Does Climate Change Have an Impact on National Security an Indian Perspective

Does Climate Change have an impact on National Security An Indian perspective

A brief introduction

National security has perhaps never been more important than it is today. Today, even the slightest dispute has the potential to escalate into a full-fledged war. In such a world, countries have to be on their guard all the time in order to ensure their survival and the well being of their people. Countries have traditionally given utmost importance to their defences by protecting themselves from the many conventional threats to national security and have also invested significant capital for the same. However, recently there have been debates on whether or not climate change affects national security. The suggestion of a link between the two did raise a few eyebrows at first as most of the international community only associated adverse environmental effects with climate change however, off late the answer to the question of whether or not climate change affects national security is a resounding yes. R. K. Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC has recognized that climate change apart from raising environmental concerns also impacts economies and national security. While addressing this question, national security shouldn??™t be construed in a restricted sense as just protecting the nation??™s boundaries from external aggression or as protecting it from internal aggressors and insurgents but, in the broader sense as peace taking into consideration the general well being of the people by ensuring access to resources that are essential for living. Climate change despite lacking human intentionality can have effects similar to those of a weapon of mass destruction and can result in numerous persistent conditions occurring worldwide within the same time frame thereby demanding immediate attention. Climate change affects national security in the sense that it significantly reduces a country??™s capacity to cope with general problems and stretches its resources, thus making it more vulnerable.

The link between climate change and national security is now generally accepted and is receiving more and more attention. One of the major reasons for this is the report of the IPCC which has revealed that natural disasters are likely to be more frequent and more devastating unless measures are taken soon. The predicted effects of climate change over the coming decades include extreme weather events, drought, flooding, sea level rise, retreating glaciers, habitat shifts and the increased spread of life threatening diseases.[1] The IPCC report is backed up by recent events such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, 2005??™s Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake which have drawn the attentions of governments. The devastation that each of these natural disasters have caused on the regions that they??™ve affected has put things in proper perspective.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake was one of the most devastating earthquakes ever recorded and it triggered a series of tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean out of which Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were the hardest hit. In Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives, the situation was so bad that a state of emergency had to be declared. The disaster is estimated to have killed lakhs of people. A lot of humanitarian aid was required to deal with the severe damage to infrastructure, shortages of food and water and to prevent the spread of epidemics. Economic loss caused was also significant as many coastal fishing communities lost their livelihood because of the damage to boats and other coastal infrastructure. Tourism also faced quite a set-back in many of these regions that rely heavily on it for their income as most were reluctant to visit them for sometime due to psychological reasons.

After the Indian Ocean Earthquake, disaster struck again in 2005 but this time in the form of Hurricane Katrina which affected mostly the U.S. and certain parts of Cuba and Canada. Hurricane Katrina is the costliest and 5th deadliest hurricane in the history of the United States. A few thousands were killed and many were categorized as missing. Due to the sheer wind speeds, the extensive rainfall, flooding, tornados, etc caused by the hurricane, infrastructure damage including loss of property was extensive and so was electricity loss. The economy suffered a huge loss as a lot was spent on repair and reconstruction of infrastructure, the forest industry suffered, there was an interruption in the supply of oil and export of commodities such as grains faced hurdles. Furthermore, during all the chaos a lot of people migrated to different parts which just added to the confusion. During this state of chaos and confusion, people took advantage of the situation and crime was a major problem with rapes, murders and thefts being committed. Apart from this, Katrina also had profound environmental implications as beach erosion, land loss including loss of breeding grounds for mammals and contaminated residual water problems were all a direct result of it. The U.S. government was levied with heavy criticism from its people for not being able to effectively deal with the situation. The relief operations were characterized by mismanagement and lack of leadership with many general public policy issues being brought into the lime light. Apart from the valiant efforts of the U.S. Government, international aid and NGO assistance was required to deal with the situation. If the United States which is the most developed and powerful country in the world can be stretched and reduced to a state of chaos and confusion by a single hurricane, imagine what the scenario would be if the same happened to a less developed nation.

