The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World

The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World

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The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World by Nick Buxton

While the world's scientists and many of its inhabitants despair at the impact of climate change, corporate and military leaders see nothing but opportunities. For them, melting ice caps mean newly accessible fossil fuels, borders to be secured from 'climate refugees', social conflicts to be managed and more failed states in which to intervene. They are 'securing' their assets at the expanse of the planet and its inhabitants.*BR**BR*The Secure and the Dispossessed looks at these deadly approaches with a critical eye. It also considers the flip-side: that the legitimacy of the elite is under unprecedented pressure – from resistance by communities to resource grabs to those creating new ecological and socially just models for managing our energy, food and water. *BR**BR*Topics covered include geoengineering, militarism, refugee protection, greenwashing and the agricultural crisis among others. Adaptation and resilience to a climate-changed world is desperately needed, but the form it will take will affect all of our futures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783717217
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 11/20/2015
Series: Transnational Institute
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Nick Buxton is Communications Manager for TNI. He has edited a number of books including State of Power (TNI, 2015) and The Secure and the Dispossessed (Pluto, 2015).
Ben Hayes has worked for the civil liberties organisation Statewatch since 1996, specialising in security, policing and counter-terrorism policy. He now works as an independent researcher and consultant and is a Fellow of the Transnational Institute. He is the co-editor of The Secure and the Dispossessed (Pluto, 2015).

Read an Excerpt



Christian Parenti

Water flows or blood.

Slogan of the banned Pakistani political party Jamaat-u-Dawa


Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. And the political responses to climate change increasingly take the form of ethnic, religious, or class violence in the form of banditry, rebellion, warfare, state repression and general militarisation. This is because the current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already existing crises of poverty and inequality left by thirty years of neoliberalism, and the violence and tattered social fabric left by Cold War-era military conflicts. I call this collision of political, economic and environmental disasters the 'catastrophic convergence'. By catastrophic convergence, I do not merely mean that several disasters happen simultaneously, one problem atop another. Rather, I am arguing that problems compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another.

Societies, like people, deal with new challenges in ways that are conditioned by the traumas of their past. Thus damaged societies, like damaged people, often respond to new crises in ways that are irrational, short-sighted and self-destructive. In the case of climate change, the past traumas that set the stage for bad adaptation – a destructive social response – are Cold War-era militarism and the economic pathologies of neoliberal capitalism. Over the last forty years, both these forces have distorted the state's relationship to society – removing and undermining the state's collectivist, regulatory and redistributive functions – while overdeveloping its repressive and military capacities. And this, I contend, seriously challenges society's ability to avoid violent dislocations as climate change kicks in.

Climate crisis

The scientific consensus about climate takes institutional form in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC does not conduct independent research but is instead a government- and UN-supported international clearinghouse. It collects and summarises all published scientific literature on climatology and related issues in biology, hydrology and glaciology to facilitate governments' response to climate issues based on fully vetted research.

The IPCC has been attacked by climate denialists as alarmist and wrong, due to several minor errors in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. But correcting these minor errors did not change the report's overall conclusions. In fact, because the IPCC operates on the basis of consensus, its conclusions are quite conservative and its reports lag years behind the latest scientific developments. The IPCC represents the lowest-common-denominator, fully accepted conclusions of the scientific mainstream.

The IPCC has concluded that our civilisation's dependence on burning fossil fuels has boosted atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide from around 280 parts per million (ppm) before the Industrial Revolution to 400 ppm today. Analyses of ancient ice cores show 400 ppm to be the highest that atmospheric CO has been for 10,000 years.

Atmospheric CO functions like the glass in a greenhouse, allowing the sun's heat in but preventing much of it from radiating back out to space. We need atmospheric CO without it, the earth would be an ice-cold lifeless rock. However, over the last 150 years, we have been loading the sky with far too much CO, and the planet is heating up.

