Experts Call for More Nuanced Research on Environment, Population, and Security

Addressing Environmental Problems and Population Dynamics May Lower the Risk of Conflict, Some Tell ECSP Report 11

Mar 01, 2006

Some violent conflicts on today's front page have deep roots in long-term environmental problems and rapid population growth. But these roots are often overlooked in favor of more visible explanations. According to some experts, protecting natural resources and stabilizing population growth must be part of long-term solutions to these conflicts. Others say the evidence does not support this strategy. But all agree that more research will lead to a more nuanced understanding of the links connecting environment, population, and security. Bringing together a diverse group of authors—from Nepal to Norway, from the university to the military—the 11th edition of the Environmental Change and Security Program Report explores how powerful underlying forces may engender war—-or lay a foundation for peace.

In questions of war and peace, population dynamics are rarely considered. Little in-depth analysis counters the simplistic equations of conventional wisdom. To help traverse this minefield, five experts offer recommendations based on their new research:

  • Henrik Urdal finds that national levels of population growth, land scarcity, and urbanization do not have a great influence on patterns of war and peace; however, "using local level data—rather than national—might reveal a stronger relationship between population pressure and conflict."
  • While youth are often singled out for their role in conflict, Sarah Staveteig proposes that a more precise measure of age structure can effectively predict insurgent-based civil wars. By studying trends in the future "relative cohort size"—the difference in the number of young adults versus the number of older working adults—policymakers could devise strategies to reduce the chances of such conflicts.
  • What happens when "son preference" leaves a nation with significantly more men than women? Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer warn that gender imbalances in Asian countries (notably India and China) could lead to internal and regional strife, and affect those countries' democratic potential: "In many ways, a society's prospects for democracy and peace are diminished in step with the devaluation of daughters."
  • Ethnicity carries much of the popular blame for recent conflicts, but little sustained research has explored how demographic shifts contribute to violence. Monica Duffy Toft warns that without government and academic efforts to improve the reliability and availability of data on differential population growth, aid and intervention strategies may continue to be counterproductive or destructive.

    The ECSP Report, the only forum dedicated to showcasing environmental security, also features these special reports:

  • Analyzing Nepal's deadly—and recently reignited—Maoist insurgency, Richard Matthew and Bishnu Raj Upreti state that even though environmental and population factors are not the primary causes of instability in this critical country, they are "important elements of what has gone wrong in Nepal, and they must be addressed before stability can be restored."

  • Despite the important connections between population and environment, foundations are moving their funds from integrated programs to other priorities. But Robert Engelman of Population Action International argues that there is still a place for the demographic case: "We can improve lives by promoting with one strategy reproductive health, the demographic transition, and environmental sustainability"—if donors step up to support it.

  • The military may seem an unlikely venue for peacemaking, but as Rear Admiral John Sigler USN (Ret.) explains, environmental security engagement—particularly disaster response—is a part of U.S. Central Command's efforts to promote regional stability. "The contributions of these relief operations to U.S. security interests cannot be overstated. American national values are on display, offsetting negative perceptions of the ‘hyper-power' and promoting positive views of the United States and other western nations, which could help reduce global terrorism."

  • A preview of a forthcoming ECSP publication, "Parks for Peace or Peace for Parks," offers five perspectives on these intriguing transboundary programs that seek to build peace and meet conservation goals—at the same time. Using examples from South Asia, southern Africa, and South America, the international group of authors offer recommendations—and cautions—for those considering peace parks.

  • Book reviews cover a broad spectrum of new publications that address the connections among population, health, environment, and security.

  • The second edition of dotPop links you to the year's most important sources of data on HIV/AIDS.

    To learn more about ECSP's current and upcoming projects, explore our ever-expanding website, where new features include video of many of our past meetings and a topical navigation tool, which sorts news, research, videos, and links according to your interests. Our redesigned monthly e-newsletter, ECSP News, delivers meeting summaries, program news, and event announcements straight to your inbox, as we continue to use new media to streamline our publications and improve our dissemination.

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    Experts & Staff

    • Roger-Mark De Souza // Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience, Wilson Center
    • Sandeep Bathala // Senior Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program, Maternal Health Initiative
    • Katharine Diamond // Program Assistant, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • Benjamin Dills // Program Assistant, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • Lauren Herzer // Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • John Thon Majok // Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • Schuyler Null // Web Editor and Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program, Maternal Health Initiative
    • Meaghan Parker // Writer/Editor, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • Sean Peoples // Multimedia Producer and Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • Geoffrey D. Dabelko // Senior Advisor, Environmental Change and Security Program
    • Ruth Greenspan Bell // Public Policy Scholar
    • William Krist // Senior Policy Scholar
    • Louise Lief // Public Policy Scholar
    • John W. Sewell // Senior Scholar