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Peace And The Environment: The Effect Of Linkages In Policy And Development Projects

Full Abstract:

Through the 1990s, with the ending of the Cold War, there has been increasing research into methods of peace-building and reconciliation in areas of conflict. One of these methods is to use environmental issues as a forum for peace between warring parties. This link between peace and the environment can be structured two ways: 1) using conflict resolution to solve environmental problems; or 2) using environmental issues to achieve conflict resolution. The first addresses conflict resolution because it is necessary to achieve the environmental goal, usually regional and requiring the participation of more than one state or community, and political benefits are secondary or spinoff effects. In the second instance, the primary goal is peace-building, capacity-building, and establishing professional networks and personal relationships, using environmental issues as the context. Why do some of these projects work well, and others do not? Many of these linked projects were not specifically designed to be so, therefore, baseline data for comparison was generally not collected and evaluation methods not considered. Case studies are examined and recommendations, a criterion for evaluation, and areas in need of further research are suggested.

Environmental Issues, Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation

Through the 1990s, with the ending of the Cold War, there has been ever increasing research into methods of peace-building and reconciliation in areas of conflict. While a treaty may end a war between bordering states or between factions within a state, and though root issues of conflict may be addressed, there still remains the problem of how these communities will implement that treaty, develop or redevelop relationships and a level of trust, and learn to live with or near each other peacefully into the future. An array of techniques has been looked at in peace research literature: economic development projects; indigenous people’s resolution and reconciliation traditions of the council of elders and community healing rituals; transformative mediation; school curriculum development for children; government sponsored “truth and reconciliation forums.” Elements that these techniques share are: 1) addressing victims’ issues by re-empowering communities, 2) communities working together towards a goal, and 3) communities agreeing to listen, negotiate and compromise which strengthens relationships. Another method is to use the increasingly preferred regional or ecosystemic approach to addressing environmental issues as a forum for peace between disputing parties. Bicommunal environmental projects for reconciliation can provide 1) administrative and technical capacity-building, 2) a goal outside the context of conflict or in commemoration of the transformation of it, and 3) the opportunity for the exchange of information and ideas, laying a foundation for professional networking and personal relationships.

This paper looks at projects which have intentionally and unintentionally provided these forums, places them in a theoretical framework, and evaluates their impact.

Linkages between Peace and the Environment

Lothar Brock (1991) describes four types of linkages between peace and the environment. First, the causal relationship looks at natural resources as the object of wars. According to Wolf (2002), scarcity of resources can be a predictor of conflict, “The likelihood of conflict rises as the rate of change within the basin [or other resource] exceeds the institutional capacity to absorb that change.” Brock states, “Militant conflict over natural resources seems so frequent that it can become tempting to regard competing demand for resources as the single most important cause of war,” but he also points to resources being a mere justification for an aggressive state to begin a war. Also, war has a negative impact on the environment and natural resources, and in some cases, such as the extreme scenario of “nuclear winter,” the potential environmental devastation may reduce the threat of war.

The definitional linkage explores the aggressive nature of environmental degradation from the polluter upon the victims of pollution. Environmental damage has been caused intentionally in international political conflicts, such as Iraqi military setting fire to the oil wells in Kuwait in the Gulf War, or the United States’ use of napalm to destroy forest cover in Vietnam in the Vietnam War. It has also been used in civil wars, as seen in the draining of the marshlands in southern Iraq which housed a large population of Shia Muslims being persecuted by the state of Iraq.

Normative linkage of environmental and peace issues stresses the need to expand policy-making from the traditional security thinking of controlling the status quo to benefit an individual state, to a more comprehensive view of security as long-term sustainable global development, including social, military, economic and environmental issues all at the level of ‘high politics’. Palme (1982) describes a common security policy that “defines the security needs of one party in terms of the security needs of all parties,” thereby linking the notion of ecological interdependence with security interdependence.

Instrumental Linkage

Rather than looking at the importance of addressing environmental issues for peace-keeping, this paper focuses on the instrumental varieties of environmental peace-building projects, which Brock defines as “ecological cooperation…help[ing] to build confidence and trust in international relations,” or for intranational or civil conflicts. There are two ways to structure this linkage: 1) using conflict resolution to solve environmental problems; or 2) using environmental issues to achieve conflict resolution. The first addresses conflict resolution because it is necessary to achieve the environmental goal, usually regional and requiring the participation of more than one state or community, and political benefits are secondary or spinoff effects. In the second instance, the primary goal is peace-building, capacity-building, and establishing professional networks and personal relationships, using environmental issues as the context. If there are primary and secondary goals of projects or NGOs, it is important to differentiate between them.

