Migration is Straining US – EU Relations in the Trump Era

The Trump administration’s customary National Security Strategy omitted several non-traditional security threats previously addressed in the Obama administration’s 2015 document. The 2017 document neglected several aspects of the non-traditional security paradigm, notably climate change, disease epidemics and natural disasters. In particular, the Trump administration has failed to recognize the growing non-traditional threat of irregular migration to the national security of the United States and its allies. As irregular migration increases to the European Union, the United States’ failure to respond to the crisis contributes to a weakened and divided European collective security agenda, driving apart its Southern European allies, who face the bulk of the migration wave, and their Northern European counterparts, who see Russia’s attempt to re-establish political, economic and military dominance as a threat to their regional security.

The emphasis on isolationist policy aligns with President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and promise to “Make America Great Again” by turning inward to promote the interests of the United States, and, consequently, encouraging competition and not cooperation between states. This isolationist approach toward American national and economic security, emphasizing enhanced domestic border security, military spending and economic growth, increasingly ignores the integral relationship between the United States and European allies, who together serve as the largest economic and military powers through the European Union trading bloc and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The security of Europe is in the interest of the United States, as our economic and military interests are aligned.

Over the past two years, the European migration crisis has created an unprecedented level of instability across the entire continent. Irregular migration to primarily Western nations from the Middle East, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa has been a major political issue in elections ranging across the continent. With over 1.3 million claims for asylum filed in 2015 alone – and 1 million migrants reaching mainland Europe by the Mediterranean Sea that same year – relations with the Southern European nations of Spain, Italy, Greece and France have become increasingly exasperated, as they face a disproportionate share of migrants to host while their asylum claims are being processed. Their borders are overwhelmed and do not have the adequate resources to employ active homeland security tactics nor rescue operations for capsizing boats.

In contrast, Northern European nations are nervous about the shift in Russian posture along the north Atlantic coast. Increases in the frequency of military exercises, patrols and missile tests by the Russian government has NATO worried about their potential to mitigate Russian naval access in the Atlantic Ocean, the “Northern Flank,” which would in turn block access for the U.S. military to reach mainland Europe. The shift in posture comes at a period of military budget-cuts across the entire NATO alliance, and Russia’s controversial military involvement in Crimea. As a response, military spending has sharply risen across NATO and non-NATO members allied with the United States, attributed to Russia’s posture and the recent U.S. isolationist retreat, but divide the collective security agenda of the alliance as a whole.

An unwillingness to recognize and assist the tremendous burden migration places upon our European allies strains our relationship and reduces their ability to cooperate as a collective security. Denying Syrian and Afghan refugees resettlement in the United States symbolizes our unwillingness to fully address the burden that the European migration presents on our allies. At a time of heightened conflict and strained tensions in the Middle East and beyond, the United States cannot afford for its closest alliance to become divided, as they face a political existential crisis that undermines the individual political stability of nearly every European state. Instead, the United States must recognize the severity of the crisis and offer not only to shoulder the burden with refugee intakes, but also reinstate our previous efforts to cooperate with the E.U. in migration governance and refugee aid. The United States must focus its strategy on cooperation between interdependent states if it truly aims to foster stability on the European continent.





The Foreign Policy of Overfishing

The competition for the growing demand of seafood has led to a severe depletion of the world’s fisheries and marine organisms. Part of this is due to warming ocean temperatures, but it is mostly caused by wasteful and inefficient fishing practices. A 2006 Science study has estimated a complete collapse of global fisheries by 2050. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 52% of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, 17% are fully exploited, and 7% have collapsed. Only 23% of fisheries have room for any kind of sustainable growth, leading to a scramble over remaining hunting ground. Fishermen have resorted to illegal fishing off the coasts of foreign countries, creating a competition between China and its neighbors in East and Southeast Asia. Those rocky islands in the South China Sea you keep hearing about that everyone is fighting over? That is valuable fishing territory. It is so valuable that conflict has escalated between Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen, one of the several reasons the South China Sea has escalated into regional tensions.

It is vital to Chinese national and economic interests to have a steady supply of food. China alone consumes over a third of the world’s seafood supply, at 50 million tonnes a year, followed by Japan and the United States, who consume roughly 7 million tonnes each. Even though 70% of China’s fishing supply is farm based, the burgeoning middle class prefer wild catches, such as sea cucumber, tuna and so forth. With over a billion citizens, and the largest middle class population on Earth, China has a more profound impact on marine life and than its neighbors or OECD counterparts, and can thus rise as a leader in sustainable seafood production.