The best example of what could happen if a less developed and less prepared country was to suffer from a natural disaster is probably that of Haiti. Haiti already suffered from shortages of food and potable water and was also plagued by local violence when on 12th January disaster struck Haiti as an earthquake of immense intensity hit the country. The earthquake and subsequent aftershocks have crippled the country. Lakhs of people have been affected by the earthquake and many have been left homeless. Many important figures also lost their lives including Michael Gaillard, the leader of the opposition. In fact so many people were killed during the disaster that the bodies had to be buried in mass graves. Infrastructure has been severely damaged in the country which does not have any building codes in place. Several important buildings including hospitals, the central jail, various government and UN buildings and offices including the presidential palace and the national assembly building have suffered extensive damage. Important roads, telephone and mobile services have also been severely affected thereby increasing the difficulty in carrying out relief operations. The economy also has been severely hit as many jobs are expected to be lost and the clothing industry which accounts for two thirds of the country??™s exports has suffered damage to its manufacturing facilities. To add to the situation inmates of the central jail escaped as the jail suffered extensive damage and lot of sporadic violence and looting has been taking place since. Widespread international and NGO aid was provided. Many countries dispatched troops with most committing to the rebuilding of Haiti in the long run. The situation in Haiti is so bad that the country is on a long road to recovery which has only just begun and it??™ll take time for the country to be restored to its former self.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake are examples of the devastating effects that climate change and natural disasters can have on a country. If these disasters get bigger and worse with time due to climate change, one can only imagine what the havoc and security threat will be like. India as a developing nation could be devastated by the effects of climate change and should take cognizance of the problem soon. For India many internal and international threats to national security of equal importance could arise from climate change. We should try to foresee all the possible threats to national security from climate change as soon as possible and take measures to limit their potential to hurt us or avoid them altogether if possible.

Internal problems that could arise and capacity to exacerbate ongoing internal conflicts

There are many internal problems that climate change could cause which can compromise our national security. Firstly, the government of any country has an obligation to keep its citizens pleased by providing them with the essential goods and services necessary for a good life. However, is it possible for all countries to guarantee these essentials during a crisis Some of the developed nations may certainly be able to do so but most cannot. During a crisis, people are agitated and scared and need reassurance from their government. If the government cannot provide this, the situation can turn ugly very soon. People lose faith in the government??™s capacity to provide for them and start taking matters into their own hands by committing various crimes to meet their immediate needs. In extreme cases people can lose faith in the government altogether leading to a failed state. It??™s quite sad that India at the moment despite its rapid development stills falls into the latter category which will find it very hard to cope with extreme situations. Indian farmers for example depend wholly on the weather for irrigation and already rain delays are causing huge problems which the government cannot deal with which has lead many farmers to commit suicide especially in Maharashtra. By not checking climate change we risk further delaying the rains and agitating farmers, the outcome of which is best avoided. Another major problem that India faces is that individual states are at disputes with each other and that there is not much unity within the nation. Even within each state we have constant disputes of which Telangana is probably the best example at this point of time. Now, these sates have to share the natural resources that are available to them in an equitable manner. Climate change could change the way these natural resources are distributed and shared by changing the paths of rivers, causing fluctuations in the times at which rivers are full, etc. These could cause states to compete over the resources and could exacerbate the many already existing and ongoing conflicts which could become extremely serious. We have already seen how Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have fought over Kaveri water. However, the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka dispute is nothing compared to what could break out in future. Another problem that could arise even though it is unlikely is a scenario in which a natural disaster strikes a place where a military base is located. The natural disaster could destroy the base altogether or could lead to substantial loss of life of soldiers and other important military officials, not to mention the damage to the infrastructure and loss of military equipment. Millions of rupees could be lost and if the base so affected is one of high strategic importance our military readiness and capability could be severely compromised. Also Indian soldiers lack training to handle post disaster scenarios. India also has weak infrastructure and many problems are prevalent even in some of the most developed cities. Open drains, bad roads with potholes, bad electricity supply and telephone connectivity, etc are common in most places and to top it off disaster resistant structures are virtually non-existent even in high risk areas. If a disaster hits India then a repeat of the fiasco in Haiti could occur and rescue-relief operations could be severely hampered by the resulting chaos and confusion. Another one of the major problems associated with natural disasters are epidemics. Due to the pathetic conditions that are created by natural disasters, many people who survived the actual disaster in one piece could fall ill subsequently by catching diseases such as malaria, cholera, etc. After a natural disaster people??™s immunities are weakened and hence they become very vulnerable and it is very easy for epidemics to spread which makes the job of the government exponentially more difficult as hospitals which may or may not be understaffed in the first place and that are already filled with patients who have suffered during the disaster will have to treat these patients as well. Moreover, medical supplies may run short. Also, India being a peninsula has a large coastline with a lot of people depending on it for their livelihood. This also means that a lot of Indians are vulnerable to the effects of tsunamis, cyclones, etc. They??™ve suffered immensely in the past due to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the same could occur on a bigger scale in the future. The government??™s capacity to provide relief to such a large number is seriously in question. The above are just a few examples of the problems that could arise. The various internal problems that could arise out of climate change are unforeseeable and by no means limited. Some serious thought has to be given by the government to this subject.

