Assessing that Canada will be the Last Superpower

Sharon Burke is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense and is currently the President of Ecospherics, a Washington, DC-based research and advisory organization focusing on environmental security. She can be found on Twitter @burkese and occasionally writes for the website and The Boston Globe. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessing that Canada will be the Last Superpower

Date Originally Written:  May 26, 2022.

Date Originally Published:  June 6, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a former U.S. defense official who believes that natural resource issues and industrial age legacy pollution will be shaping factors for the 21st century strategic landscape.

Summary:  If the world’s industrial nations fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the near term, global environmental conditions will likely become increasingly inhospitable for human societies throughout the 21st and 22nd centuries. Canada, with its cold climate, vast territory, “green” mineral wealth, stable political culture, and its relative inaccessibility has the best prospects for adapting to a more extreme climate and becoming the next superpower, perhaps by default.

Text:  Even as global consensus about climate change has strengthened, greenhouse gas emissions have steadily increased[1]. Absent an abrupt geopolitical about face toward a massive global economic transformation[2], climate change will continue unabated for centuries to come. And while the Earth has experienced significant climate variability throughout its 4.5-billion-year geological history[3], humanity has not[4]. Whether the changes unfurl slowly over the next 50-200 years or suddenly if certain tipping points occur[5], the effects and impacts will hit all parts of the globe, if unevenly within countries and across regions[6]. Populations in sub-tropical, tropical, and dry or desert regions, for example, are already struggling with high heat[7] and changes in precipitation[8], which result in everything from adverse human health impacts to prolonged droughts to an increase in wildfires. In disadvantaged communities or countries with weak underlying political, legal, social, and economic foundations, these conditions can be unaffordable and destabilizing[9].

The current “Great Powers,” the United States and China, are relatively well positioned to manage climate change, both in terms of adaptive capacity and the comparatively mild, mid-latitudes climate. Both countries, however, have vulnerable communities as well as dry and sub-tropical areas that are likely to be heavily impacted by high heat and volatile weather, with the possibility of significant internal displacement[10]. In addition, shifts in access to resources, including water, arable land, energy, and critical minerals, will likely challenge economic growth and social cohesion for both nations[11].

While countries in the most northern latitudes will also have to contend with access to resources and more volatile natural conditions, including sea level rise[12], shifts in precipitation, and extreme weather events, they have more potential to absorb shocks. Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland currently rank among the most stable countries in the world[13], the most resilient to climate change[14], and all have low population density, given the cold temperatures and harsh conditions in much of their territory. These Arctic and boreal regions are warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world[15], and the land left behind by retreating ice and melting permafrost may eventually be suitable for agriculture, forestry, and habitation. While the rest of the world will be struggling with managed and chaotic retreat from increasingly uninhabitable areas, the northern countries may well be contending with a managed advance into new territory. Though to be sure, this advance would be highly disruptive, too, given the release of additional greenhouse gases and destruction of existing Arctic ecosystems and native cultures.

Based upon the above mentioned global environmental conditions, Canada has the potential to not only adapt but emerge a superpower. The world’s second largest country, Canada’s population is today almost entirely clustered along the southern border. The vast majority of the land mass is uninhabited or lightly populated by indigenous peoples uniquely adapted to current, disappearing conditions. With the world’s longest coastline, Canada will have entirely new sea lines of communication through the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, Canada’s only contiguous neighbor is the United States, which will be dealing with climate displaced populations but is unlikely to have as much northward out migration as more heavily impacted areas with lower adaptive capacity, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Canada also has significant natural resources, including digital age minerals critical to modern military and energy technology and agricultural adaptation[16]. Again, no country will be immune to the negative effects of climate change, but with a stable, migrant-friendly political culture, Canada has the potential to manage this transition better than any other nation. As a high north country, Russia should enjoy these relative advantages, too, but the rigidity of their authoritarian form of government, the opportunity cost of their bellicosity, proximity to highly affected populations, lack of preparation for climate change, including the disruption to infrastructure built on permafrost, and unwelcoming culture for migrants all suggest a declining power.

