is full. Today 5.300.000.000 humans live on earth, in fifty years probably twice as much. Eco-collaps and poverty wars menace us." (Title of an article by Michael Sontheimer in 'Die Zeit' from 21 December 1990)

The aspects discussed so far are relatively well known. But a new dimension is entering the debate with the so-called "environmental refugees". We could interpret this as another variant of "People without space", "People without water" or even "People under water". If the prognoses in regard to the greenhouse effect become true, then the ocean surfaces will rise by up to 2 meters. The rich countries from the Northern hemisphere will be able to construct appropriate dikes. But poor countries like Bangladesh - as already the typhoons of the last winter demonstrated - will be submerged in the most concrete sense of the word.

Mass migrations in never known dimensions will be the result. A dramatic taste has been presented last year with the movie "The March", which shows the flight of hundreds of thousands of hunger refugees out of Black Africa's hunger belt. "The March" to Europe was in the movie only stopped by military means at Spain's coast.

Africa's environmental catastrophe is without any doubt the most serious. Most of today's 15 million refugees in the world are to be found on this continent. Already more than one million illegal African immigrants landed over the last couple of years in Italy and Spain. With an increasing tendency. "The boat is full" is the slogan in the welfare islands of this globe. The wall erected between the USA and Mexico lets its Berlin counterpart seem to have been ridiculous. The only difference is, that millions want to get in and not out, and that in general the trespassers are not shot but guided back for another try. But also the "boat people" especially from Haiti show us that we are sitting on a volcano.

Reinhard Loske and Fritz Vorholz have titled their article in the important German weekly Die Zeit from 1 May 1992 as follows: "Floods, tornados, bad harvests, treks of environmental refugees - if a climatic catastrophe happens, the poor South is hit harder than the rich North".

But also in smaller dimensions the environmental expulsion hits. The German weekly Der Spiegel reported in the number 44/1990 on the exhausts of a Romanian chlorine-gas factory at the border to Bulgaria which expelled the inhabitants of the nearby Bulgarian city of Russe. What is the future if the Silesian and Northern Bohemian regions remain ecological disaster areas?

The most terrible scenarios are shown in a number of computer simulations which calculate that within 50 to 60 years the earth will only sustain some 1.5 to 2 billion people. Today we approach the 6 billion figure of earth inhabitants. Is the new strategy of nuclear missiles on the US submarines from the beginning of 1992 to be understood on that background? The targets have largely been shifted from the former Soviet Empire to countries of the Southern hemisphere like China, Indonesia, Africa, Latin America. Are we preparing the Third World War North against South for the survival of the North? And was the last Gulf War only an exercise as many see it?

An article in which the speech of Sam Nunn, president of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, which he held in June 1990, is headlined "Security Shift to Ecology Seen. World Environment is Source of Conflict, Nunn warns". In this speech Nunn presents a new military strategy which should oppose the increasing population pressure to food and water resources an "Environmental Research Program". In this article Philip Shabecoff from the International Herald Tribune from 30 June/1 July 1990 writes:

"Mr. Nunn, an influential Democratic leader who has played no significant role on environmental issues, made it plain that his goals were twofold: At a time of diminishing danger from the Soviet Union, he wants not only to retain the extensive national security apparatus at the Pentagon, the Energy Department and the CIA. but also to turn much of its focus to what he described as a rising national security hazard posed by the degradation of the environment.

The program outlined by Mr. Nunn would enlist the research talent available to the military and intelligence establishment, as well as its computers, planes, ships, satellites and other resources.

Although a growing number of scholars and government officials have warned that environmental deterioriation constitutes a major national security problem, this would be the first time the environment would be included in the nation's strategic planning.

Not detailed financial estimates were give, but planners said it was probable that resources worth billions of dollars would be diverted to environmental uses.

Mr. Nunn said in an interview that one purpose of his proposal was to retain research and technological capacity for the military establishment at a time when military budgets will be shrinking sustantially. 'But the major purpose is environmental,' he said.

In a Senate speech, Mr. Nunn said global environmental problems were worsening and leading to tensions that could pose military problems, especially in the Third World.

'The end of the Cold War has greatly reduced the risk of superpower confrontation,' Mr. Nunn said, but he added that pressures on the environment could increase the danger of ethnic or regional conflicts among nations increasingly armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Among the problems listed by Mr. Nunn were population pressures on food and water supplies, the depletion of the ozone layer in the atmosphere, large scale destruction of forests and global warming. ...

But he said he now believed 'that there is also a new and different threat to our national security emerging: the destruction of our environment.' ...

Among other things, Mr. Nunn's strategic environmental plan would opne up to nonmilitary scientists and researchers some data gathered by the armed services and intelligence agencies that is now usually kept secret. An example would be the thickness of polar ice as measured by the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarines.