Source: The Guardian UK

Although the United States must also work on implementing more sustainable seafood regulations and practices, our population isn’t growing exponentially as the rest of the world. The Asian continent is expected to reach a population total of 5.2 billion by 2050, accounting for slightly over half of the global population and the entire food supply. Individuals highly dependent upon marine organisms for protein, as the majority who reside on the Asian continent are, may become priced out from such products, even farmed raised, as a pending collapse would lead to a surge in pricing. Such an event would be detrimental to the food security of the region.

OK, so you’re asking yourself why I’m discussing such an issue on a Human Security themed blog. Well, seafood is highly critical for the food security of East Asia. It is the main source of protein throughout East and Southeast Asia, meaning unaffordable (and eventually non-existent) staple seafood products can lead to a severe nutritional deficit. After all, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are not exactly geographically conducive to cultivating mass livestock production. Beef and chicken are imported from trade partners like Brazil, Australia, the U.S., Paraguay, India and others. The ocean provides a large source of cheap, nutritious protein for several billion individuals.

Oceans are interconnected, and the fact that Chinese fishermen are fishing well away from China’s coastlines signifies the fact that an effort must be made in regulating fish production and promoting sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Earlier this month, an Argentinian coast guard ship sunk a Chinese fishing vessel that was illegally trespassing in its waters, leading to diplomatic tensions. Similar incidents have occurred in East Africa and even Indonesia, where Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has demanded the Chinese government curb illegal trawling off Indonesian coastlines. The Indonesian government has claimed losses of $20 billion from illegal fishing USD, and has began to deploy its limited naval forces to prevent encroachment in hopes of growing its maritime sector.


Source: BBC

Despite consumer preference in marine seafood products, the environment can no longer sustain the sheer quantity of organisms that are already buckling under the pressures of environmental change. If there is no considerable effort made to promote sustainable aquaculture (and aquaculture is by no means a perfect solution), the majority of individuals across East Asia will be priced out of staple protein. Instead of looking at this issue as just one of the many catastrophic environmental issues we face today, it can be an opportunity for policymakers and business leaders to create cost-effective solutions to mutually benefit consumers, governments and businesses. Overfishing and encroaching into maritime territory is not an effective solution for any nation; instead, leaders across Asia must look at developing long-term solutions to ensure that it will be able to feed generations to come without compromising the entirety of the world’s oceans.

The Water Cartels of Pakistan

Here in the United States, we often don’t give a second thought to access to running water and water infrastructure. As long as your water bill is paid, one turn of the tap brings an unlimited supply of treated water. Those in water-scarce, developing countries, however, do not generally have this luxury. In fact, in much of South Asia, the infrastructure for plumbing does not exist at all. Criminal cartels in Pakistan have utilized this discrepancy into a lucrative enterprise. Citizens without access to basic infrastructure must purchase their water from cartels, who operate by dispensing water in plastic jugs from trucks to middle and lower class neighborhoods in urban areas such as Karachi and Lahore.

Given these cartels effectively source their water from untreated rivers and streams, there is no guarantee that the water being purchased has been treated. The lack of chemical treatment lends to outbreaks of water borne diseases, including cholera and malaria. Although such sourcing of common resources is illegal, there is no law enforcement to police such activities, and the business is so lucrative that bribes are easily paid. One report estimates a cartel can make up to $16,000 USD daily. Because residents of lower income neighborhoods and settlements must rely on these water truck cartels, it has allowed these groups to effectively monopolize this essential resource and gouge their customers. Persistent drought conditions and urban sprawl make it especially difficult for citizens residing in metro areas to gain adequate access to fresh, clean water. In a water scarce urban environment, up to half of the 24 million residents of Karachi alone find themselves reliant upon such services.


Source: Dawn.com

The same business model occurs in similarly developing nations, including Kenya. In Nairobi, local governments have tried to enforce water access as a mandatory right; however, many informal settlements do not have oversight from the government. It is in these poor to working-class communities that are home to waves of migrants from rural communities who relocate to urban areas in search of work, a phenomenon common throughout the world’s fastest growing nations. Given the high levels of corruption and failure of effective government in areas where water cartels operate, there is not much incentive to stop this problem due to its profitability. However, this issue is not limited to the developing world: in my native California, residents have been stealing water with private water trucks.


