- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Environmental (In)security in Asia: Challenging U.S. Interests

Lorraine Elliott


This chapter examines the implications of environmental degradation and resource decline in Asia for U.S. security interests and policy in the region.

Main Argument

Asia suffers widespread environmental degradation and resource decline that undermine economic and human security and can impact more traditional security concerns. Conflict between states is unlikely to result, but environmental degradation could be a factor in social stress, communal violence, and political disaffection and instability. Responses in the region to environmental insecurities have been uneven, marked by material and political difficulties and by policy failure.

Policy Implications

  • U.S. strategic policy (which in the sense explored here includes aid and environmental policies) would benefit from accounting more fully and effectively for negative environmental trends in Asia that can undermine U.S. policy goals of promoting regional stability, fostering democracy, and encouraging human prosperity.
  • The most effective U.S. policy responses to environmental security challenges in Asia would focus on the causes of environmental degradation. In foreign aid policy, this will involve project and program support for environmental mitigation, environmental protection, and environmental resilience activities across a range of policy concerns, not simply energy and climate change.
  • Support for environmental policies can deliver political and security benefits to the U.S., possibly offsetting other tensions in bilateral and regional relationships. The U.S. will, however, need to be seen by the region as a collaborative partner rather than pursuing its own policy interests.
  • U.S. environmental security leadership in the region will be strengthened as Washington takes further action to reduce the U.S. contribution to environmental degradation that has global reach.