The United States faces a range of options for how to deal with the geopolitics of climate change. First, it is always an option to do nothing, and either hope that the projections and models are incorrect, or that the current adaptive capacity in the United States is sufficient. Early experiences with extreme weather attributed to climate change suggest this would not be a prudent choice[17]. Fatalism is also an option – the scope and scale of the economic transformation required to change course is daunting and arguably infeasible, though such fatalism could prove devastating for an already fractious and restive polity. Another option is for the United States to place the highest domestic and foreign policy priority on expediting global cuts in greenhouse gasses. That would involve significantly larger outlays for research and development and climate-resilient economic development at home and around the world, but may present unacceptable opportunity costs for other priorities, such as strategic competition with China. Another option is to focus resources only on adaptation to changing conditions, which ultimately is another form of fatalism. The United States could also pursue a mixed option, making energy transition investments, including in the diversification of critical minerals supplies, and also building resilience and preparedness for shifting weather patterns. Across all options, the United States could consider deepening the bilateral relationship with its closest ally, Canada, given the country’s relative strength for a disrupted future.

Note that this is a highly speculative assessment, given that this level of environmental change is unprecedented for humanity, and a thawing cryosphere will have unpredictable consequences[18].


[1] IPCC (2022). Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[2] Dupont E, Germain M, Jeanmart H (2021, 11 May). Feasibility and economic impacts of the energy transition.  Retrieved May 20, 2022 at

[3] Westerhold, Thomas et al (2020, 11 September). An astronomically dated record of Earth’s climate and its predictability over the last 66 million years. Retrieved May 20, 2022 at

[4] Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al (2009, 23 September). A safe operating space for humanity. Retrieved May 21, 2022 at

[5] Ripple, William J, et al (2021, September). World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency 2021.  Retrieved May 21, 2022 at

[6] Schiermeier, Quirin (2018, April 20). Clear signs of global warming will hit poorer countries first. Retrieved May 26, 2022 at doi:

[7] Zachariah, Mariam et al (2022, May 23). Climate change made devastating early heat in India and Pakistan 30 times more likely. Retrieved May 23, 2022 at

[8] Ayugi, B., Eresanya, E., Onyango, A.O. et al (2022, March 14). Review of meteorological drought in Africa: Historical trends, impacts, mitigation measures, and prospects. Retrieved May 19, 2022 at

[9] National Intelligence Council (2021, October). National intelligence estimate: Climate change and international responses increasing challenges to US national security through 2040. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[10] Lustgarten, Abrahm (2020, September 15). How climate migration will reshape America. Retrieved May 26, 2022 at

[11] IPCC (2022). Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerabilityContribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. See especially chapter 10: Asia and Chapter 14: North America. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[12] Note that if the certain climate tipping points occur, the magnitude of sea level rise could be catastrophic and overwhelm even the most resilient country’s adaptive capacity. See Slater, T., Hogg, A.E. & Mottram, R (2020). Ice-sheet losses track high-end sea-level rise projections. Retrieved May 26, 2022 at

[13] The Fund for Peace (2021). Fragile states index. Retrieved May 24, 2022 at

[14] Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) country index. Retrieved May 25, 2022 at

[15] Turton, Steve (2021, March 6). Climate explained: why is the Arctic warming faster than other parts of the world? Retrieved May 26, 2022 at

[16] Maloney, James (2021, June). From mineral exploration to advanced manufacturing: Developing value chains for critical minerals in Canada. Retrieved May 25, 2022 at

[17] Ornes, Stephen (2018, August 14). How does climate change influence extreme weather? Impact attribution research seeks answers. Retrieved May 23, 2022 at

[18] Newton, A (2010). Arctic ice across the ages.  Retrieved May 25, 2022 at

Canada Environmental Factors Great Powers & Super Powers Sharon Burke

Space, Climate, and Comprehensive Defense Options Below the Threshold of War

Joe McGiffin has served in the United States Army for seven years. He is currently pursuing a M.A. in International Relations prior to teaching Defense and Strategic Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He can be found on Twitter @JoeMcGiffin. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  As the space domain, climate change, and views of military purpose evolve, multiple options below the threshold of war are required.

