Resources & Climate

The Environmental And Security Communities: How Do Their Evolving Concerns Overlap?

Sherri Goodman, Senior Vice President, CNA; former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security (1993-2001)
Click here to read a Q&A with Sherri on environmental security
Richard CroninDirector, Southeast Asia Program, Stimson
Ellen Laipson, President and CEO, Stimson 

The April 22 kick-off event for Stimson’s new Environment and Security Discussion Series featured a dialogue between Sherri Goodman, a former Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security and Senior Vice President at CNA, and Stimson’s own resident Southeast Asian expert Dr. Richard Cronin. Goodman discussed her tenure as Undersecretary during the 1990s and highlighted the ways in which the defense community’s views on the environment have evolved since then. During the 1990s, the Department of Defense’s primary focus was on issues of pollution, base clean-up, and compliance with existing environmental law. However, over time, the combination of a steady internalization of the values of environmental stewardship, recognition of the efficiency benefits of investment in environmental protection, and the growing realization of the broad and transnational impact of environmental threats led to an increasingly proactive stance among defense officials on these matters. Goodman noted that Admiral Locklear of PACOM stated recently that climate change was the foremost threat to future security in the Pacific region, and, as such, the Department of Defense has since undertaken a number of notable initiatives addressing environmental concerns with inherent benefits to military operability.  

Following Goodman’s discussion of the evolution of military views on the environment, Richard Cronin spoke at length about what motivated the Stimson Center to tackle environmental security problems in Southeast Asia’s Lower Mekong River basin, home to more than 60 million people. He pointed out that many rural livelihoods in the region are directly dependent on the natural functions of the river, as the Mekong is the world’s most productive freshwater fishery. However, the region’s rapid economic growth — which arrived on the heels of several decades of political instability — has raised serious concerns about environmental degradation in the Lower Mekong basin, particularly the adverse impacts of hydropower dams on fishery health, rural livelihoods, and critical silt deposits in the low-lying Mekong delta in Vietnam that help protect the coast against storm surges. Given the transboundary nature of these economic and environmental concerns, Cronin discussed how disagreements over water stewardship in the Lower Mekong basin can either elevate regional tensions, or serve as a basis for heightened cross-border collaboration on natural resource management. 


2013 Environment and Security Discussion Series from Stimson Center on Vimeo.

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