Climate change: A global issue that could cause global problems

Since climate change is a global phenomenon, it has the potential to cause global problems. On a global scale this problem is like no other. All countries are at fault for climate change to some extent or the other although some may be more responsible than others. Now in the immediate future the problems caused by climate change are going to get worse unless checked and if a situation does arise where a country gets severely affected by climate change, which country is to receive the blame if any For example if the Maldives get completely submerged, who is the most at fault Is it the people of the Maldives themselves or the Country with the highest carbon emissions The people of the Maldives aren??™t going to be too happy for sure and are definitely going to point fingers at someone or the other. Here, the debate as to who should cut down on carbon emissions more, developed countries or the developing ones becomes relevant. If a country does get as badly affected as the Maldives could we can be sure that these two groups will be pointing their fingers at each other creating a very dire scenario indeed which is best avoided. Just like the states within a country have to share resources in an equitable manner, in the same way nations too have to share natural resources with each other and the effects of climate change could adversely impact the relationship between countries in the same way it could the relationships between states as mentioned earlier.

Global climate change, by its very nature, is a trans-national phenomenon. While its impacts will not respect political frontiers, the sources of climate-related problems and those at risk from them might well be on different sides of national boundaries. This situation is further complicated when the boundaries themselves are unclear, contested or both. As states react to climate change issues in line with their self-interests, asymmetries in risk perceptions and the existence of unresolved inter-state disputes are likely to complicate ongoing conflicts.[2] India has already had many disputes with its neighbors and our relationship with our neighbors is far from perfect. Climate change can take the many marginal situations we face and push them over their tipping points which can be disastrous. We could face problems from Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Myanmar.
China is a major power today and is making its presence felt in the international arena. China is possibly planning on setting up a base abroad so as to get a strong foothold in our region and the might of the Chinese military is known to all. It is best for us to maintain as healthy a relationship with our powerful neighbors but this may become increasingly difficult with our ongoing border conflict with them. Indians have accused the Chinese of encroaching upon our border inch by inch and the situation is already a little tense. China can divert many of the rivers that flow into India and thereby disrupt the availability of water to many North Indian states that depend on them. For example the Brahmaputra could be diverted by china thus, severely affecting the people of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. As of now, China has no reason to divert its waters but if a shortage of water of does arise in the near future due to climate change then, China may be tempted to do so to meet the needs of its own people thereby upsetting the Indian government and its people which could lead to a major dispute between the two. In 2000, Chinese authorities were blamed for not alerting India in time and a disaster occurred. After this incident, India and China agreed to share weather information with each other. In 2004, a large landslide dammed up the Pareechu river in Tibet creating an artificial lake and Indian authorities feared that the bursting the dam would cause flooding in populated areas in Himachal Pradesh. In the same month another artificial lake was found on the Tsangpo river thereby giving India more to worry about. In the event, both countries improved their hydrological and satellite based remote sensing capabilities but not before the Indian armed forces had mobilized for disaster management. Such events have the capacity to exacerbate bilateral tensions, especially if India suffers a major natural disaster either due to lack of warning or worse, by a Chinese act to protect its own interests.[3] And since such events are predicted to become more frequent, bilateral tensions could become worse. Hence, our border dispute with the Chinese could be made a lot worse and a lot harder to resolve if the two countries don??™t trust each other.