Source: CNBC

Scientific data has made us aware that water scarcity will be the new normal with the shift in climatic conditions due to anthropogenic climate change. It is paramount for policy makers in water-stressed regions to recognize the basic right to water infrastructure. Such scarcity has already affected the political climate in nearly every dry region, including California; policy makers must look toward the future in creating and implementing an effective and viable water management strategy in order to ensure the existence of such regions.

The Zika Virus: More of What is to Come

With the onset of the Zika epidemic, humanity must consider pressing solutions in addressing tropical disease. Such diseases are mainly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in hot, humid climates. One of the reasons why the virus has spread across the Americas and other tropical regions so rapidly is that these regions are even more humid and now receive more precipitation thanks to shifts in precipitation patterns. Thus, tropical diseases spread and become more prevalent as the Earth warms and populations in hot, humid climates become more urbanized. It is much easier for disease to spread in urban areas due to population density, improper sanitation and infrastructure, which contribute to mosquitoes thriving in still bodies of water, as well as general inaccessibility to vaccination and proper health care.

Disease outbreaks such as the Zika threaten global public health given the sheer globalization of our world today. Already, the virus has reached the United States and Western Europe. Yes, industrialized countries have the means to cope with these viruses, but they are still unwelcome, especially due to the severity of microcephaly, a birth defect linked to the virus. Frankly, Zika seems mild in comparison to the outbreak of diseases that are likely to occur as global warming worsens. Dengue and malaria infect 400 and 207 million annually across the globe, respectively, and are especially fatal among children. Zika is just one example of how globalized disease outbreaks threaten human livelihood. Exotic diseases that may have never found their way into the Western world now do so with immigration and travel to and from regions.

Thankfully, technology in the form of genetic modification and vaccines can alleviate the spread of tropical disease emanating from mosquito species. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the development of genetically modified mosquitoes to both reduce the chances of young maturing to adulthood in addition to carrying a form of bacteria prohibiting the spread of dengue to humans. Of course, eliminating a species of mosquito may have a large impact on fragile ecosystems. They are an integral food source for several species of animals and insects. What is more ethical and proactive for the survival of humanity is the spread of vaccinations against major tropical disease. As the world’s deadliest animal to humans, emphasis on developing vaccines and preventing conditions for disease to spread through proper urban development may be the surest bets for addressing future public health challenges from global warming.

Human Security in Action: Meso-Level Index Based Flood Insurance

I’m going to continue the theme from my previous post on Bolsa Família regarding policies around the world that reflect the principles of the Human Security (in this case, the Environmental Security) paradigm. This article explores how a new insurance scheme for floods can help alleviate human migration patterns in Bangladesh.

The coastal zone of Bangladesh is prone to multiple environmental threats. Cyclones, storm surges and floods, are all regular occurrences within this low-lying nation. Such areas have been identified as agro-ecologically disadvantaged regions. Some of the underlying threats emanating from the onset of coastal encroachment are a reduction in sources of safe freshwater, coastal erosion, high groundwater arsenic content, waterlogging, sharp upticks in water and soil salinity. Complicating matters further, poverty is highly concentrated on the coast, making natural disasters and climate change-related events difficult to overcome for the 46% of Bangladeshis who reside along the river deltas and Indian Ocean. In addition to the restoration of the natural environment, a comprehensive approach is needed to fully allow Bangaldeshis to adapt to one of the most extreme aspects of climate change: natural disasters.

Environmental migration within Bangladesh is a common form of adaptation to environmental stress due to the displacement that occurs from natural disasters. Despite international natural disaster frameworks already in place, such as the Hyogo Framework, these policies intentionally do not address re-construction or relief at the local level because they are merely policy recommendations. Between 1970-2009, 39 million people were displaced by floods and cyclones. Half of Bangladesh’s population fully relies upon agriculture, natural disaster severely impedes the livelihood of these individuals. Thus, when these events do occur, many are forced to seek employment elsewhere, namely urban areas and parts of India. 180,000 Bangladeshis migrate to Assam every month, up to a total of 2.16 million annually. Natural disasters are a grim reality–Bangladesh is one of the four nations most prone to these events on Earth. Thus, an insurance scheme in which pre-determined flood thresholds trigger speedy compensation offers hope for poor people in flood-prone Bangladesh.

