The Environment in Warfare-Related Policy Making: The Case of Ukraine


School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development

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In the chaotic reality of wars and armed conflicts, environmental issues are often downgraded in long lists of policy priorities. We suggest that this reality is partially driven by the simmering and subterraneous aspect of environmental risks; the long-term possibility of environmental degradation may not seize the attention of political decision-makers as intuitively as ongoing violence spikes or political turmoil. However, we also view the policy demotion of environmental risks in warzones as partially predicated on a present lack of empirically-based frameworks that rapidly-but-accurately organize the information saturation of complex crises. Taking into account the need for transferability across various geographic areas, political contexts, and case studies, we have developed a four-part assessment tool to analyze various risks by distinguishing between the environment 1) as a trigger, 2) as degraded, 3) as neglected, or 4) as a mechanism of control. While based on established scholarly findings, we introduce this tool as fulfilling an unmet, foundational policy need. To demonstrate how this tool can rapidly contextualize environmental risks, we also share previously unpublished data on Ukraine’s war-driven ongoing environmental crisis. With 11,000 people killed, 2 million internally displaced persons, and 4.4 million people in dire need of emergency humanitarian assistance (UN OCHA, 2018; UNIAN, 2018b), we conclude that environmental risks pose just as urgent a threat as the ongoing direct violence. Particularly worrying, our framework’s results illustrate how warfare in highly industrialized areas may leave harmful ecological and human security legacies for decades after active warfare concludes.

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Small Wars Journal

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