Date Originally Written:  August 10, 2021.

Date Originally Published:  September 13, 2021. 

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active-duty service member. This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. towards the anticipated operating environment of the next thirty years.

Background:  Conflict below the threshold of war is characterized by subversive tactics and the amoral use of force[1]. Democratic states cannot justify the use of these means in the defense of their national security interests[2]. The United States requires alternative strategies to bolster the free world order and deter or defeat adversaries through legitimate, transparent methods.

Significance:  The strategic environment is a fluid expression of geopolitical changes. A state’s ability to predict, adapt to, and manipulate those variables will determine its relative influence and security over the next thirty years. To be competitive strategically, free nations will need to synergize their private and public assets into courses of action which maximize effective and efficient use of resources.

Option #1:  Diversify Space Exploitation: The Techno-National Approach

The space industry has yet to scratch the surface of the domain’s strategic potential. Navigation, communications, surveillance[3], and even transportation are the starting point[4]. The United States and its allies can invest in new space capabilities to harden their physical and economic vulnerabilities. One approach could be the use of additive manufacturing and recycling of inert satellites in orbit to produce in-demand computer components[5]. This plausible course of action would reduce materiel costs for these parts and alleviate U.S. economic dependence on China. As the industry grows, so too will the technology, expanding potential for other space-based capabilities and options.

Risk:  This option requires a long-term commitment by public and private entities and offers few short-term returns. The exact timeline to achieving the desired end state will prove unpredictable as necessary technological breakthroughs are difficult to anticipate. Additionally, this approach may trigger the weaponization of space as these strategic platforms become the targets of adversaries.

Gain:  Industrial use of space will alleviate economic interdependence with adversaries and provide enhanced economic security and physical protection of strategic supply lines. There is also the potential for alliance and partnership-building by offering interstate collaboration on required research, development, and manufacturing.

Option #2:  Green and Lean Logistics: The Climate Change Approach

Rising sea levels, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, and the diminishing supply of oil and natural gas will impact the geopolitical environment[6]. While the first two factors will require direct action to mitigate as they continue, finding alternative fuel options has national security implications that are not widely discussed. Previous DoD tests indicate that current technologies could reduce military fuel dependency by up to 90% without impacting operations[7]. As a higher research and investment priority, more astonishing gains can be anticipated.

Risk:  As one of the leading exporters of oil and natural gas, the United States’ transition to alternative energies will face even more staunch resistance than it has previously. Making alternative fuels a priority investment may also restrict defense spending on other strategic assets.

Gain:  This approach enhances military capability and could present a new means of promoting U.S. influence and democratic values internationally. The tooth to tail ratio of the resulting force will extend operational reach exponentially while curtailing vulnerabilities and expenses through the reduction of required support personnel, platforms, and installations. Alternatively, the sustainment network could be maintained with enhanced flexibility, capable of nesting with disaster response and humanitarian aid agencies to assist with international relief operations.

Option #3:  Comprehensive Defense Force: The Demographic Change Response

The sole purpose of a professional military in a democracy is defense. This option expands the definition of defense to include protection from all threats to the nation and the promotion of its ideals, not just those posed by enemy forces. International social unrest poses a danger that is not conventionally considered as a strategic threat. For example: Megacities are projected to present a critical factor of the international environment over the next thirty years[8]. They are typically in a stagnant or declining state, offering refuge for illicit non-state actors seeking to destabilize the host nation for their own purposes. Relieving the conditions which promote instability proactively defends the United States and her allies from criminal or terrorist actions against any potential target. Using the military in conjunction with other means could help defuse these regions if done in a deliberate and unified manner.

Risk:  U.S. military and aid personnel will be targeted by militant actors as they work to improve the megactiy’s administration and infrastructure. Additionally, host nation corruption could lead to fraudulent use of humanitarian resources or sympathetic support of an embedded actor, requiring strict supervision and involvement. There is also the potential that the non-state actor is a proxy or funded by an adversary and will execute missions with the intention to discredit allied aid operations.