Table 1. Varieties of instrumental linkages between conflict resolution and environmental issues

Primary goal of project Secondary effect Example
An environmental project with a . . . Positive effect on conflict resolution Peace parks
Neutral effect on conflict resolution Transboundary park without active cooperation
Negative effect on conflict resolution African elephant ivory ban
The Makah whale hunt
A conflict resolution project with a . . . Positive effect on the environment Water for Peace

Friends of the Earth Middle East

Cebu Uniting for Sustainable Water

Pinga Oya Watershed
Neutral effect on the environment Korean DMZ

Iraqi marshlands
Negative effect on the environment Dead Sea-Red Sea pipeline

Table 1 gives examples of the different types of secondary effects these linked projects can have on each other; obviously, not all these effects are intentional. In fact in some cases, such as the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, even the linkage was unintentional. But why do some of these projects work well, and others don’t? If we are going to design a linked project, how do we define success, and what general elements work best? To begin with, we can examine examples of linked projects that have succeeded or failed.

Using conflict resolution to address environmental issues

“The rivers…are shared by more than one country. Our mountain ranges do not end abruptly because some 19th century politician drew a line on a map. The winds, the oceans, the rain and atmospheric currents do not recognize political frontiers. The earth’s environment is the common property of all humanity and creation, and what takes place in one country affects not only its neighbours, but many others well beyond its borders”
Dr Z. Pallo Jordan (then South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism)

Positive Effects: Peace Parks

The concept of the peace park has been evolving since the first in 1932, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, was designated to commemorate the years of peace and friendship between the United States and Canada. Today there is a United Nations peace park designation, specialized NGOs and conferences such as the Peace Park Foundation and the International Symposia on Parks for Peace in 1998, and an IUCN initiative for international certification of peace parks. These parks have grown in number due to the increasing recognition of the need for regional or ecosystem management in biodiversity issues. This has led to more adjoining or transboundary protected areas (TBPA) abutting or crossing two or more countries or communities (Table 4), and many of these areas have in the past, or are currently experiencing conflict or war (Table 3). The United Nations and IUCN criteria to be met for a TBPA to become a peace park include an explicit objective to promote both peace and biodiversity in an area that has had “significant conflict” (IUCN 2001). Best practice guidelines stress long-term conservation and landscape-level management to maximize ecological benefits, and promote ecotourism or some other form of sustainable economic benefit from the project.

Table 2. Definitions of terms (Source: IUCN – The World Conservation Union, 2001)

Protected Area
An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means (IUCN, 1994a).
Transboundary Protected Area (TBPA)
An area of land and/or sea that straddles one or more boundaries between states, sub-national units such as provinces and regions, autonomous areas and/or areas beyond the limits of national sovereignty or jurisdiction, whose constituent parts are especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed co-operatively through legal or other effective means.
Parks for Peace
Parks for Peace are transboundary protected areas that are formally dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and to the promotion of peace and co-operation.

Peace parks have been initiated at politically high levels (South Africa and Lesotho: Maloti-Drakensberg area; United States and Mexico: Rio Grande border), and these tend to be more general framework agreements for mutual cooperation that may grow over time. There are also local initiatives, such as the border park promoted by individuals on the Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam common borders. And others have been promoted by an NGO, such as the very first, the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park, supported by the Rotary Club.

Neutral Effects: Potential Peace Parks

There are 69 potential TBPAs (Sandwith et al 2001), some of which may be deemed peace parks, that currently exist as an official protected area in one country and as a de facto protected area in the other (Indonesia and Malaysia: Sungai Kayan/Pulong Tau parks). These may be considered to have a neutral to potentially positive effect on conflict resolution, as there is no real capacity for cooperation yet possible.

Numbers of preserves are not a reliable indicator of their success. A recent draft code for TBPAs in times of peace and armed conflict (Sandwith, et al. 2001) and best practice management guidelines (Hamilton 2001) have been produced, and these will begin to allow evaluation of these programs for their impact on the environment and peace-building.

