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The Future of Research on Climate Change and Armed Conflict

Pakistan flood relief

U.S. Marines unload food and supplies for Pakistani flood victims in support of the flood relief effort in Pano Aqil, Pakistan, Sept. 11, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Bushong

By Dr. Marc Kodack

As military planners look out to future operating environments that they may face, they need to continue to anticipate the changing social, environmental, political, and economic conditions that populations may experience when these populations are increasingly affected by climate change. Climate change will dynamically influence many societal variables including migrationfood security, and conflict. Planners may be particularly drawn to the causes of conflict. Mach et. al (2020) present four areas of future research that would assist planners with better understanding the relationship between climate change and armed conflict.

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BRIEFER: Converging Risks in South Asia: Is a Disruptive Transition on the Horizon?

SarangShidoreTNBy Sarang Shidore

South Asia spans multiple countries that were formerly either directly or effectively a component of British India. These include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives. The subcontinent has had a traumatic history in modern times. Political partition in the wake of independence from colonial rule in 1947 left enormous death in its wake, particularly in the northwestern part of the region. Major conflicts such as the 1971 India-Pakistan war (which birthed the new state of Bangladesh) and bloody civil wars in Sri Lanka and Nepal added to suffering in the region. In addition, democracy has often been on the defensive in South Asia, with Pakistan experiencing multiple military coups and Bangladesh and India going through shorter authoritarian spells in the 1970s and 80s.

With a population of nearly 1.3 billion, India lies at the geographic and demographic core of South Asia. India’s future, perhaps more than that of any other country in the region, is likely to affect the rest of South Asia. The other countries of the region are also critical for regional security. Pakistan and Bangladesh have a combined population of close to 400 million, but often get less attention, namely because of the presence of their massive neighbor, India. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, though much smaller, impact the region in more subtle but important ways. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the major historical challenges South Asia has faced are being magnified by a complex set of risks. These include earth systems risk (such as climate change and pandemics), economic risk, governance risk, and inter-state conflict risk; the latter also with a dangerous nuclear dimension. Moreover, two external and competing major powers are playing a growing role in South Asia’s future – the United States and China – with complex and uncertain impacts on security.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the major historical challenges South Asia has faced are being magnified by a complex set of risks. These include earth systems risk (such as climate change and pandemics), economic risk, governance risk, and inter-state conflict risk; the latter also with a dangerous nuclear dimension. Moreover, two external and competing major powers are playing a growing role in South Asia’s future – the United States and China – with complex and uncertain impacts on security.

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Why the Nile Constitutes a New Kind of Water Dispute – and Why That’s Dangerous

Nile_River_Delta_at_NightBy Peter Schwartzstein

Ever since workers first broke ground on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in 2011, international commenters have fixated on the Nile as a possible harbinger of future ‘water wars’ to come. And almost since then, water experts have pushed back against that narrative. There’s no reason for such giddy pessimism, they say. Nor does precedent support the likelihood of conflict. As Addis Ababa and downstream Cairo have slowly hashed out most of the technical details, they’ve so far been proven right.

But though this dispute’s potential to spark inter-state violence may have been overstated thus far, at least for the near-term, the Nile and its GERD lightning rod nevertheless offer an alarming insight into just how dangerous future transboundary water disputes are liable to become, particularly in the context of a changing climate. This might be the new normal. Because while most previous cross-border water wrangles played out among neighbors with histories of water woes or sudden supply shocks, many current disputes are ensnaring a much broader, significantly less experienced, and worryingly ill-prepared cast of riparian states.

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New Study: Increased Risk of Armed Conflict Onset After Climate Related Disasters

Marc Kodack PhotoBy Dr. Marc Kodack

Over the past decade, understanding of the relationship between natural disasters, climate change and conflict has increased significantly. The Center for Climate and Security has been exploring case studies of this relationship since 2012, and four years ago, a major study of global datasets found that the “risk of armed-conflict outbreak is enhanced by climate-related disaster occurrence in ethnically fractionalized countries.”

The most recent addition to this growing body of literature is Tobias Ide and his colleagues (2020), who have presented the first multi-method study of climate-related disasters and conflict. They investigate the nature of the pathways connecting these disasters to conflict, as well as the contextual factors. Overall, the authors find that there is “an increased risk of armed conflict onset immediately after climate related disasters.” That’s a significant finding, though the relationship is not a generic one. (more…)

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