This insurance scheme, or “Meso-Level Index Based Flood Insurance,” is a weather based index insurance plan piloted and invented by Oxfam-Bangladesh and the Center for Insurance and Risk Management. It is theoretically advantageous over the long-term because it rolls government payouts when a certain pre-agreed damage threshold is crossed after a natural disaster. Meso-level insurance systems are more efficient because they are assessed on the basis of water depth and duration of flooding. Unlike traditional government damage assessments, these funds are paid out soon after the flooding, or monsoon, season to individuals following an event, allowing for re-construction soon after a disaster strikes.

Non-governmental organizations are responsible for issuing funds that come mainly from the Swiss government. Families can receive up to approximately $30 USD per household. However, there is much scrutiny surrounding this new insurance plan due to the difficulty determining whether or not it will be cost effective given there is no standard threshold for trigger payments. This notwithstanding, the current payment scheme is more cost effective than the $500 million the Bangladesh government spends annually on natural disaster payments and relief. Thus, programs such as these may prevent more internal and external migration out of low-lying coastal areas as natural disasters become more prevalent and threaten human livelihood.

In 2015, the monsoon season displaced 850,000 individuals in Pakistan and 1.8 million in India. With ever increasing shifts in climate patterns contributing to intense precipitation events in tropical regions, future extreme flooding has the potential to act as a regular driver of human migration. Bangladesh, with its population of over 150 million and vulnerability to the effects of global warming, will be on the front lines of environmental change. Massive population displacement and migration into urban areas due to natural disaster, loss of human habitability and economic productivity are not long-term strategies. Although natural disaster events and degradation will almost certainly influence individuals to seek opportunity outside of coastal zones, populations can still be somewhat retained by helping these communities adapt to this new normal. Thankfully, the Bangladesh government is leading its South Asia peers by allowing the implementation of programs such as the meso-level flood insurance as a way to form a comprehensive strategy to retain populations and agricultural production along its coasts.

Human Security in Action: ‘Bolsa Familia’

Brazil has made impressive strides in terms of economic growth since the end of its military dictatorship in 1990 and pegging of the real to the U.S. dollar in 1994. Now classified as a major newly advanced upper-middle income country, this nation of 200 million has transformed its economy to become globally competitive in the international market. Pegging its currency to the American dollar allowed it to stabilize and reduce inflation, creating a burgeoning middle class through an uptick in manufacturing, natural resources–namely, oil and coal–as well as agriculture. Since the early 1990s, Brazil has experienced ups and downs with its economy. A recession in 1998 led to the government abandoning the fixed exchange rate to the U.S. dollar. Despite this, domestic economic growth allowed Brazil to grow its economy from 2003-13 by creating a large, domestic consumer base, as 26 million individuals were lifted out of poverty as a part of an emerging middle class.

This growth has spurred Brazil to comprise part of the acronym of major developing nations, known as the “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Its quick rise to affluence is not without major set backs, however. Despite its status as a major industrial and agricultural powerhouse and the largest economy within Latin America, Brazil still suffers from high levels of corruption and poverty. Images of urban favelas, or slums, have been popularized in the media with films such as City of God and even blockbuster video games, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Max Payne 3.  These slums symbolize the discrepancy between rich and poor in urban Brazil. Despite major gains in the past twenty years, it is currently ranked the 13th most unequal nation within the GINI Index.


A favela in Rio de Janeiro

Bolsa Família (Family Allowance) was instituted as a social welfare program in 2003 to assist poor Brazilian families in affording access to basic primary education, food and health care. By providing aid to poor families, parents receive these basics in return for ensuring their children attend school and have proper vaccinations. This program addresses absolute poverty, emphasizing urban areas, by reducing incentives to commit crime for basic necessities. About 10% of Brazilians live in extreme poverty. The Bolsa Família program gives families between R$15-95 per month to increase this standard of living. Thus far, 12 million families, or 44 million individuals, receive allowances from Bolsa Família. As a cornerstone of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s social welfare reform, the most important aspect of this direct cash transfer program is to reduce the absolute poverty levels, unemployment and crime rates in its major urban areas. So far, the program has been successful in reducing poverty; the World Bank, a major contributor, reported it has reduced poverty levels in half.


