31 July 2020

Climatic changes and the terrorism

Sorin Butiri

The COVID-19 pandemic proved that the atypical and transnational security issues must be treated seriously. The threats provoked by the mankind are not the only forces which can devastate the world and that can fundamentally disrupt the daily life. The climatic changes can also do it, and the terrorist organizations know how to take advantage of that.

Image source: Profimedia

Dark outlook

Experts refer to the climatic changes as to a “threat multiplier”, which generates an increase of the frequency and intensity of challenges the states experience today.

As stated in the 2017 Climate Science Special Report, both the theory and the simulations show an increase of the intensity and frequency of the tropical cyclones given the global warming. For the Atlantic and East of North Pacific hurricanes and the typhoons in the West of North Pacific the increases show a bigger quantity of precipitations and speed of wind”. Also, they estimate that the climatic changes will create, until 2050, at least 200 million of displacements.

Therefore, we can say that climatic changes are not just an issue to concern us in the near future – as their consequences over the security situation in different regions of the world are visible today as well. At the beginning of this year, NASA has called the current drought of the East of the Mediterranean the hardest in the last 900 years. And they also think the situation might get worse. The UN has stated that, until 2030, a quarter of world’s population will live in areas facing either droughts or floods or a significant increase of the Planetary Ocean. The lack of water and the increase of desertification will lead to global hunger, mass migration and violent conflicts. Tens of millions of displaced people will be in Sahel, a region facing significant increases of temperatures, bigger than 1,5, which is the global average. The climatic changes determine desertification, and this is deteriorating the arable land, worsening the people’s jobs when it comes to cultivating cultures and animals’ browsing.

Opportunities for terrorists

The increase of terrorist organizations’ activity in Sahel is a major strategic risk, especially for Europe, but also for the US. Sahel’s instability is generating a significant increase of the number of migrants who are trying to pass through the Mediterranean, which is creating new threats over the European states. Also, Sahel’s instability is offering terrorist organizations the proper environment to create training bases, human resources and materials, but also transfer and attack routes, as it happened also in 2015, when 70 members of the active terrorist organizations in Sahel manages to get to Europe along migrants. Not least, Sahel’s instability is offering organized crime groups the opportunity to boost their profits and grow.

Some terrorist organizations are already taking advantage on the climatic changes effects. Thus, recruitments can become very effective, especially in countries where the economies are based on agriculture. Farmers are especially vulnerable to severe meteorological events and to climatic changes. Consequently, they might join the terrorist organizations as an alternative to financially help their families. For example, the decrease of the Chad river, from Sahel, has contributed to the increase of the recruits’ number of terrorist organization, Boko Haram.  The terrorist organization “Islamic State from Iraq and Levant” (ISIL) has capitalized the climatic changes, but also the lack of action of the Iraqi government, to attract new members. Lacking water, thousands of Iraqi farmers were on the threshold of poverty. ISIL gave them food and $400 per month.

Furthermore, the terrorist organizations have turned into the main services provider for citizens in “failed” states. Inherently, the state must give the citizen the necessary services – education, medical care etc. If we add that their absence and the stress generated by the unpredictable weather we can get an “incendiary mix”, which increases the political violence, undermined even more the already “failed” governments’ authority. Therefore, the services provided by the terrorist organizations are risking leading to these states losing their own legitimacy. For example, in Somalia, Al-Shabaab is offering the people food and money during increasingly frequent drought and floods. These actions are decreasing the trust people have in their government and are determining a dependency of citizens on the terrorist organization. Al-Qaida in the Arabia Peninsula has repaired the water networks and wells from Yemen, which is affected by drought. In Sahel, the situation is similar. As I was writing at the beginning of this year, “both groups are exploiting the basic needs of the population, trying to get a bigger popular support or, at least, a reduced resistance. This effort is religiously and ideologically motivate, as the salafist-jihadist groups are making sure the obligations of the state’s functioning are provided only through their fundamentalist Islamism option. The population these groups are interacting with and who suffer from economic instability, lack of perspective and unsafe is “saved” by “Islam’s defenders”, promoted by this specific group. From this point of view, both JNIM (Jama’a Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen) and ISWAP/ISGS (the Islamic State from West Africa) are involved in the local communities with concrete actions in fields like education, health, food, taxes and the decrease of crime activities”.

The terrorist organizations’ activity and its impact over the population of different states will, most likely, change due to the climatic changes and the environment’s deterioration. The terrorist organizations might identify new exploitation methods of the climatic changes and their effects on the environment - blurring the line between the natural and human-made disasters.

The approach changes for the security forces

But the climatic changes will affect the counterterrorist actions as well, as the military is forced to act either in desert areas, or in areas which are flooded and the logistic support can hardly be provided. This scenario was clearly visible this year, in our country, when the West, North and Centre of the country were affected by storms, wind storms and rains, with massive quantities of water in a short period of time, and in South of country we have experienced drought.

The ideological battle between states and terrorist organizations will intensify as the citizens of failed states will rather call on terrorists, than the states, to get their basic needs.

In Romania, the current National Defense Strategy mentions “euphemistically” the effects of climatic changes, stating that “ecological disasters, natural catastrophes and aggression against the environment or other calamities” at the risks with reduced possibility of major impact category.

Solving the climatic changes requires a global effort. In the meantime, in order to face the associated progresses, the military and security forces should revise the training programs so that to be able to act against terrorist organizations in bad conditions, generated by the current climatic changes.

Besides protecting the planet, our capacity of combating the climatic changes should be correlated to the necessity to protect our national security interests.

Translated by Andreea Soare