Gain:  Aiding states improves ties, alleviates unrest, and promotes democratic values and U.S. influence. Eliminating their power bases neutralizes illicit non-state actors, depriving adversaries of proxy forces for use in subversive tactics. The military will integrate more completely with the U.S. interagency, resulting in increased impact from unity of effort in future strategic endeavors.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.



Below Established Threshold Activities (BETA) Defense and Military Reform Environmental Factors Joe McGiffin Option Papers Space

Options for Europe to Address Climate Refugee Migration

Matthew Ader is a first-year undergraduate taking War Studies at King’s College London. He tweets inexpertly from @AderMatthew. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  Climate refugees are people who, due to factors related to climate change, are driven from their country.  Climate refugee movement has the potential to cause instability.

Date Originally Written:  April 11, 2019. 

Date Originally Published:  May 27, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a first-year undergraduate student at King’s College London with a broadly liberal foreign policy view. The article is written from the point of view of the European Union (EU) towards African and Middle Eastern countries, particularly those on the Mediterranean basin. 

Background:  Climate change is expected to displace an estimated 200 million people by 2050[1]. Many of these individuals will originate from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.  

Significance:  Extrapolating from current trends, it is likely that most of these refugees will attempt to flee to Europe[2]. Such a mass movement would have serious impacts on European political and economic stability. Combined with other impacts of climate change, such a mass migration is likely to destabilise many nations in the Middle East or North Africa. The movement of climate refugees is a significant concern for policy makers both in Europe and its near abroad. 

Option #1:  Pan-European countries increase their border defences to keep climate refugees out, by force if necessary. 

Risk:  This option would lead to the deaths of a relatively large number of climate refugees. It would also demand a significant commitment of resources and expertise, potentially distracting European nations from near-peer threats. Further, turning away refugees would impact the European reputation on the global stage, and breed resentment and instability among nations on the Mediterranean rim who would be left having to accommodate the refugee influx with limited support. Some climate refugees would also be resentful, and many others desperate, providing opportunities for non-state armed actors – as has already taken place, for example in the Dadaab refugee camp[3]. 

Gain:  This option would push the risk off-shore from Europe, avoiding significant domestic political challenges and instability. It would also protect economic opportunities for low-income workers, particularly in Mediterranean basin countries. 

Option #2:  Pan-European countries take in and integrate significant numbers –in the low double-digit millions – of climate refugees. 

Risk:  This option would lead to significant political instability in Europe, as there is already dissatisfaction with current rates of immigration in broad swathes of European society[4]. Current immigration rates – substantially lower than under this option – have already caused the greatest rise in far-right political parties in Europe since the 1930s. Moreover, this option would stress the structure of the EU, as Mediterranean basin countries would be unwilling to take all the refugees, leading to a quota system forcing all EU nations to take in a certain number of refugees. Quota systems have historically caused resentment and would likely do so again. Lastly, it is unclear whether EU nations could avoid unintentionally ghettoising and marginalising refugees, to negative political and economic effect.  

Gain:  This option would avoid destabilising fragile states in the Middle East and North Africa, denying potential staging grounds to terrorist groups and soaking up EU resources on heavy border protection. Further, it would enhance EU standing abroad, as the German policy of compassion – taking in over 1 million migrants in 2014 – previously did. 

Option #3:  Heavy investment in Middle Eastern and North African countries to increase their capabilities to deal with the climate challenges that cause climate refugees. 

Risk:  It is unclear whether such investment would be effective[5]. Many of these nations have fragile security situations and high rates of endemic corruption. Development assistance in this environment has previously given a low return on investment and expecting different could result in the expenditure of billions of euros for limited impact. Secondly, even if success could be guaranteed, the amount of money and time required would be substantial. At a time when the popularity of foreign aid budgets is low, and the pressure on the EU’s eastern flank from Russia is high, convincing nations to contribute substantial assets could prove very difficult. A discontinuity of investment from different nations would further north-south recriminations in the EU. 

