HI-03-03 Environmental Security and Ecological Intervention

This is lesson six of six on humanitarian intervention.

Here are links to the other five:

Ethics & Politics of Humanitarian Intervention:
Lesson 01-01, Lesson 01-02, Lesson 01-03

Intervention: From Theories to Cases:
Lesson 02-01

The Evolving Norm of Humanitarian Intervention:

Lesson 03-01, Lesson 03-03


In recent decades growing concern about environmental change and the role that environmental concerns play in political conflicts worldwide have led to a linkage between environmental and geopolitical themes in the notion of "environmental security."

In an article in Ethics & International Affairs, Robyn Eckersley asks whether this linkage invites an expanded notion of intervention: If the legacy of 20th century "crimes against humanity" was the acceptance of an emerging norm of humanitarian intervention, then might the perpetration of mass extinctions and massive ecosystem destruction be regarded as "crimes against nature" such as to support a new norm of ecological intervention?

The ecological intervention debate invites us to consider the extent to which a state's right to sovereignty is conditional on its relationship with the natural world, and whether military intervention has any particular dangers and drawbacks with regard to protecting the environment.

However, we need not only to consider the position of sovereign states vis-à-vis ecological intervention, but also whether foreign nationals have a right to "intervene" in a state's environmental affairs, and whether international organizations have a responsibility to coordinate the complex and competing interests and duties involved in global environmental protection.


Select a 10- to 20-minute film segment on human threats to the environment, e.g., to species survival.

Some suggestions are:


A. In-Class Activities
Watch: Film segment (20 minutes max)

Do: Discussion or Debate (30 minutes)
Open discussion or organized debate of film and readings, concentrating on the question of whether environmental concerns ought to trump sovereignty concerns.

B. Assignments to Be Completed in Advance (0-2+ hours)
Robyn Eckersley, "Ecological Intervention: Prospects and Limits," Ethics & International Affairs 21, no. 3 (2007)

Plus four short responses to Eckersley:

John Houghton, "Global Warming is Now a Weapon of Mass Destruction," The Guardian (July 28, 2003)

John Vidal, "The Great Green Land Grab," The Guardian (February 13, 2008)

"Simon Dalby on Environmental Security," EIA Interview (February 16, 2009)


A. How wide is the moral community deserving of "rescue"? If it extends to nonhuman animals, does it extend to all species? What if, as scientists predict, millions of species might face extinction over the coming decades? What kinds of distinctions might we want to draw? Would any such distinctions be just, or merely sensible?

B. Is environmental protection a legitimate reason to interfere in the affairs of another state? Is the answer to this question the same for state interference as for the behavior of private individuals? What should be the role of international organizations?

C. As Mathew Humphrey wonders, would the Maldives and other island nations have the right (if not the means) to impose military sanctions on the United States and other major, polluting powers if their historical behavior and current inaction leads sea levels to rise to dangerous levels?

D. Should we, as Mark Woods suggests, be focusing on environmental reasons to restrain violence rather than additional, environmental reasons to enable it? What are the environmental costs and hazards of building up and using military force?

E. Does taking environmentalism seriously require us to rethink the assumptions of the state system? Does Robyn Eckersley's argument go too far, or not far enough?


Conservation Land Trust

Daniel Deudney, "The Case against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security," Millennium 19, no. 3 (1990)

Lorraine Elliott, "Imaginative Adaptations: A Possible Environmental Role for the UN Security Council," Contemporary Security Policy 24, no. 2 (2003)

Felipe Fern√°ndez Armesto, So You Think You're Human? A Brief History of Humankind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Robert Goodin, Carole Pateman, and Roy Pateman, "Simian Sovereignty," Political Theory 25, no. 6 (1997)