Military aircraft, ships, submarines and satellites could collect information on airand water quality and on global climate, Mr. Nunn said.

The powerful computers used by the Defense and Energy Departments could be made available to civilian researchers."

Into this pictures fits well that the International Social Science Council from the UNESCO decided in 1990 an englobing research programme "Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change" under US-American chairmanship, though the US still boycott the UNESCO. This programme was directed against the wish of the majority of scientists present at the first symposium of this programme under the pressure of the USA and the presence of a real American astronaut towards more research on "Land use". The argument was that before we develop environmental activities which may harm the economic interests of the USA we need much more serious, long-term studies - with the help of US-satellites - on the state of the world. As if the studies by the Worldwatch Institute in Washington have not already brought sufficient evidence. This is in line with the attitude of the US-administration during the earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

3."The earth can survive without humans" (Takafumi Matsui)

It seems that we are not only fighting a war against humans but against nature. The Amazonian region, as most tropical rain forests, has been destroyed in an incredible speed, our oceans and rivers are used as waste disposals. The Club of Rome has already pointed out in 1972 to the limits of growth. Although we may smile today about the forecasting methods used then, the effect has been reached that we have become aware of the limits of "limitless" economic growth. Probably no other publication on environmental issues has reached the same popularity. However, what has happened afterwards? The main author of that study, Dennis L. Meadows, in a recent interview in Die Zeit made an assessment and stated: "Everything has become worse." (5 June 1992) He is asking for a real "revolution in the minds", to overcome the problems we have created ourselves.

Not only the environmental scandal of the oil tanker Exxon-Valdez, which run ashore two years ago in Alaska, and the following manoeuvres to disguise the responsibilities by the oil-multi with the compliance of the US-government make the strength of multinational companies and the weakness of national governments visible. For sure the really existing socialism has produced even bigger environmental disasters than the really existing capitalism, because he even lived more from the substance, but the crusade against our natural resources is unbroken since the break-down of really existing socialism in Eastern Europe. Even the climate convention from Montral, which proscribed the stop of CO2 emissions at the level of 1990 and reduction by 25 % up to the year 2005 does not seem to be applicable in most countries. And we have to keep in mind that every CO2 emission is definitely and that the level reached can never be reduced again. Every year, according to different estimates, between 1,000 and 100,000 species are definitely destroyed, mainly in the tropical rain forests. "The biggest species die-out since 65 million years is going on." (Der Spiegel, 18/1992) Six square kilometres of rain forest are destroyed every second; desertification and steppification are steadily increasing.

Under these conditions the US-American government refuses continuously to practice environmental protection as far as it is harming its economic interests. On the other hand the Japanese example demonstrates that environmental protection is even economically sensitive. After the first so-called oil-crisis in 1973/74 Japanese companies developed due to the general lack of resources very effective production methods. These methods are apparently in contradiction to the famous "American Way of Life", which englobes waste as its principle.

4."It took Great Britain the resources of the planet to achieve its prosperity; how many planets will a country like India require?" (Mahatma Gandhi)

We already reached our next point. "Poisonous waste: the waste collapse is threatening us. The deposits are overcharged, the capacities of burning mills are nearly exhausted. More and more German companies - also illegally - transport their waste abroad. Now the German Federal Minister for the Environment Tpfer is worsening the situation." If we find a headline like this one even in the entrepreneur's review Capital, then the situation has really to be serious. For sure we will suffocate in our own garbage before we will have used our natural resources. The Bay of Tokyo is not sufficient anymore to take the waste of the biggest agglomeration in the world with some 30 million people. The United Nations Nuclear Regulatory Commission is searching since a couple of years for a sum of 100 million dollars yearly to rent a nuclear deposit. The German Kraftwerkunion has concluded in 1987 with China a treaty, to dig its nuclear waste in the Gobi desert. The poisonous waste exports to Eastern Europe, France and to Third World countries are in the headlines since many years. But also the transfer of dangerous production sites as in the case of Bhopal means the risk transfer from the First into the poor Second or Third Worlds. But this is only a short-term solution. The limits of waste are soon reached. If we cannot find with more money waste deposits, how do we tackle the problem then?

V."Ecology as a power game - eco-colonialism" (Werner Paczian, 1992)

Already in the preparations of the environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 a number of Third World countries have charged the First World of eco-imperialism. Out of environmental reasons interventions into Third World countries discussed and their sovereignty - as in Human Rights offences - questioned. As argument the higher general good of the common human heritage and limits of a risk export are brought forward.

But if the rich North insists on the right of intervention on ecological grounds, do the countries of the poor South not have much more rights to intervene? Actually the rich countries of the North with 15 % of the world population still cause more than 80 % of world pollution. And if we take into account the environmental debts over the last 200 years, so it seems completely well grounded, if the countries of the South ask for a complete stop of environmental charges through the North. Not only zero-growth, but zero-production.

