Connections Between the Environment and U.S. Security

Former Ambassador Kenneth Brill spoke recently to Northeast Ohio students.
Former Ambassador Kenneth Brill spoke recently to Northeast Ohio students.

When we talk about U.S. security, the discussion is usually around things like terrorism, illegal drugs, or border security.

It rarely involves the environment.

But former Ambassador Kenneth Brill thinks it should.

BRILL: Right now if you go to the Congress and talk about national security, they’re happy to talk to you about a missile system or an airplane system or maybe funding a contingent of troops, but they don’t really at this point see a link between the environment and national security.

Brill just finished a 35 year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, and points to numerous links between the environment and security.

He says droughts, floods, storms and heat waves have contributed to food and water shortages around the world.

And, he says, it’s projected to get worse.

BRILL: Glaciers are melting, glaciers are melting in the northern hemisphere and in the southern hemisphere and that’s a very important source of water for large parts of the population.

Brill says studies by several groups conclude the Arab Spring was spurred partly by environmental factors.

Arab countries are big importers of wheat, he explains, and when wheat prices went up due to drought conditions, food became scarce, and expensive.

BRILL: Now, I’m not going to claim, and these groups didn’t claim, that the only reason the Arab Spring happened was because of these environmental factors, but it’s very clear that the environmental factors—the drought, the lack of water that produced a shortage of food, its produced higher prices—was a contributing factor to this political upheaval that continues to this day to go through that region.

In his closing remarks, Brill told students environmental impacts directly affect politics, economics and relationships between states and regions.

BRILL: It’s not just about birds and bunnies and bugs and fish—it’s about will we have a stable and prosperous world in the future or will we not.

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