Federal police training in a favela

In anticipation of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, reducing theft and petty crime rates are integral to transforming Brazil’s image as a dangerous tourist destination for Westerners. To gain a sense of how dire petty crime is in São Paulo, its largest city, police distributed pamphlets to tourists during the 2014 World Cup on how to protect themselves from armed robberies. Brazil currently has the world’s highest homicide rate, matching the death toll from the Syrian War, and muggings in urban areas are rampant. Unfortunately, the surge in crime rates is attributed to youth resorting to crime due to a lack of employment prospects, a massive drug trade, and poor policing on the federal and state levels.

Winning a Summer Olympic bid is a display of national pride, especially among newly emerged economies. It is a political statement to the world that the respective nation has “arrived” as an economic power because it is now seen as a viable candidate to afford and accommodate such an event, as well as be deemed attractive and safe enough to do so (see: China, Russia, Greece and South Korea). There is a reason why Buenos Aires, Belgrade, Istanbul, Cape Town, Bangkok and others have placed unsuccessful bids to host an event that has been proven to be a poor economic investment. Brazil’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics in 2014 and 2016 signal to the world that Brazil has arrived, tarnishing its reputation as a poverty stricken, corrupt nation akin to several of its Latin American peers. Understanding the significance of the hosting of major global sporting event is integral when correlating Bolsa Família’s linkage in reducing crime rates in wake of the Olympic games.

As of 2016, only Mexico has rivaled Brazil’s program through their own direct cash transfer program, Oportunidades (Opportunities). Similar programs are gaining traction in India, Bangladesh and Kenya. Yet, Brazil’s program remains the largest and most successful. Such cash transfer programs are growing in popularity, and are in accordance with the human security paradigm given they provide socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals access to basic necessities. This in turn makes them less of a burden to the state by reducing crime, illiteracy and poverty levels which threaten the direct security of Brazilian citizens and the state’s economic prosperity. By allocating roughly 0.5% of its total GDP, the Brazilian government can mitigate some of its worst poverty and promote economic investment by shedding its image as a dangerous tourist destination and poor economic investment.

However, one must keep in mind that throwing money at disenfranchised citizens is not a comprehensive, long-term solution, nor an appropriate political tool to buy votes. Brazilian politicians have become notorious for distributing aid to poor citizens in exchange for political support and votes. The documentary Manda Bala (“Send a Bullet”) explores the extent of this corruption, especially in the northern cities that are mired with the worst corruption, drug violence and poverty. Proper reform must start at the federal level by reducing income inequality and corruption. Cash transfer programs are short-term solutions towards eradicating extreme poverty that can be utilized properly in long-term policy reform efforts.

Food: The New Jihadist Recruitment Tool

Terrorism. Non-state actors. These groups of actors within the international system are what make scholars and policy practitioners alike stay up well into the night. Their very definition invokes the opaqueness which makes it so hard to address, define and combat. What drives an individual to such desperation that they are enticed to give their lives to an extremist organization? For the past thirty years, nationalism and postcolonial politics contributed to our understanding of militant extremism and terrorism, including Al-Qaeda and its franchises. However, this mentality may not extend far enough into actually understanding the driving forces behind recruitment strategy and motivations for individuals to join such extreme organizations.

Across the Middle East and North Africa region, resource scarcity prevails. In a naturally arid climate, freshwater sources are meager, and agriculture difficult or impossible to cultivate. Further, the majority of nations in these regions share common characteristics among developing economies: large-scale inaccessibility to basic resources, burgeoning populations, colonial histories, corrupt governments and wide-scale unemployment. Some, including Yemen, Libya, Mali and Algeria have histories of war and civil conflict, leaving them at the brink of failure. So how do we address these kinds of issues in the long-term?

Access to basic resources, including employment, water, food, shelter and healthcare, are the building blocks for sustaining life and nationhood. Without those necessities, people may be enticed to extreme measures, including the drastic decision to migrate thousands of miles for a better quality of life. Or they might join a group that either provides them with such resources or promises a future with those rewards. Several Al-Qaeda franchises, as well as ISIS, have been posting pictures lately of scrumptious banquets as to insinuate that the jidahists are living the high life in war-torn Syria. This is a clear juxtaposition to the immense food insecurity faced by thousands of Syrian refugees, a situation so dire that vulnerable children are dying of malnutrition and water-borne diseases.

