Environmentalism must be anti-militarist

Before I started to write this piece, I had major concerns on how it would be perceived by others. Because reviewing war and warfare in a different perspective than the incredible amount of people that were and still are affected by it (especially with the context of recent Russia-Ukraine war) can be understood as a very callous and apolitical way to perceiving the life itself. Nevertheless, I decided to go through with it either way. Especially after the propaganda pieces I see from the environmental activists and politicians who claim to be pro-environment. I want to emphasize that (as I will continue to emphasize below) highlighting different perspectives does not mean human livelihoods should not be our first prioritization.

As we, the humans struggle with the global change processes that are taking place, the ongoing political advances such as the elections with populist leaders like in the case for Turkey, Hungary or France and war on Ukraine with Russia rightfully dominates the current agenda for the masses, especially in Europe. During the current advances, at least for a time, I took the liberty to stay silent and “apolitically” state that the ‘war is wrong’ and ‘my heart is with all the Ukrainians that are affected by the war’ that is taking place in their home country. I still do share this sentiment. But this led to some thinking on my side, as I think I have responsibilities both as an ecologist and as a human being to look more in depth and more comprehensively to the current events that affect our future as a whole species. Because what I expected to see, and could not, was more of a principled discourse on the current events, especially from environmentalists.

At this point, I believe that it is necessary to talk about these so-called principles. In the very beginning of this piece, I talked about the human aspect of the war, which should always be the first and foremost topic of this kind of discussions. But, let us go further and see what we can discover, in order to look behind the curtain.

Recently I found a topic that was called “Warfare Ecology” (Machlis & Hanson, 2008). As you can imagine, I was quite interested and looked further to see what this was about. It was no surprise that this topic was about the research on the change of biodiversity in the areas that were affected either by war, or the warfare (Machlis & Hanson, 2008). In the scientific papers, there are some quite expected results such as the strong effect of active warzones on biodiversity and how the mechanisms of warfare takes a toll on the environment. This is quite important for the scientific literature as this creates a better perception / understanding of the warzones state, creates new information on how we can allocate our conservation efforts, and on the plus side, it should easily provide us with anti-militaristic arguments. But it is surprising, even though these scientific papers do draw some conclusions, they are quite confusing (in a very specific way), as their priorities are not in order, and to put it in the most polite way, even defeatist. As an example, in Machlis & Hanson, 2008 paper it is stated that “Increased application of warfare ecology may encourage the further incorporation of ecological science into military policymaking and planning.” While there are some great information and explanations in the paper, it is quite interesting not to use this opportunity to conclude with an anti-war discourse (at least not in the clear sense that one would like it to be). Furthermore, I came across a book called “Warfare Ecology: A New Synthesis for Peace and Security” that was proudly announced as “Based on a NATO Advanced Research Workshop.” For both materials, while I can understand (although cannot sympathize) the effort to make a change in the policies of war both for United States and the rest of the world, scientists must use these opportunities to make a clear statement without the possibility of misinterpretation or paving a way to an absurd concept such as “clean – sustainable war(fare).”

Although these scientific papers produced some disappointments, there were also quite informative on the dynamics and relations of war/warfare with biodiversity as to how military preparations, war and postwar activities affect biodiversity (Hanson, 2018).

As countries such as Germany, where The Greens are a part of the coalition, increases their military spending with applauses (Sheahan & Marsh, 2022), it is important for environmentalists and ecologists to be on the anti-militarist agenda, as we quite perfectly know that war and war industry is one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss (Lawrence et al., 2015). Furthermore, apart from being a driver, it is also one of the biggest budget problems (for conservation) in most of the countries, and especially superpowers.

The argument for a consistent anti-imperialist and anti-militarist agenda is a must for environmentalists for the sake of being non-contradictory. It is not possible for people to advocate for biodiversity and climate, then applaud the increase of military spending and advancements. For environmentalists, I think that (for the current Ukraine war context) it is not enough to just call for Putin or Russian Federation to stop their war acts, but a more inclusive anti-militarist agenda that condemns military advances as a whole (including NATO’s advancements, especially in Middle East) with the scope of human livelihood and future of our generations, that should include closing army bases, stopping the arm races, emphasize the importance of diplomacy, and gradual de-escalation of arms and ammunitions, is crucial.

Hanson, T. (2018). Biodiversity conservation and armed conflict: A warfare ecology perspective. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1429(1), 50–65. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13689

Person, & Maria Sheahan, S. M. (2022, February 27). Germany to increase defence spending in response to ‘putin’s war’ – scholz. Reuters. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/germany-hike-defense-spending-scholz-says-further-policy-shift-2022-02-27/

MARLER, T. (2013). Military ecology more fitting than warfare ecology. Environmental Conservation, 40(3), 207-208. doi:10.1017/S0376892913000179

Machlis, G. E., Hanson, T., ŠPirić, Z., & McKendry, J. E. (2011). Warfare Ecology: A New Synthesis for Peace and Security (NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security) (2011th ed.). Springer.

HANSON, T., & MACHLIS, G. E. (2014). The broad view of warfare ecology: response to Marler. Environmental Conservation, 41(3), 241. https://doi.org/10.1017/s03768929140000221F22A8DC68C55EB3BE836

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Ekin Kaplan
ODTÜ - M.Sc. Koruma Biyolojisi / Viyana Üniversitesi - CVL Doktora Öğrencisi