Gain:  This option could forestall a climate refugee crisis entirely by increasing the internal capabilities of Middle East and North African states to deal with the impacts of climate change. In the event that climate refugee movements still take place, the EU would be shielded by capable partners who could take the brunt of the negative impact without destabilization to the extent of seriously damaging EU interests. 

Other Comments:  The climate refugee challenge is not immediately pressing and therefore can be dismissed by European nations embroiled with other priorities. Climate refugees will be a definitional security challenge to the EU in the mid and late 21st century. Unless serious thought is applied to this problem now, unpreparedness is likely in the future. 

Recommendation:  None.  


[1] Kamal, Baher. “Climate Migrants Might Reach One Billion by 2050.” Inter Press Service News Agency, August 21, 2017. Retrieved From: 

[2] No Author Stated, “Refugee crisis in Europe.” European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, June 20, 2016. Retrieved From: 

[3] McSweeney, Damien. “Conflict and deteriorating security in Dadaab.” Humanitarian Practice Network, March 2012. Retrieved From: 

[4] Silver, Laura. “Immigration concerns fall in Western Europe, but most see need for newcomers to integrate into society.” Pew Research Centre, October 22, 2018. Retrieved From: 

[5] Dearden, Lizzie. “Emmanuel Macron claims Africa held back by ‘civilisational’ problems and women having ‘seven or eight children’.” The Independent, July 11, 2017. Retrieved From: 

Environmental Factors Matthew Ader Migrants Option Papers

Assessment of the Security Implications of Environmental Crime in Africa

Zachary Lubelfeld is pursuing a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations at Syracuse University.  He is currently in Maputo, Mozambique on a Boren Fellowship studying Portuguese and the extractive sector in Mozambique.  All opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official positions of Syracuse University or the National Security Education Program.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title:  Assessment of the Security Implications of Environmental Crime in Africa

Date Originally Written:  January 22, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  April 30, 2018.

Summary:  Environmental crime is a growing component of transnational crime, as well as an increasingly lucrative one. Organized crime, militia groups, and terrorist organizations all profit off the illicit sale of everything from minerals to animals. This criminal activity poses a significant threat, not just to the communities in which it occurs or where these entities commit violence, but to the health and safety of people around the world.

Text:  As globalization continues apace, and the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the benefits, like greater access to goods and information, are matched by the costs, such as the increased space for transnational criminal activity. One of the least discussed aspects of this is environmental crime. Global environmental crime is a burgeoning market, worth an estimated $213 billion annually[1]. This environmental crime includes a wide range of illicit activities, such as illegal logging in rainforests, illegal mining of mineral resources, and poaching elephants and rhinoceroses for their ivory.  The lack of focus on environmental crime allows criminal organizations to wreak havoc with relative impunity, and nowhere is this truer than in Africa. The pernicious effects of wildlife exploitation are felt across all of Africa, the security implications of which are myriad. Regional stability, armed conflict and terrorism, and global health are all impacted by wildlife exploitation in Africa, with potentially dangerous results not just for Africans, but for people worldwide.

Environmental crime is an important driver of violence and conflict across Africa, as it provides integral revenue streams for many violent militia groups and terrorist organizations. Perhaps the most well-known example of this are conflict minerals, which refers to minerals that are sold to fund violence. Diamonds have long been a driver of conflict in Africa, a recent example of which is the ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic[2]. Violent militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) profit from the sales of minerals like cassiterite, a tin ore worth about $500/kg that is used in products such as phones, laptops, and cars[3]. The value of the illicit mineral trade in East, Central, and West Africa is valued at $2.4 billion to $9 billion per year, which rivals the value of the global heroin and cocaine markets combined[4].