Negative Effects: Natural Resource Ownership and Use

An environmental project can also have a negative impact on conflict resolution. For the most part, negative conflict resolution – i.e. conflict – linked to environmental issues is a dispute between national or subnational units over the ownership and control of natural resources or the placement of dams. However, there are some instances of conflict due to conservation projects. The CITIES ban in 1990 on trade in elephant ivory created difficulties for several states in Africa – Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. Poachers from poor villages had made money from the ivory, and elephants had sometimes caused damage to towns near the preserves. These countries appealed to CITIES and eventually were granted a partial lifting of the ban in 2002 (taking effect in 2004), though this appeal may have been motivated more from the states’ own government stockpiles of ivory, than to benefit the villagers. A small band of Native Americans in Washington, the Makah, asserted their rights as an indigenous people to hunt the protected grey whales, as they had several generations past, creating international controversy.

In the United States, domestic conflict has come up frequently where business or recreation sectors encounter state or federal environmental limits. Loggers in the Pacific Northwest claimed to be losing their jobs in 1990 because they couldn’t exploit the old-growth forests preserved for the endangered northern spotted owl. Makers of snowmobiles continue to appeal the National Park Service ban on the machines in nearly all national parks, despite repeated findings that the ban is the best way to protect the parks.

While environmental issues are just one possible aspect of national or subnational conflict, they have been important enough to cause wars in themselves, for example between Iraq and Kuwait, the United Kingdom and Iceland, and, it has been argued, between the United States and Iraq. In many cases, resources were one of the primary factors of violence between two countries – for example between El Salvador and Honduras; Cameroon and Nigeria; Iran and Iraq; Peru and Ecuador – or a motivation for one country to sponsor violence in another, such as with South Africa and Lesotho. Still more violence is predicted in many regions over water scarcity. Toset et. al. (2000) demonstrated that two countries sharing a river boundary increases the likelihood of military interstate conflict.

There is a great deal of evidence that resource control is major cause of intrastate conflict, motivating rebel groups to take control and governments to go to terrible and illegal lengths to stay in control. The civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone were prolonged by one faction financing its actions through control of the diamond mines; in Cambodia by logging. Examples of resource-related unrest include the Aceh Province in Indonesia, Chiapas in Mexico, Bougainvilla in Papua, and among the Tuareg in Mali and Niger.

By addressing the actual causal factors of a conflict, better treaties can be negotiated and implemented. The field of professional environmental conflict resolution has emerged in the last few decades, addressing environmental issues through processes such as mediation and facilitation of collaborative or community decision-making groups.

Using Environmental Issues to Address Conflict Resolution

Neutral Effects: Korean DMZ and Iraqi Marshlands

When a conflict has been resolved, there may be unexpected opportunities for environmental projects. These are termed neutral because, though they may have a positive environmental impact, it was unintentional. Examples of these include the Korean demilitarized zone and the future restoration of the Iraqi marshlands.

Over the past 50 years since the Korean War cease fire created the demilitarized zone (DMZ) –151 miles long, 6 miles wide including the buffer zones – the area has become home to many species of plants and animals thought to be extinct on the whole peninsula. There have been suggestions to make this area a bioreserve both to protect it in the event of a reunification and resulting development, and to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation. Dr. K.C. Kim, director of the Center for Biodiversity Research, has written, “The environment is a benign, seemingly apolitical issue on which the Koreans could possibly agree. Environmental issues may be the least provocative way of breaking the ice.” (Neufeld 1997).

The US attack on Iraq has also stopped the Iraqi government’s religious persecution of the Ma’dan tribe living in the marshlands of southern Iraq. The government had been systematically depriving the marshlands of water from further up the watershed, as well as poisoning the water, to drive out the Shia Muslim population. Now that Hussein’s regime is gone, the Iraq Foundation and USAID have begun restoration plans, and emphasize the need to involve all stakeholders to “…resolve the social, political and institutional issues related to resettlement, property rights, economic opportunities and social safety nets.” (Spotts 2003).

