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Trading National Security for Natural Security - Riya Soni (1st Rank, 1st National Blog competition)

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

The three most important resources which dominate the geo-politics today are oil, coal and nuclear weaponry. Democratic nations are on the quest to become less dependent on undemocratic nations for oil, while the undemocratic nations want to develop a nuclear program as good as that of the developed, democratic nations to achieve ‘national security’. Amidst all this, governments have completely overlooked the terrible consequences it has on the environment and the people. This blog aims to analyse how the governments managed to alter the relationship between humans and the natural world amidst the aforementioned circumstances.

In Valerie Kultz’s essay ‘Invisible Spaces, Violent Places,’ she has explained how in pursuit of becoming a hegemon in the military arena, the United States and Russia engaged in a Cold War which only led to destruction of their own land and people without them realising. In order to achieve ‘national security,’ the government of the United States produced and tested nuclear weapons in the Nevada Test Site also known as the Bull’s Eye Area. Consecutively, 928 tests were conducted in that area yet hardly anyone in the general public noticed the horrifying changes in the landscape. This place was being transformed into a radioactive laboratory and dump, with the bodies of locals and the indigenous people who bore witness to this ‘nuclearism.’ Miners, millers and down riders developed radiation related illnesses. Many indigenous communities such as Shoshone, Ute, Navajo, Hopi, Paiute, Havasupai, Hualapai among others started suffering from cancer, thyroid and birth defects. Places like deserts are not seen as beautiful and therefore not a place that needs conservation. When questions were raised, the government said that the place was already a wasteland as if it was a non-habitable and non-vegetative area. The representative of the Department of Defence said, “the land was cheap because it really wasn’t much good for anything but gunnery practice-you could bomb it into oblivion and never notice the difference.” It was bombed into oblivion and the U.S.A became the most bombed nation by themselves. For many communities it was a means of long-term survival; it was a ‘place’ which gave them water, food and shelter. They were the ecosystem people of this area. However, for the government it was a mere ‘space’ so they If anything, it was a clear representation that pushed these communities into becoming ecological refugees. Huge developments were made in the defence sector but at the expense of others. Does this validate USA’s democracy? of how the U.S.A. self-destructed itself while claiming to self-construct itself by promoting ‘democratic’ principles.

In the notary work of, ‘Machines of Democracy,’ Timothy Mitchell has talked about how natural resources- oil and coal- gave political agency to the government officials. In the late 19th and the early 20th century, Europeans were living on an extremely high level of energy consumption. To meet the demand, the man power required in the coal industries was also growing. This constantly accelerating supply of energy not only changed the face of human relations but also altered mass politics. The workers became the catalyst of democracy and civic, economic and political rights. From industrial workers to the people involved in the transportation of coal, everyone became a part of a machine that was being operated in a way such that it became a tool to be used as a leverage against the government. Coal workers capitalized on the increasing dependency of people on coal, the vulnerability in the extraction of coal and its distribution in order to gain political power for their labour unions and to gain some control over the process of creating the flow of energy instead of being completely alienated from it. This led to expansion of democratic rights in a lot of European countries and eventually to the rest of the world.

Despite being a successor of coal, in the later years when oil completely replaced coal, it was seen as a tool being used by oligarchs to defeat democracy in the Middle East. Countries in that region are said to have the ‘oil curse,’ i.e. these nations systematically underperform despite being oil-rich. The process of extracting oil did not require the worker to go under the ground so they worked on land under continuous supervision of their supervisor. Since there were a lot of business tycoons in the oil market, the oligarchs decided to produce oil scarcity to protect the oil prices. There was also a scarcity of oil producing sites and the ones that were there, were far away from the industry. The economy of these nations were largely dependent on oil so the State also made sure that the oligarchs were getting all sorts of bureaucratic and tax concessions. This made it easy for the oligarchs to hide their money instead of investing in new infrastructure. Additionally, oil was being transported by pipelines and through seas and oceans which took away the dependency of oligarchs on the labour. The workers could no longer threaten to disrupt the flow of oil by withdrawing labour from any critical point in the production and extraction process. Once this network was established, oil gradually became politically isolated from the workers, thus stripping them of the vulnerability to make political claims and demand political rights. Oil, therefore, became a threat to democracy.

State-sanctioned violence is present everywhere, regardless a nation is democratic or autocratic. State-sponsored violence does not necessarily target people as evident in autocracy, it can also have negative externalities on the environment as witnessed in the U.S.A.

Countries pass through the phases- traditional societies, customary laws and drive to maturity, to the modern stage where most of the society lives in urban areas and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle of mass consumption. This is achieved through material forces such as capital and investment from the West. Therefore, this idea that modernisation will change the world for better is not true. The aforementioned examples bear witness to this.

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