A country that is extremely vulnerable to climate change is Bangladesh. Bangladesh??™s economy is based on agriculture and the country is plagued by a shortage of water so many people are already dissatisfied. Moreover, the country doesn??™t have a large landmass so land is also a precious natural resource. Because of climate change, the polar ice caps are melting and causing the global sea level to rise putting many low lying areas at risk. Bangladesh is one such low lying area and could be inundated resulting in the loss of a lot of land. Most people will run out of work and will be further dissatisfied with the living conditions there very quickly if this inundation becomes bad. This is a very serious problem because the inundation caused by climate change will be permanent so the people will have very little choice but to leave the country in search of better opportunities and living conditions. Most of the Bangladeshis will inevitably choose to migrate to India which could cause serious problems for us. Indian government??™s capacity and our resources are already stretched; it??™ll be extremely difficult for the government to deal with the mass influx of people. Moreover, in the past, ethnic invasion of people from Bangladesh has affected the relationship between the two countries adversely. The Indian government cannot turn back or refuse these immigrants either as it could be levied with lots of criticism both from within the country and from the international community for not being sensitive to the situation that the Bangladeshis are facing. All measures should be taken to prevent the inundation in Bangladesh because once the permanent inundation occurs, very few solutions will be left available to the people of Bangladesh other than the option of migrating to India which put the Indian government in a very precarious situation.
Out of all of its neighbors, India has fought the fiercest battles in recent times with Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf when he was just a young brigadier had stated that the dispute over Indus waters and Jammu and Kashmir go hand in hand and that the resolution of one would solve the other as well. Even though the Indus Water Treaty has been in existence for over more than 50 years, disputes between India and Pakistan have still occurred as Pakistan feels that the treaty is not satisfactory. Also, Pakistan has not been able to manage its water resources within the country well enough because of which many provinces in Pakistan do not have a steady water supply. One of the major reasons for the dispute between the two nations has been that of water and water supply is a high priority for Pakistan as the proposal once made to divide Jammu and Kashmir with rivers as boundaries suggests. So, as Pakistan is in need of more water and since water could become even scarcer, there is no telling what Pakistan could resort to. Even today they??™re resorting to violent and militant methods to get what they want. Now, with climate change having serious potential to disrupt the flow of many rivers, including the Indus it could further deteriorate the already extremely bad relationship between the two countries.
Apart from the problem of migration of people from Bangladesh into India, there is also a strong chance of people migrating to India from Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. Migration from Sri Lanka and Nepal could be caused due to the ongoing disputes in those countries. In the Maldives, there is no ongoing dispute as such but the rising sea levels could cause people to seek refuge in India. In Sri Lanka, there is already discontent among some groups especially the Tamil Tigers because of which many ethnic killings have already taken place. The government??™s ability to respond to disasters and satisfy people will be seriously called into question if the sea levels continue to rise and if it does not respond effectively, discontent among the people will increase and the situation could become very bad. Sri Lankans will be forced to migrate into India which could lead to a large ethnic conflict. In Nepal, the problem is again similar due to the ongoing civil war there. In Nepal, flooding and draught could cause serious problems and people could start fighting even more for resources. Depending on how serious the problem is, there is no end to what extent people could go to and ethnic killings could rise. In the Maldives, no internal dispute or conflict is going on as such but the chances of the country getting submerged are extremely high. The people of this country again will first look to India for refuge which is not a good situation for us. So basically refugees are a huge problem for India from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. India is already the second most populous country in the world and the government as of today isn??™t able to provide for all the people. The Indian government cannot afford to provide for the many people who could take refuge in our country in future, so it is better that we do all that we can to prevent that situation from ever arising. Also, saying no to refugees from other countries could result in a lot of criticism.