As the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions explains, 'The Earth's average surface temperature has increased by 1.4°F (0.8°C) since the early years of the 20th century. The 10 warmest years on record (since 1850) have all occurred since 1998, and all but one have happened since 2000.'

Less than 1 degree Celsius warmer over a hundred years? That may not sound like much, but scientists believe it is enough to begin disrupting the climate system's equilibrium. The negative feedback loops that keep the earth's climate stable are increasingly giving way to destabilising positive feedback loops, in which departures from the norm build on themselves instead of diminishing over time. As a result, climate change is happening faster than initially predicted and its impacts are already upon us in the form of more extreme weather events, desertification, ocean acidification, melting glaciers and incrementally rising sea levels. The scientists who construct the computer models that analyse climate data agree that even if we stop dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, CO levels are already so high that we are locked into a significant increase in global temperatures. Disruptive climate change is a certainty even if we make the economic shift away from fossil fuels.

Incipient climate change is already starting to express itself in the realm of politics. Extreme weather events and off-kilter weather patterns are causing more humanitarian crises. The UN estimates that 70 per cent of humanitarian disasters are climate related, up from 50 per cent two decades ago. Already climate change adversely affects 300 million people a year, killing 300,000 of them. By 2030 – as floods, drought, forest fires and new diseases grow worse – as many as 500,000 people a year could be killed by climate change, and the economic cost of these disruptions could reach $600 billion annually.

This dangerous mix of extreme weather and water scarcity could inflame and escalate already existing social conflicts. Columbia University Earth Institute's Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and the International Crisis Group combined databases on civil wars and water availability, and found that 'When rainfall is significantly below normal, the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles the following year.' The project cites the example of Nepal, where the Maoist insurgency was most severe after droughts and almost nonexistent in areas that had normal rainfall. In some cases, when the rains were late or light, or came all at once, or at the wrong time, 'semi-retired' armed groups often re-emerged to start fighting again.

Between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer lies what I have called the 'Tropic of Chaos', a belt of economically and politically battered post-colonial states girding the planet's equatorial latitudes. In this band around the tropics, climate change is beginning to hit hardest. The societies in this belt are heavily dependent on agriculture and fishing, thus very vulnerable to shifts in weather patterns. According to a Swedish government study, 'There are 46 countries – home to 2.7 billion people – in which the effects of climate change interacting with economic, social and political problems will create a high risk of violent conflict.' Their list covers that same terrain. These latitudes are now being most affected by the onset of anthropocentric climate change.

In my book, Tropic of Chaos, I described numerous conflicts that are being exacerbated by climate change, beginning with the escalation of violence among East African pastoralists, most specifically the Turkana. Moving farther eastward, Afghanistan is facing the worst drought conditions in a hundred years. On to India, where a map of Naxalite guerrilla activity correlates almost perfectly with the most drought-affected districts. More recently, other climate conflicts have become well known: Syria's civil war in 2011, for example, was precipitated in part by a horrific drought from 2006 to 2009.

Rising sea levels provide another major challenge for our capacity to adapt. In 2007, the IPCC projected sea levels could rise by an average of 7-23 inches this century. These numbers were soon amended and scientists now believe that sea levels could rise by an average of five feet over the next ninety years. Such sea-level rises will lead to massive dislocations. One 2014 study from Columbia's CIESIN projects that 700 million 'climate refugees' will be on the move by 2050, although most of these will not cross borders and will move within their country of birth (see Chapter 5).

Perhaps the modern era's first 'climate refugees' were the 500,000 Bangladeshis left homeless when half of Bhola Island flooded in 2005. In Bangladesh, 22 million people could be forced from their homes by 2050 because of climate change. India is already building a militarised border fence along its 2,500-mile frontier with Bangladesh. And the student activists of India's Hindu Right are pushing vigorously for the mass deportation of (Muslim) Bangladeshi immigrants.