Another key component of environmental crime is poaching, both for bush meat and for ivory. Armed militia groups as well as military units in Africa rely on poaching for food – for example, one adult elephant can feed an average army regiment. Ivory is the more lucrative reason for poaching, however. Elephant tusks sell for an estimated $680/kg[5], while rhinoceros horn is worth upwards of $65,000/kg. Ivory can be sold, or traded for supplies and weapons, and is a major funding source across Africa, from the Lord’s Resistance Army in eastern Africa to transnational criminal networks operating in Mozambique; there is even evidence that the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab profits from ivory smuggling. The illicit sale of ivory is also an important revenue source for armed militias in the DRC[6] and groups like the Janjaweed, the notorious Sudanese militias responsible for the genocide in Darfur[7].

Lesser known examples of environmental crime are essential to funding the operations of terrorist organizations across Africa, such as illegal logging. One of the primary uses of illegal logging is the production and taxation of charcoal, which is a fuel source for Africans who don’t have access to electricity. Al-Shabab had earned an estimated $56 billion from illicit charcoal by 2014, making it the primary source of funding for their operations.  Additionally, there are reports that the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram derives funding from the trade[8]. Furthermore, profits from the illegal timber trade are used to facilitate arms smuggling in Africa, arming terrorists, as well as rebel groups such as in Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire[9].

As concerning as it is that terrorist organizations and militia groups derive significant benefit from environmental crime, a potentially even greater danger is the consequences it could have on global health. A variety of animals are trafficked internationally, from rare birds and reptiles to gorillas, as well animal parts like pelts and tusks. This contact between animals and humans increases the risk of transmission of dangerous zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are transmitted from animals to humans. One example is the Ebola virus, which is thought to come from bats and primates, the latter of which may have spread the disease while being trafficked through cities is western Africa[10].

Increased transport of wildlife internationally increased the chances of the spread of dangerous pathogens, especially in the case of illicit trafficking. Pathogens that may otherwise have been contained in one location are sent around the world, increasing the risk of pandemic. While customs procedures designed to screen for these pathogens exist, wildlife traffickers bypass these to avoid detection, so infected animals are not discovered and put in quarantine. Therefore, wildlife trafficking could lead to the international transmission of a disease like Ebola, anthrax, or Yersinia pestis, otherwise known as the bubonic plague.

It is clear that environmental crime is as lucrative for criminals as it is dangerous to everyone else, and therefore shows no signs of slowing down. Given the potential harm that it could cause, by funding groups who seek to bring violence and chaos wherever they go, as well as by increasing the probability of devastating pandemic, environmental crime will certainly continue if it is not addressed by law enforcement and policy makers.


[1] Vira, V., Ewing, T., & Miller, J. (2014, August). Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from C4ADS:

[2] A Game of Stones: smuggling diamonds in the Central African Republic. (2017, June 22). Retrieved January 17, 2018, from

[3] Morrison, S. (2015, May 16). ‘Conflict minerals’ funding deadly violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo as EU plans laws to clean up trade. Retrieved January 17, 2018, from

[4] Environmental Crime. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2018, from

[5] Chen, A. (2016, November 07). Poaching is on the rise – most illegal ivory comes from recently killed elephants. Retrieved January 20, 2018, from

[6] Toeka Kakala, Taylor. “Soldiers Trade in Illegal Ivory” InterPress Service News Agency. 25 July 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.

[7] Christina M. Russo, “What Happened to the Elephants of Bouba Ndjida?” MongaBay, March 7, 2013. Available at

[8] Ibid.

[9] ILLEGAL LOGGING & THE EU: AN ANALYSIS OF THE EU EXPORT & IMPORT MARKET OF ILLEGAL WOOD AND RELATED PRODUCTS(Rep.). (2008, April). Retrieved January 17, 2018, from World Wildlife Foundation website:

[10] Bouley, T. (2014, October 06). Trafficking wildlife and transmitting disease: Bold threats in an era of Ebola. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from

Africa Assessment Papers Criminal Activities Environmental Factors Illicit Trafficking Activities Zachary Lubelfeld

Assessment of the Threat to Southeast Asia Posed by Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing

Blake Herzinger is a private-sector maritime security advisor assisting the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative and Pacific Command-wide maritime security efforts.  He served in the United States Navy as an intelligence officer in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida.  His writing has appeared in Proceedings, CIMSEC and The Diplomat.  He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 

Title:  Assessment of the Threat to Southeast Asia Posed by Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing

Date Originally Written:  September 24, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  November 27, 2017.