Positive Effects: Water for Peace and Friends of the Earth Middle East

The “Water for Peace” program is a conflict prevention program that hinges on having a positive effect on environmental issues:

“UNESCO and Green Cross International are contributing to this international initiative by jointly examining the potential for shared water resources to become a catalyst for regional peace and development through dialogue, co-operation and participative management of river basins.” From From Potential Conflict to Co-operation Potential: Water for Peace UNESCO and Green Cross

While recognizing water stress as a significant source of potential conflict, also noted is water’s potential to compel cooperation, because it is such a necessary commodity, if it is handled and mediated properly. The author Cosgrove states, “A conflict may store within it the potential for a major future dispute, but at the same time it also contains the possibility of future creative cooperation… (p. 49)” The Water for Peace program states as its principal goals: “to nurture the idea of peace in human minds; and to prevent and resolve conflicts arising from environmental degradation, mismanagement and injustice.”

This program is aimed at governments and water-related NGOs and has helped design best management practices and promote cooperative forums. Cosgrove has referred to examples of successful past projects such as Cebu Uniting for Sustainable Water and Pinga Oya Watershed that have linked conflict resolution and environmental concerns and provided case studies for analysis of procedures.

Cebu Uniting for Sustainable Water (CUSW) in the Philippines was founded in 1994 by a local NGO that wanted to provide a conflict resolution forum for water disputes. CUSW now works in cooperation with the government and the community. In 2001 in Sri Lanka, several NGOs started a project called Hydrosolidarity and Ethnic Solidarity through Youth Water Awareness in the Pinga Oya Watershed, which aimed to bring together Muslim and Sinahala youth where there had been years of violent ethnic conflict. If its success continues, its model may be used in other river basin areas. Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is an NGO which started out in 1994 as EcoPeace, a partnership between Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan, with a mission to “support peace through environmental issues” (Zwirn 2001). When the intifada began, EcoPeace changed its name to FoEME and its mission to one more directed at environmental protection. Zwirn (2001) implies that this was due to concerns that funding would disappear for a peace process that had broken down, and indeed FoEME has suffered office closures and not been able to complete some important projects nor influence emerging policy as much as they hoped. The question arises, what becomes of environmentally-linked conflict resolution projects if conflict reemerges?

Negative Effects: Red Sea-Dead Sea Pipeline/Canal

The Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline project is an example of a conflict resolution issue having a negative impact on the environment. There have been plans floating around for many years to stop the decline of the water level of the Dead Sea, due mostly to industrial use, by adding water from the Red Sea through a pipeline or canal. This project’s benefits seem to lie mainly in making opportunities for Israel and Jordan to work together and promote friendly relations, provide temporary jobs and a new potable water source. Unfortunately, the pipeline would have a significant negative environmental impact on the Dead Sea including, “risk of groundwater contamination, re-establishment of stratification conditions, seasonal precipitation of chemicals, and the growth of microorganisms in the Dead Sea. (Asmar 2003).

What Works? What Doesn’t?

“Quite apart from the benefits for biodiversity conservation, transboundary protected areas can also play an important role in fostering better co-operation and understanding between countries. Indeed they may help catalyze the peaceful resolution of disputes. In many parts of the world, transboundary protected areas have been important in building bridges between nations and peoples. But, here too, until recently at least, this experience had not been analysed systematically, nor had the lessons been drawn from it.”
David Sheppard, Head of the IUCN Programme on Protected Areas

Many of these linked projects were not specifically designed to be so; formal linkage of these issues is a relatively new concept. Therefore, baseline data for comparison was generally not collected and evaluation methods not considered. Moreover, it takes time to assess the success or failure of an environmental or conflict resolution project; in the political science literature, five years is the standard to determine success of a settlement. Is this an appropriate length of time to determine ecological success too? This question among others must be used to develop models to optimize the effect of these programs, many of which will be addressing similar environmental and socio-economic issues in different regions of the world. One criterion for evaluation may be to use a framework such as this paper suggests to determine if there is a linkage between environmental issues and conflict resolution in the program, and if so, to define its goals. The following recommendations reflect some of the commonalities in these programs:

  • The greatest success of linked projects involves equal intention in both areas of environmental protection and conflict resolution, providing adequate publicity, funding, and technical and administrative support for both. Due to the demonstrated link between the two issues, success in one area enhances the other. Examples: Peace parks, “Water for Peace”
  • Outline clear objectives for both areas, with measurable results and evaluation methodologies developed beforehand. These efforts will make it easier to obtain funding and to make program adjustments as necessary.
  • All the stakeholders involved in the environmental issue or the conflict must be consulted, and the greatest possible consensus should be reached, but not to the point where compromise has made the goals unimportant and ineffectual.
  • A project that is seriously detrimental to one area cannot be considered an overall success, even if the net gain is positive. Because it is a linked project, failure on one side means work will have to be done in the future, or that stakeholders in the project will have incentive to cheat, and perceived immediate success will produce failure eventually. Example: CITIES elephant ivory ban
  • Expressing the linkage clearly may increase the range of potential funding sources.