Meanwhile, 22 Pacific island nations, home to 7 million people, are planning for relocation as rising seas threaten them with national annihilation. What will happen when China's cities begin to flood? When the eastern seaboard of the US starts to flood, how will people and institutions respond?

Military legacy of the Cold War

The vulnerability of the Global South to climate change cannot be fully understood without noting that this region was also the frontline of the Cold War's hot proxy battles and the laboratory for neoliberal, violent economic restructuring. The main pre-existing crisis of the catastrophic convergence is the legacy of Cold War militarism. In the Global South, the Cold War was hot. Revolution and counter-insurgency were its methods. Conventional warfare in which the military and infrastructures are targeted is, despite all its horrors, often associated with increased social solidarity, as witnessed in Britain during the Second World War, where Nazi bombardment was met with evacuation, rationing, conscription and an unprecedented levelling of class differences. Asymmetrical sociomilitary conflicts, such as those waged across the Global South at the height of the Cold War were quite different, eroding and destroying the social fabric.

For the most part, the rebellion in the Global South was a home-grown affair, and the reaction from the US was – in the eyes of US planners – defensive. As a doctrine, counterinsurgency is the theory of internal warfare; it is the strategy of suppressing rebellions and revolution. Counter-insurgency mimics revolution: Its object is civilian society as a whole, and the social fabric of everyday life. Whereas traditional aerial bombing (which is notoriously ineffective) targets bridges, factories and command centres, counter-insurgency targets – pace Foucault – the 'capillary' level of social relations. It ruptures and tears (but rarely re-makes) the intimate social relations among people, the ability to cooperate, the lived texture of solidarity – in other words, the bonds that are society's sinews.

Conventional warfare seeks to control territory and destroy the opposing military, but counter-insurgency seeks to control society. In an insurgency, the military force – the state or the occupying power – already has (at least nominal) control of the battle space, but it lacks control of the population. Guerrillas, irregular forces, even small unpopular terrorist groups all rely on the populace, or parts of it, for recruits, food, shelter, medical care, intelligence and, if nothing else, simple cover. Mao Zedong summed it up: 'The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.' Thus, the counterinsurgent's task is to isolate and destroy the guerrillas by gaining control of the population through violence as well as psychological and ideological control. Society is the target, and as such, society is damaged.

Irregular, proxy conflicts – insurgency and counter-insurgency in the Third World defined the American and Soviet methods during the Cold War. Those methods primed many areas of the world for serious instability. The UN documented around 150 armed conflicts in the Third World between 1945 and 1990. In these 'small wars' 20 million people died, 60 million were injured, and 15 million were deracinated as refugees by 1991. Derek Summerfield, a psychiatrist and academic who specialises in the mental-health effects of modern war, described the situation as follows:

Five percent of all casualties in the First World War were civilians; the figure for the Second World War was 50 percent, and that for the Vietnam War was over 80 percent. In current armed conflicts over 90 percent of all casualties are civilians, usually from poor rural families. This is the result of deliberate and systematic violence deployed to terrorize whole populations ... Population, not territory, is the target, and through terror the aim is to penetrate into homes, families, and the entire fabric of grassroots social relations, producing demoralization and paralysis. To this end terror is sown not just randomly, but also through targeted assaults on health workers, teachers and co-operative leaders, those whose work symbolizes shared values and aspirations. Torture, mutilation, and summary execution in front of family members have become routine.

Nowhere saw a more devastating counter insurgency than Guatemala. Beginning in 1981, the military government of General Rios Mont combined a genocidal scorched-earth campaign against civilians with a classic 'secure and hold' development strategy. The strategy was called 'frijoles y fusiles (kidney beans and guns). After destroying Indian villages and massacring many of their inhabitants, the military would gather the surviving civilians and concentrate them in 'model villages'. Male survivors were forced to participate in civil patrols, lightly armed vigilante forces that were the eyes and ears of the military – and often their human shield. An estimated 100,000 civilians were murdered during the Guatemalan civil war, the vast majority of them by government forces.

