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UPDATE: This has been my most recommended (68) and commented on (29) article to date. Granted, some of the responses were from delusional climate change skeptics, but at least it’s nice to know people are reading!
Climate change could ignite wars in volatile regions
THE Matterhorn, an iconic emblem of the Alps, has two peaks: one on its Swiss side and one on its Italian side. Between them, the boundary separating the two countries traces the mountain ridge until it reaches the glacier at its base. According to a convention agreed long ago between Switzerland and Italy, the ridge of the glacier marks the border between the two countries. But the glacier is now receding, so a draft agreement has been proposed to create a new border that coincides with the ridge of the underlying rock.
The proposed change to this particular international border is unlikely to result in war. As the world warms up, however, more and more countries will need to renegotiate their boundaries. Your correspondent is concerned that a peaceful outcome is by no means assured.
Indeed, two recent reports from the Centre for Naval Analysis, an American military-research institute, suggest that border-related conflicts are a growing threat. In its report on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”, published in 2007, it warns that “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.”
Nowhere is this truer than along the disputed sections of India’s border with Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan have been locked in occasionally violent competition for control of Kashmir since their bloody partition in 1947. James Lee of the American University in Washington, DC, reckons “it is a very good bet that the Kashmir glaciers will get caught up in the India/Pakistan dispute.”
India’s border with China is also unresolved. The two countries fought a brief war over it in 1962. In early June, India signalled that it would boost its military presence close to the border. China responded on June 9th, when the Chinese Global Times published an editorial entitled “India’s Unwise Military Moves” denouncing India’s troop deployment.
At the same time, the melting of sea ice around the north pole is causing old rivalries to heat up over conflicting claims to what could be valuable stretches of seabed that are becoming accessible as a result. The same report from the Centre for Naval Analysis warns that “an Arctic with less sea ice could bring more competition for resources, as well as more commercial and military activity.” And at the other end of the world Chile and Argentina, which last had an armed standoff in 1978, have yet to agree formally on a borderline through the southern Patagonian ice fields, which will affect their overlapping seabed claims.
Rising sea levels will also eat away at all coastal communities, especially large, densely populated portions of many South and South-East Asian countries as well as tiny island nations in the South Pacific. In Bangladesh, where about 10% of the country is less than a metre above sea level, tens of millions could be displaced by global warming. India has already constructed a 4,100 kilometre (2,560 mile) fence along the border in an attempt to curb illegal immigration.
As the Centre for Naval Analysis states in its most recent report, “Powering America’s Defence”, which was published in May, “climate change could increasingly drive military missions in this century.” Many of these missions could involve environmental refugees fleeing marginal cropland, the productivity of which is likely to be reduced by global warming. It is worth noting that the report also found the American border to be at risk.
Photo credit: Squiggle(via Flickr)