Climate change, energy security, conflict and migration: who profits?

[Talk in workshop at Code Rood action camp in Leermens, Saturday 25 August 2016]
In his recent book 'Storming the wall' American journalist Todd Miller paints a grim picture of the future, writing: “We could predict not only […] a world of Category 6 winds, ravaging fires, devouring seas, and parched landscapes, but also a world of surveillance drones, crowd-control, and walls.”
A world marked by climate change, permanent conflict and border control. There's a strong connection between these, and there's a common winner: the military and security industry. It will increasingly profit from providing the tools for the rich and powerful to maintain the international and social status quo, in a rapidly changing world, where perceived new threats emerge and where the poor and powerless, and the earth, have to face the majority of the consequences.
The consequences of climate change will lead to more conflict and more refugees, in various ways. It will make areas unliveable, unfit for agriculture, it will lead to both droughts and floodings, it will lead to more natural disasters, such as storms, and it will increase hunger and poverty. On the other hand it will also form the base for armed conflicts and social unrest, which will result in more refugees as well. While most people will, at first, probably try to find another place to live and work within the country they come from, there will also be more and more cross-border migration.
From a military and security perspective both 'climate change' and 'migration' are framed as threats. This is not an objective observation, but an important choice: by framing them as threats instead of environmental, political and/or humanitarian problems, the scope of the solutions has been narrowed. These threats need to to be dealt with by the increasing use of military equipment and security and armed forces. And it brings the concept of energy security into the picture as well.
Climate change is often described as a threat multiplier that will exacerbate all major existing insecurities. There is some logic in this, and we can see that, for example, drought played a part in the start of the war in Syria, as did desertification in the Darfur War in Sudan. However, the way to deal with this is a different question.
Interestingly enough the military has sometimes been more forward in acknowledging climate change than political leaders. It even drifts the military away from it's traditional staunchest supporters from nationalist and right wing circles. While they still deny climate change is happening, or that human activity is causing it, defense departments in large countries as the USA and the UK are switching to alternative fuels and 'green' weapons, from lead-free bullets to solar-paneled drones.
But we shouldn't be fooled by this. The military’s primary strategic interest is less about climate change itself and more about the adjacent problems of energy scarcity, seeking to safeguard fuel transit routes and reducing the military’s oil dependency. Second, it is also looking ahead to protect its infrastructure and military assets from climate impacts. In other words, the military is looking for ways to keep itself running, mainly by trying to switch to alternative fuels. In essence this is a form of adaptation and got little to do with mitigation, it is not meant to prevent climate change but to deal with its consequences.
The third focus of the military is an attempt to identify perceived security threats caused by the impact of climate instability – from increased humanitarian disasters to the foreseeable rise of conflict, migration and disruption – that it believes it will need to respond to.
Alternative fuels and other ‘green’ measures not only ensure that the military remains operational, they also create new markets for the defence industry. This greenwashing also projects the military as a suitable partner for tackling climate-change impacts, justifying an increased role and budgets.
Making a step to the other 'threat', migration, we can see a partly parallel discourse. Migration, that is: unwanted or so-called 'irregular' migration, is perceived as a security threat, security and armed forces need to deal with to keep the current status quo. It again justifies an increased role and increased budget for (para)military troops and activities. And it creates new profit opportunities for the military and security industry, that not so coincidentally also fuels the chaos, violence and repression by exporting arms to conflict zones, human rights abusers and poor countries.
In practice this discourse has lead to the abhorrent migration policies from western states, such as the United States, Australia and the European Union. These policies share four common pillars:
1. Boosting and militarising border security, through the increasing use of military equipment and (para)military personnel for border security and control. This includes the rapidly spreading phenomenon of erecting border walls and fences, equipped with all kinds of technological surveillance and detection tools, and the use of autonomous and unmanned systems, such as drones.
2. The concept of 'smart borders', where wanted travellers have to pass borders as easily and quick as possible, while (possible) unwanted ones are filtered out for control. Biometric border control posts at airports are an example of this system, that feeds on racism through etnic profiling and creates a new form of 'apartheid'.
3. Detention and deportation of unwanted migrants, that managed to get to or cross the border despite the increased border security, and;
4. The externalisation and globalisation of border security and control: the pressure on third countries to act as border outposts, be it African countries trying to stop migration towards Europe, the Australian model of jailing boat refugees on Naura or the Programa Frontera Sur through which the USA strengthens border security at the border between Mexico and Guatemala. This goes accompanied by strengthening security forces in these countries, often with authoritarian governments, which results in more repression, violence, the undermining of development and threatening internal stability. All factors which in the end will only lead to more refugees.
There is a striking resemblance in the way western countries, in a form of neo-colonial action, push away both their responsibility for creating the drivers for climate change and migration and the consequences of their behaviour. Once again leaving countries, that are already subject to western domination in the form of trade and power relations, to clean up their mess.
So, the nexus of climate change, energy security, armed conflict and forced migration will increasingly expose a world, as Todd Miller describes, of “vast inequalities that have long been reality: a world where the rich – who easily cross borders – sail on yachts and refugees drown in rickety boats, a world of vast mansions and clapboard houses, worlds where CEOs make 400 times more than their companies' workers, and pollute more than anyone else.” In other words: capitalism, protected by militarism.
For the vast majority of the people in this world this future is not something to look forward to. For the military and security industry, however, this all comes with new profit opportunities. In 2009 Lord Drayson, then UK Minister of State for Science and Innovation, said: “I think [climate change] is a real opportunity for the [aerospace and defence] industry.” Unfortunately, he was right. To sum up:
- a market for 'greener' weapons and a military running on alternative fuels;
- a growing market for 'traditional' arms, because of more instability, wars and other armed conflicts as a consequence of climate change and the scramble for access to resources that get scarcer and scarcer;
- a growing border security market, to keep out refugees that are the result of climate change and conflict;
- a growing homeland security market, to deal with social unrest as a result of climate change and problems coming with the extraction of natural resources in order to keep the social order and the power and wealth of the elites intact;
- an environmental and energy market, on which military companies promote military technologies for civil use.
Moreover, these new profit opportunities don't come out of the blue. The military and security industry is also very influential in shaping them. The best example of this might be the industrial lobby influencing the current EU migration policies.
The military thrives on insecurity and perceptions of insecurity – and both climate change and its consequences and migration fit perfectly into this pattern. The military’s only goal is to adapt to a changing security situation, with the aim of maintaining its own power and influence as well as defending the interests of those who have been the main actors causing the climate crisis and the refugee 'crisis'. As a consequence, the military, defence and security industries, rather than providing solutions to climate change and forced migration, are part of the problem. It is the dominance of military power on our planet that bolsters a systematic failure to tackle the root causes of climate change and of migration.