Areas of Further Research

  • Regional differences in conflict resolution techniques and how this might affect environmental issues
  • How binational or multinational projects where there is a substantial socio-economic disparity between states can be fair and comprehensively address the needs of all parties. Examples: Israel and Palestine, United States and Mexico
  • How available funding is structured for linked projects, and what might allow funding to weather periods of crisis
  • How conflict resolution issues can be tied in with sustainability issues


Anonymous. (November 1997). Iraqi Marshlands. ICE Case Studies. Retrieved May 2005.

Asmar, B. N. (2003). The science and politics of the Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal or Pipeline. Unpublished paper.

BBC online: Nature – Animals on the edge. Retrieved June 2003.

Brock, L. (1991). Peace through Parks: The Environment on the Peace Research Agenda. Journal of Peace Research, 28:4 p 407-423.

Chubb, L. (2000). “Legality of Makah whale hunt a grey area.” Environmental News Network. Retrieved June 2003.

Cosgrove, W. J. (2003) From Potential Conflict to Co-operation Potential: Water for Peace. World Water Assessment Program: UNESCO, International Hydrological Programme and Green Cross International. Retrieved June 2006.

Fuller, J. (9 May 2003). “Natsios says Iraqis must have a part in marshland restoration.” USAID website Retrieved May 2003.

Neufeld, A. N. (November 1997). Korean Demilitarized Zone as a Bioreserve. ICE Case Studies. Retrieved May 2005.

Sandwith, T., Shine, C., Hamilton, L. and Sheppard, D. (2001). Transboundary Protected Areas for Peace and Co-operation. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. xi + 111pp.

Spotts, P. N. (27 March 2003). “Watering Eden.” Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved April 2003.

The Iraq Foundation Website. “The Eden Again Project” Retrieved May 2005.

Toset, H., Wollebæk, P., Gleditsch, N. P. and Hegre, H. (2000). ‘Shared Rivers and Interstate Conflict’, Political Geography 19(6): 971–996.

Weaver, C. F. (no date). “Environmental Consequences of Conflict and a Case Study of the Balkan Region.” Visited April 2005.

Wolf, A. (May 2002). The Importance of Regional Cooperation on Water Management for Confidence Building: Lessons Learnt. Contribution to the Tenth OSCE Economic Forum on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Use and the Protection of Quality of Water in the Context of the OSCE, Prague, Czech Republic.

Zwirn, M. (December 2001). “Promise and Failure: Environmental NGOs and Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation.” Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, 5:4.

Map 1. Regions of biodiversity. (Source:

Map 2. Preserves managed under international agreements. (Source:

Map 3. Selected regions of high biodiversity value. (Source:

Table 3. Assessment of preserves in areas of conflict (Simokat 2003)

Preserve System Total Number of Countries Percent of countries with US travel warnings Percent of countries with current UN peacekeeping missions World Heritage sites 130 22% 11% IUCN transboundary sites 116 22% 7% RAMSAR wetland sites 32 16% 16% USAID preserve sites 20 35% 0% Indicator of Conflict Percent of countries in conflict containing at least one internationally recognized preserve US Travel Warnings 41 95% UN Peacekeeping Missions 20 75%

Table 4. Global trends in transboundary and intranational preserves (Zbicz 2001)

1998 1997 2001 Preserve complexes of 2 or more countries 59 136 169 Protected areas in individual countries NA 488 666 Total number of countries involved NA NA 113


Christina Simokat

Christina Simokat is a certified mediator and facilitator specializing in land use, public policy and community dispute resolution.  With an MA in Conflict Resolution and a BA in Environmental Studies, combined with experience in facilitating collaborative, consensus-building processes, Christina has a unique perspective and expertise.  She has served diverse groups… MORE >

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