I had an opportunity to see this war first-hand, in 1988, when I hiked across the Ixill Triangle in the highlands war zone. The trails were littered with government and guerrilla propaganda – small handbills exhorting the people to join one side or the other. The area was still at war but the guerrillas were in retreat. Everywhere we saw the methods of counterinsurgency: trails cleared of trees on all sides, air patrols, civilian militia checkpoints, burnt villages, and newly constructed ones under strict government control. Later, in 1991, I travelled with and reported on the Resistencia Nacional, part of the FMLN, in the hills of Cabanas, El Salvador; similar physical and social scars were evident.

Today, the Guatemalan highlands and the small towns of El Salvador are still violent, but instead of guerrilla operations and counter-insurgency, crime is the plague. The global average homicide rate is less than eight per 100,000. But the 2012 UN Office on Drugs and Crime report on Central America cites the rates that murder increased between 2000 and 2011: from 51 to 92 per 100,000 in Honduras; from 60 to 69 per 100,000 in El Salvador; and from 26 to 39 per 100,000 in Guatemala, with a spike to 46 per 100,000 in 2008 and 2009.

All three of those countries were sites of intense counter-insurgency from the late 1970s to early 1990s, and the legacy of that is a society weakened, social fabric frayed: gun culture; large populations of unemployed men trained and habituated to violence, discipline, secrecy, pack loyalty, brutality, and the arts of smuggling, extortion, robbery and assassination. The political class is also steeped in violence, and much of it sees society as warfare: enemies must be destroyed, social problems eliminated by force. Walls and armed guards define the landscape. The police are steeped in traditions of torture, disappearance and drug running.

Relative deprivation defines the psychological terrain: these societies are more unequal than ever, but the revolutionaries and progressive social movements, in raising class-consciousness, have made the masses aware of the inherent unfairness of the situation. The spectacle of modern media, in advertising riches and fame, make them aware of what they lack – all of which now feed criminogenic relative depravation.

Post-Cold War

Famously, the US defeat in Vietnam turned the US military away from the study of counter-insurgency, though the methods of irregular warfare were still part of the instruction for US proxy forces in El Salvador, the Philippines, Colombia and elsewhere. Counter-insurgency doctrine began to make a return after US Army Rangers got into trouble in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, during a botched raid on the compound of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. A Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in the city and a seat-of-the pants rescue mission eventually shot its way in and then back out of the city, but not without considerable loss of life – particularly for the Somali militiamen, 800-1,300 of whom were killed – and a spectacular humiliation for the US Army.


Excerpted from "The Secure and the Dispossessed"
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Copyright © 2016 Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Susan George Introduction: Security for whom in a time of climate crisis? - Ben Hayes and Nick Buxton 1. The Catastrophic Convergence: Militarism, neoliberalism and climate change - Christian Parenti 2. Colonising the future: Climate change and International security strategies - Ben Hayes 3. Climate change Inc. How TNCs are managing risk and preparing to profit in a world of runaway climate change - Oscar Reyes 4. A permanent state of emergency: Civil contingencies, risk management and human rights - Nafeez Ahmed, Ben Hayes and Nick Buxton 5. From refugee protection to militarised exclusion: what future for ‘climate refugees’? - Steve Wright, April Humble and Ben Hayes 6. The fix is in: (Geo)engineering our way out of the climate crisis? - Kathy Jo Wetter and Silvia Ribeiro, Etc Group 7. Greenwashing death: Climate change and the arms trade- Mark Akkerman 8. Sowing insecurity: Food and agriculture in a time of climate crisis - Zoe W. Brent, Nick Buxton and Annie Shattuck 9. In deep water: Confronting the climate and water crises - Mary Ann Manahan 10. Power to the people: rethinking energy security - Emma Hughes and the Platform Collective Conclusion: Finding security in a climate-changed world - Ben Hayes and Nick Buxton Notes on contributors Index

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