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Images via The Week

A similar phenomenon is occurring in Saharan Africa. Al-Qaeda has raised its profile in Mali after the 2013-14 French intervention, integrating with nomadic groups by offering food and water to recruit impoverished individuals in the plethora of slums across the country’s urban areas. This resurgence has led some to criticize the military intervention, Operation Serval, as a failure, with such recruitment tactics allowing them to gain a foothold in critical areas. Clearly, these groups are not limiting their recruitment to others who share their religious ideology and political aspirations. They want bodies, and individuals–especially young men–for fighting, and these men are desperate to escape such dire circumstances. Although food and water are not the only recruitment tactics, they are jarring simply because it is a relatively easy fix in comparison to military intervention, clandestine hunts for Al-Qaeda leaders and overseeing negotiations. Mali is an extreme example, but may be more of what is to come as terrorist operations and severe scarcity intersect over the coming years.

The long-term solution to mitigating terrorism across the region starts with a humanitarian approach. Military intervention, peacekeeping and other traditional tactics are arguably part of the solution, but policymakers need a comprehensive approach and not a policy band-aid. Perhaps we should consider incorporating food and water security into the security agendas of the United States and its developed allies. A failed state has severe implications for the stability of the Middle East and North Africa region due to haven it creates for terrorists (see, Iraq), and the overspill it generates for neighboring countries, including Nigeria, and even Western Europe. For Western European nations such as France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain, the Middle East and North Africa is within immediate geographical boundaries, making conflict and illegal immigration much closer to home. The current migrant crisis has drawn thousands from the Middle East and North Africa. Before the current E.U. migrant crisis, North African illegal immigration was already growing out of control, the Mediterranean Sea a thin barrier to the pressing national security of these European nations.

Poverty and resource insecurity is not merely a remote problem, subjugated to areas of the developing world and thus inconsequential in the lives of those residing in the developed world. Extreme depravation is a serious threat to U.S. and European security and defense policy because of the threat it imposes on such a fragile region and the immediate security of its European allies. Incorporating unconventional, non-traditional strategies may become an integral part of its strategy and long-term stability to the region. Cultivating programs that support sustainable food production, freshwater extraction and industry can act as deterrents for membership into these militant groups and reduce the growth and popularity of extremism as a whole across the entire region.

The Arctic Resource Curse

The New York Times published a very comprehensive article yesterday about the current assertion of sovereignty over the Arctic. Although this issue is not new to International Relations scholars, those unfamiliar with the topic would be hard pressed to find a reason why anyone would find the Arctic ice sheets a pressing topic in American foreign policy. Unlike our neighbors to the north, Canada, in addition to Russia and Denmark, the United States does not have a large physical stake to the physical land within the Arctic territory; only Alaska extends that far north on the continent. Given that roughly a third of Alaska’s territory is located within the Arctic Circle, the United States is one of five nations that claims territorial lands and waters in the region. This distinction is important later in this piece, as it excludes a single claim to the entire Arctic circle, in addition to other key players that are attempting to lay a stake in the region despite being geographically excluded from the Arctic circle.

With the phenomenon of global warming rapidly eradicating the tundra underneath the massive Arctic ice sheet and melting the sea ice that has naturally blocked commercial shipping lanes from utilizing the Arctic corridor, the region is increasingly being looked upon as the new frontier for oil and mineral reserves and economically viable trading routes. Already, sea ice melt has reduced the transit time from East Asia to Europe in half. Not only does it this save time for global shipping firms, but it also reduces the amount of oil needed to transport these goods. Furthermore, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that up to 30% of the world’s untapped natural gas reserves and 13% of oil reserves lie beneath the Arctic tundra and sea ice. This discovery has prompted Russian, American, Norwegian, Danish and Canadian oil companies to begin tapping into these troves of undiscovered natural resources.


Image Credit: Der Spiegel

The scramble for oil reserves comes during an artificial surge in oil production by the Gulf OPEC member-states to decrease global prices. Despite the market seemingly awash in oil overproduction, and an economic decline in developing countries–including China–experts at Stanford University predict there is only forty years worth of oil reserves left to satiate demand. Of course, fossil fuels will most likely never completely deplete, but they will become increasingly expensive, dangerous and difficult to extract. And that’s where global warming trends and oil prices come in. Until now–despite the artificial drop in oil prices–it was not cost effective to drill for oil and minerals in the Arctic. Growing demand (the United States alone consumes half of the world’s supply) and the depletion of reserves have made it cost effective to conduct otherwise cost inefficient methods of oil extraction, including Arctic drilling, fracking, tar sand extraction and deep-sea drilling. The constant modernization of developing economies and their transition to the middle class will only strain competition over the global oil supply.