Therefore, the problems that we could face from our neighbors have the potential to be very serious and could be very detrimental to the whole region. Apart from problems from our immediate neighbors, if a country anywhere in the world suffers severely from climate change and if India??™s interests are strongly intertwined with the interests of that country, then we could suffer indirectly. Suppose a country who exports many goods to India gets hit by a natural disaster then India could face serious problems. The above is only a small problem of the manner in which India could be affected by disasters abroad.
Conclusion and ways forward
Climate change definitely has profound implications for the world that should be addressed at the earliest. The first step that has to be taken is for awareness to be created. At the moment the implications of climate change are known to and taken seriously by a very limited group of people most of whom are experts on climate change, academicians or environmentalists. The common people and many government officials are still unaware of the problem. Before the problem can be taken seriously and considered at par with the many conventional threats to national security, all should be made aware of the special nature of the threat that climate change poses and should understand it properly. Climate Change affects countries on two levels i.e. internationally in general and also on a country specific level. Hence, to effectively deal with this menace both international and national measures are required. Since the problem has the potential to affect all the countries and is not restricted to one particular place, international effort and collaboration is required to deal with it. Countries should join hands and cooperate with each other by discussing the problem at global forums and coming up with common solutions to help reduce the threat. A combination of adaptation and mitigation is the order of the day. We should mitigate the effects we can control and adapt to those we cannot. Mitigation will be more effective if done at a global level by signing various binding agreements and treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol. Adaptation on the other hand is more country specific and should be done based on what a country is most vulnerable to and based on the needs of the people. Apart from global talks and signing binding agreements and treaties, common training camps could be conducted to prepare soldiers of various nations??™ armed forces to deal with post disaster scenarios. The few soldiers who attend these camps can then come back and train the soldiers of their respective forces the same way they were trained. This will ensure a minimum competency level among the soldiers of all countries to deal with post disaster scenarios. This in turn ensures that the international aid and assistance provided by the UN and foreign countries out of goodwill is of a good standard. Apart from this basic general training, it is upon the government of each country to provide specific training based on each country??™s need. At the national level various measures are to be taken as well. Among the national level measures to be taken, adaptation is perhaps the most important. Critical infrastructure such as important government buildings, military bases, schools, hospitals, jails, police stations, fire stations, etc should be strengthened. Also, buildings that are disaster resistant should be constructed in places that are at a high risk to them. Better evacuation plans are needed in cities and districts. Apart from this, the government at both the state and central level should ensure that there is sufficient stock of food and medical supplies so that there is no shortage in the post disaster period, thereby ensuring that people who survived the actual disaster don??™t die later because they couldn??™t be medicated in time or of starvation. As all the potential problems that could be caused by climate change are not predictable, all the measures to be taken to curb them aren??™t definite either. Therefore, countries should realize the special nature of the problem and act fast. If the conservation and protection of Mother Nature isn??™t a good enough reason for countries to seriously think about the way in which they??™re harming our planet and causing climate change, then hopefully their national securities will be enough of a reason to bring in sweeping changes.

[1] National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, Available at, Visited 7th Feb, 2010
[2]Nitin Pai, Climate Change and National Security:Preparing India for New Conflict Scenarios, Indian National Interest Policy Breif, No.1 April 2008 at 3
[3] Supra note 2 at 4