Soenke Zehle on Wed, 2 Apr 2003 03:23:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ecologies of War - Notes

How does a war have to be conducted - if, that is, it is to be fought at
all - so 'the Iraqi people' can put themselves on the road to what would be
called 'sustainable development' (at least in the lingo of a hegemonic green
globalism, not sure sure what ordinary people used to say when they talked
about their desire for an unpolluted environment)? Does that even matter in
the face of seemingly bigger questions?

Certainly not an exclusive preoccupation of mine, but it doesn't seem to be
entirely marginal either, given that Iraq - far from being the clichèd
middle eastern 'leader' in matters of health and nutrition - has been
excceptionally dependent on food imports and done much to shift its rural
population to more easily controlled urban centers (i.e. neglecting food
production). For one of the most sobering examples, see the history of what
is generally referred to as the edenic "Marshlands of Mesopotamia" in
Southern Iraq: a once-resistant population was effectively displaced when
Hussein drained the marshes, now a major concern of the UNEP Post-Conflict
Assessment Unit (<>). This area is
believed to be have been the biblical Garden of Eden, I doubt that an honest
Christian man like Bush could say no to such a prestigious project to
restore paradise.

The status of the Iraqi 'environment' doesn't seem to be entirely unrelated
to refugee/migration issues, either. The current water crisis in Basra may
well develop into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. The reconstruction of
water supply systems not just post-conflict, but in the midst of it, has
long become a major preoccupation of humanitarian organizations (ICRC Forum:
War and Water. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1998,
search via <>), but since water crises in turn fuel the
global water privatization frenzy that has recently made it onto the agenda
of the movement against corporate globalization, it's not unlikely this will
happen in Iraq as well. There will be plenty to watch out for once the war
is over.

Water is a major element in a great number of conflicts in the region. There
exists a growing literature on the (complex) link between environmental
degradation and inter/intra-state conflict, much of it taking up the issue
under the rubric of environmental security. One of the most influential
outlets is the Environmental Change & Security Project at the US Woodrow
Wilson Center, which has also turned to (regional) water issues recently.
After environmental security was discovered as a major issue in the earyl
1990s (influential yet too deterministic and thus theoretically
unconvincing: Kaplan, Robert D. "The Coming Anarchy: How scarcity, crime,
overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social
fabric of our planet." Atlantic Monthly 273.2 (February 1994). 44-76
<>), it is slowly
developing into a new field of 'environmental peacemaking' (access ECSP via
< It will be interesting to see how a US-led
post-Saddam regime will straddle the fence between reigning in Iran as
another rogue state and organizing regional cooperation on resource matters.
The UNEP-favored Marshlands restoration project, for example, depends on
cross-border water transfers.

FOE raise, once again, the issue of 'bunker-busting'-depleted uranium (DU)
contamination (according to Iraq Action, 350 tons of depleted uranium were
utilized against the Iraqi people during the 1991 Gulf War
<>), but int'l law cannot be
invoked for clean-up operations (FOE. "The War in Iraq: General
Environmental Implications." Friends of the Earth, 2003.
<>). However, there has been
an 'environmentalization' of war in the sense that the military does accept
the legitimacy of - some - environmental(ist) claims. Speaking in a 1999 CDI
documentary on the issue, Jay Austin, Senior Attorney of the Environmental
Law Institute, offers some background on the (legal) status of 'the
environment' in times of war:

"Protocol One was an amendment to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that codify
the law of war. It was created in 1977 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War
as a specific response to concerns about how that war was conducted. Among
many other things, it contains a provision that prohibits widespread,
long-term, or severe environmental damage during war time. ... ENMOD, the
Environmental Modification Convention, was a separate treaty that was
drafted at the same time as Protocol One, also the post-Vietnam era. It
shares some language with Protocol One. It also prohibits widespread,
long-term, or severe environmental damage. But, unlike Protocol One, ENMOD
tries to get at the deliberate manipulation of natural processes
environmental forces during war time. ... Immediately after the Gulf War,
once the extent of the damages became known, there was a lot of debate about
how to sanction Iraq for its actions, what would be the best legal mechanism
for doing so? And, a lot of people thought that the deliberate setting of
the oil well fires, the deliberate oil spills, were exactly the kind of
damage that ENMOD and Protocol One were designed to prevent. The problem
there is that Iraq is not a party to either of those treaties. And, even the
US has never gotten around to ratifying Protocol One. So, it left proponents
in this argument arguing that both treaties had become so widely accepted
that they were part of customary international law. That's probably a valid
argument, but it's a bit weaker one. ... There are a number of proposals
right now for how to improve international law in this area. There's some
fairly modest ones, some that would call for the creation of a new
convention that declares certain ecologically sensitive areas just to be
off-limits and, thus, protected from military activities in the same way
that hospitals and churches are supposed to be protected under international
A second recent idea would be to use the new international criminal court,
which was chartered last summer, to prosecute individuals for environmental
war crimes. And, in fact, the authority for that exists in the court's
charter. The problem there is that the US has steadfastly opposed creation
of the criminal court, and so it's future is uncertain right now.

And, finally, there are those individuals who would claim that what is
needed is a complete overhaul of the law of war in this area, and who would
call for the drafting of a new convention with the topic of eco-cide that
would create institutions or mechanisms to deter and punish this kind of
behavior. ... The idea of protecting ecologically sensitive areas during war
time already exists as a draft proposal. The IUCN, the World Conservation
Union, which administers laws related to protected areas and biodiversity,
has a draft convention which would call for the UN to use the same criteria
that they use for designating national parks or environmental areas of
international interest in declaring them as off limits during war, so it
would be area-based protection. ... The U.S. military has internalized a
number of the norms, even without the U.S.'s ratification. ... Given the
current state of international law, I think it would be difficult to argue
that there's any legal obligation for the U.S. to engage in environmental
cleanup. We're not party to Protocol One. Even if Protocol One is applied,
there'd still be the threshold question as to whether the damage was
sufficiently widespread, long-term, or severe. ...

The proposal I referred to, the proposal to designate certain areas, I
think, has some promise in the same way as the whole history of the law of
war, has been a gradual narrowing of military activity. It was only in the
1950's that cultural properties, such as churches or historical monuments,
were then considered to be out of bounds.

And, you could argue that the next logical step is to do the same thing for
wetlands or other internationally important areas. And, so, you could at
least restrict the realm of the conflict even if you can't get at the root
causes of it."


Just rambling notes, I guess I am getting bored with the biz-as-usual
criticism of the war as imperial(ist), international-law-breaking,
neocon-inspired (although I did start to read some Leo Strauss),
corporate-interest-driven etc etc and am simply looking for ways to stay
with the program :)


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