With all of this in mind, it is no wonder why Shell pressed the Obama Administration for rights to drill in the Alaskan arctic.


Image Credit: Hofstra University

Cheaper energy prices for consumers, domestic energy independence and a reduction in greenhouse gases from global shippingtransport–what’s there not to like for the average consumer? Here is a short list: more dependency upon fossil fuels in the wake of a rapidly depleting resource that will most likely peak in 2050, pollution in a fragile ecosystem with dire consequences for the rest of the Earth, and fight over these natural resources which only adds to the list of political and economic tensions betweenthe United States, Russia and China. All nations perceive the Arctic as a source of wealth, particularly for oil-dependent Russia. Furthermore, the global scramble over the Arctic invokes a security component, as it calls for the United States to assert a military presence in the region through a larger Coast Guard and Naval presence. Russia has asserted its military presence as well, a move experts perceive as a means of defending its economic zone of interest.

Now, this is where all of those legal definitions come in. Who exactly is entitled to this treasure trove of natural resources–the five nations as designated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which are entitled to exclusive economic zones within the Arctic Ocean–where the majority of the drilling would take place–or the eight members of the Arctic Council? Are nations outside of the Arctic entitled to drill as well? This is certainly a pressing concern for China, who, in a never-ending search for oil and mineral reserves to fuel its industrial production, joined the Arctic Council as an observer in 2013 despite not having any geographical claim to the region. Singapore, Japan, India and South Korea were also inducted, given their interest in these resources and major stake in international shipping and trade.

The Arctic is unlikely to spark the next world war, but it is becoming increasingly integral to foreign policy. Satisfying the demand for natural resources will, over the long-run, influence international relations–just look at the recent Iranian and Russian oil embargoes. For nations dependent upon oil production for a significant proportion of their GDP, asserting their presence in the Arctic is a matter of national interest that has the potential to strain already stressed relations between the United States, European Union and Russia. Already, NATO members Norway, Denmark and Iceland have responded to the increased Russian military presence in the Arctic with joint military exercises between the three NATO members and Finland and Sweden. This foreign policy issue is certainly an issue to pay attention to, for whomever becomes the next President of the United States. President Obama created the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, which comprises of several military components, including the preservation of freedom in the region, enforcement of treaties, protection of the Alaskan territory and U.S. sovereign territory.

This issue is just one example illustrating the effect of global warming towards international affairs and U.S. foreign policy in future years to come. The title of this article refers to the resource curse, or the relationship between natural resource abundance and poor economic growth within oil-producing countries. Hopefully, future leaders will not hedge all of their bets in Arctic resource exploitation, and will explore sustainable economic sectors as to diversify and grow their economies instead of being reliant upon natural resources for economic security. Such situations may lend themselves to a dire need of control over such resources, and punishing consequences if their resource exports do indeed decline over the long-run.

Global Warming in Southeast Asia

These pictures were taken during my recent trip to Malaysia and Indonesia via Sydney and Singapore. They document the everyday realities of drivers of global greenhouse gas emissions in the fastest growing economic sector, Asia.


Motorbike traffic in Jakarta. Jakarta, with a population of 10 million, suffers from extreme air pollution, driven by automobile emissions and congestion, and deforestation for palm oil plantations in Sumatra and Kalimantan.


Motorbike parking common in shops all over Jakarta. Jakarta’s roads are congested as new members of the middle class are able to afford vehicular transportation in congested Indonesia. However, it is nearly the only option for urban mobility, given that taxis are on average, expensive, and public transportation is woefully inadequate.


Palm oil plantations as seen en route from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. These plantations dot the entire Malaysian landscape, as it single-handedly accounts for nearly half of the world’s insatiable demand for cheap palm oil.


Palm oil plantations as seen en route from the Kuala Lumpur Airport to the city centre. Deforestation, which accounts for a quarter of global carbon emissions, is led by the rapid expansion of such palm oil plantations.


Morning haze in Jakarta. Shanty towns are prevalent throughout the major metropolitan areas in Southeast Asia, as traditionally agrarian peoples are lured to cities for salary increases. This is one factor that drives high rates of urban sprawl.