Could the scenario go on like this? Brazilian, Philippine and Senegalese war ships are accosting ships in the biggest sink of the globe which are just sinking thousands of tons if poisonous chemicals. To protect these ships of a multinational company the navy of the nation where this multinational has its head-quarters is leaves harbour. To avoid an armed conflict does not seem to be possible. Finally the ship of the multinational company is sinking its waste in international waters in which foreign ships have nor right for environmental protection. An absurd scenario? The biggest sink in the world oceans is the North Sea. Do have countries of the Third World or the UN the right to environmental protection? Should they have it?

The former German NATO-General Gerd Schmckle demands in an essay in Der Spiegel (31/1991) the creation of "Green helmets". "We need a Green Cross. For the Environmental Summit in Rio de Janeiro Swiss politicians ask for an international environmental intervention force" ((Der Stern, 19/1992) In the framework of the CSCE Michael Strmer asks in WirtschaftsWoche (25/1991) for the creation of a European "environmental agency with intelligence and muscles ... which cooperates between East and West and transfers investments".

Have we reached with the environmental crisis the limits of the 19th century nation-state? On a small scale environmental movements like Greenpeace or Robin Wood are committing permanently transgressions of national laws, do not respect national territorial and maritime sovereignty, to direct world opinion to environmental scandals. Is this permanent provocation in form of pin-pricks sufficient? Are preventive measures necessary? How could a new ecological world order look like? Who would be the subject? The United Nations? (NGO Treaty on Militarism, the Environment and Development)
From disarmament and a peace dividend linked to it we are nearly two years after the Second Gulf War - amidst numerous fightings in the ex-Soviet-Union, ex-Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan (just to name the most visible) - farther away than ever. There were hopes that the funds liberated from the armament spiral could be used for environmental protection and the reconstruction of the Third World.

Are the only alternatives eco-fascism to run the scarce resources and deposits or a radical democratic revolution as the Club of Rome with his last report "The First Global Revolution" and Dennis L. Meadows with his "Revolution in the minds" demand? We do not have much time left. Some even argue that it is already five minutes past twelve. At any case today's and coming environmental conflicts are the greatest challenge for humanity and therefore also for the scientific community.
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Meadows, Dennis L.: 'Revolution in den Kpfen', interview in Die Zeit 5. Juni 1992: 29.

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Széll, Gyrgy: 'Osteuropische Oppositionsbewegungen - westliche Friedensbewegung. Gemeinsame Perspektiven?', in Selbstverwaltung # 2/3, Nov. 1984: 13 - 15.

Széll, Gyrgy (Ed.): Rstungskonversion und Alternativproduktion. Hamburg & Berlin(West), Argument-Verlag, 1987 (ARGUMENT Sonderband 118).

Széll, Gyrgy: 'Democracy, Technology, Social and Natural Environment', Proceedings of the International Conference Man and Work at the Threshold of the Third Millenium, Bratislava 30.1.-1.2.1990, Bratislava, Videopress, 1990: 437-445.

Széll, Gyrgy: 'Mglichkeiten partizipatorischer Konversion auf der Basis der Mitbestimmung', in B.J. Huck & L. Kllner (eds.), Abrstung und Konversion. Politische Voraussetzungen und wirtschaftliche Folgen in der Bundesrepublik. Frankfurt/New York, Campus, 1990: 491-510.

Széll, Gyrgy: 'Rstungskonversion und Mitbestimmung', in: K. Battke u.a. (eds.), Frieden gestalten nach dem Kalten Krieg. Neue Projekte der Friedenswissenschaft, Bonn, Informationsstelle Wissenschaft und Frieden e.V., 1991: 98-111.

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Széll, Gyrgy: 'Friedenswissenschaft und Konversionsforschung angesichts des Endes des Ost-West-Konflikts', in E. Fehrmann & F. Neumann (eds.), Gorbatschow und die Folgen. Am Ende eines Zeitalters, Hamburg, VSA, 1992: 113-123.

Széll, Gyrgy: 'Environment', in G. Széll (ed.), Concise Encyclopedia of Participation and Co-Management. Berlin/New York, de Gruyter, 1992.

Széll, Gyrgy: 'The environmental crisis at the turn of the millenium', in Revue Internationale de Sociologie 1/1992: 173-199.

Széll, Gyrgy: Militrkonversion in Niedersachsen. Universitt Osnabrck, FB Sozialwissenschaften, Projektantrag an das Niederschsische MWK, 1992.

Wiederkehr, Roland: 'Wir brauchen ein Grnes Kreuz', Interview in Stern 19/1992: 202.
*Universität Osnabrück, FB Sozialwissenschaften, Postfach 4469, W-4500 Osnabrck/Germany; Tel# +49(541)969-4614 & 4609/Fax# +49(541)969-4600
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