Singapore is arguably the financial capital of Asia. Nearly all of the major agribusiness corporations–which produce palm oil–are headquartered here. Still, Singapore’s geographical location does not render it immune from transboundary pollution, water scarcity and a host of natural disasters that have prompted the government to make them matters of national security.

Water & Instability on the Arabian Peninsula

Water scarcity exacerbates Yemen’s already unstable governance. Thirty of the past forty years of Yemen’s history have been marked by civil conflict and instability. As Houthi rebels battle coalition forces, the country’s underlying sources of political and social instability threaten any possible settlement of the current conflict; foremost among these is the lack of access to fresh water. The average Yemeni only has access to a tenth of the UNDP’s annual water benchmark, placing them well below the water poverty line. Yemen’s immense water poverty illustrates the widespread regional water poverty levels across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the world’s “most water stressed region.” Arid conditions, low and variable rainfall and high rates of evaporation due to extreme temperatures characterize the region’s vulnerability to climate change. By 2050, the water per capita availability in the entire MENA region will be reduced by 40%, competing with rapid, further stressing water supplies.


Although a small nation like Yemen seems insignificant in terms of its impact on regional stability, its water scarcity and immense poverty are two underlying issues that are almost certain to create potential discord in the future. In addition to having one of the highest birth rates in the world, at 4.2% per year, Yemen’s population of 23 million only has, on average, access to 100m3 of water annually. Compare this to the United Nations Development Program’s water share benchmark of 1,000m3, and the average Yemeni is significantly beneath the water poverty line. Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, is still facing ongoing sectarian violence over water queues. And unlike its neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, there is no government or resources to construct expensive desalination plants that run off of a nearly unlimited domestic oil supply. The Yemeni government’s current collapse is likely implicated in this inability to provide basic services for its burgeoning population through its encouragement of cultivating water intensive crops. This phenomenon is reflected in its ranking as eighth in the Fragile States Index.



Despite this dismal situation, solutions are being developed to address this growing problem. Inexpensive alternatives to desalination and reverse osmosis technology are being developed, especially in Saudi Arabia, as seen with the construction of Al Khafji Solar Saline Reverse Osmosis Plant in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in northern Saudi Arabia. Other desalination techniques, such as electrochemical desalination microchips and Lockheed Martin’s Perforene™ filtration system for potable water, are just some of the technologies underway, and could potentially be exported to such developing, water-scarce nations as Yemen as they become further developed and affordable. Furthermore, a shift in agricultural tariffs and subsidies by the government could act as an incentive for Yemeni farmers to produce less water intensive crops, especially qat, a popular water-intensive narcotic, and practice more efficient irrigation methods.


A desalination plant near Dammam, Saudi Arabia

With rising political instability—as well as growing food and water insecurity across the entire MENA region—water insecurity could serve the political agenda of such terrorist organizations as the Islamic State and multitude of Al-Qaeda franchises. Both of these non-state actor groups impede the security of the Arabian Peninsula. According to a UNESCO report, the deprivation of basic resources creates “ripe conditions for extremists and terrorists to fill the vacuum.” The inability to access basic resources can act as a multiplier effect in weak states, a scenario that some experts attribute to provoking the Syrian War. A serious collapse in water supplies could affect migration patterns, forcing poor farmers and citizens to migrate to countries with better access to resources. And, given Yemen’s strategic location, shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden could be even more prone to piracy. Past governmental collapse and economic depression have led to market shocks in oil prices. Such political and market volatilities are bound to burden wealthier, developed nations, especially on the Arabian Peninsula, through migration and conflict, straining resources and compromising regional stability.

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Map Credit: Business Insider

As Yemen rests on the Saudi Arabia and Oman borders, mitigating this potential threat is crucial to maintaining stability across the immediate Arabian Peninsula region. Incorporating long-term environmental security measures is crucial for planning the long-term stability of the nation and fragile nations like it for all key regional stakeholders. Yemen’s water crisis illustrates the effect of water insecurity on fragile governance, state functionality and its broader implications within complex security nexuses, especially with its neighboring nations. Such a vital resource has proven itself to accelerate and exacerbate fragile political tensions and governance in a traditionally unstable nation. Given these factors, maintaining water security in developing, water scarce nations is crucial to maintaining long-term stability across not only the Arabian Peninsula, but the MENA region in the wake rapid global climate change.