Summary:  Regional conflict brews in Southeast Asia as states vie for access to fish stocks and, increasingly, rely on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) to meet national requirements.  IUUF risks the collapse of targeted fish stocks, destroys the maritime environment, degrades internal security, and brings national security forces into increasingly-escalatory encounters.

Text:  Over one billion residents of the Asia-Pacific rely upon fish as their primary source of protein, and the fish stocks of the region are under a relentless assault[1].  Current estimates place IUUF at between 11 and 26 million metric tons (MMT) yearly (total legal capture is approximately 16.6 MMT yearly), with an estimated value loss to regional economies of $10-23.5 billion[2][3].  Over a 25 year period, fish stocks in the South China Sea have declined anywhere from 6 to 33 percent, with some falling as much as 40 percent over the last 5 years.  In 2015, at least 490 million people in Southeast Asia lived in chronic hunger, with millions of children throughout the region stunted due to malnutrition[4].

Illegal fishing’s pernicious by-product is the critical damage done to the maritime environment by those flouting fishery regulations.  As large fish become more scarce as a result of industrial-scale overfishing, smaller-scale fishermen turn to dangerous and illegal practices to catch enough fish to survive.  Blast fishing obliterates coral reefs and kills indiscriminately, but despite prohibitions continues at a rate of nearly 10,000 incidents a day in Philippines alone[5].  Cyanide fishing is also still widespread, despite being banned in several Southeast Asian countries.  Used to stun fish for live capture (for aquariums or regionally popular live fish restaurants), cyanide contributes to the devastation of coral reefs across the SCS.  Giant clam poaching also has deleterious effects on reefs across the region as poachers race to feed Chinese demand for these shellfish.  Reefs throughout the Coral Triangle are interdependent, relying on one another for pollination, and as the reefs are destroyed by poachers seeking short-term gains, or even by small fishermen eking out a subsistence lifestyle, the effects of collapse ripple outward across the region.  The region is approaching an inflection point at which the damage will be irreparable.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), which accounts for one-third of global fish consumption and is the world’s largest seafood exporter, fittingly leads the way in aggressively protecting its fishing fleets with an overwhelmingly powerful coast guard that dwarfs any other maritime law enforcement body in Asia[6][7].  As IUUF and environmental destruction cut into maritime resources and competition for those increasingly scarce resources escalates, national maritime law enforcement and naval forces are being rapidly expanded and widely deployed to protect natural resources and domestic fishing fleets.  If unmanaged, the friction generated by these fleets’ increasing interaction could easily explode into violent conflict.

For many countries in the region, the state’s legitimacy rests largely upon its ability to provide access to basic necessities and protect its citizens’ livelihoods.  Tens of millions across East Asia and Southeast Asia depend on fisheries for employment and, in many cases, their survival.  Should fish stocks begin to fail, regional states’ foundations will be threatened.  The combination of inadequate food supply and loss of livelihood could reasonably be expected to spur civil unrest.  In a state such as Indonesia, where 54 percent of the population relies on fish as its primary animal protein, historically weak institutions and propensity for military intervention only amplify the potential consequences of food insecurity.  In the PRC, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) actively encourages illegal fishing to provide its 1.379 billion people with the fish, seafood and marine products that its lower-and-middle-class, as well as elites, expect.  Legitimacy of the CCP, at least in part, is dependent on the continued production of regional fisheries and desire to buttress its legitimacy will continue to drive this vicious cycle.

The above mentioned calamities can occur in isolation, but they are most often interlinked.  For instance, in the infamous 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident, Philippines maritime law enforcement boarded a PRC fishing boat that had been engaged in giant clam and shark poaching, as well as coral reef destruction.  Armed PRC maritime law enforcement vessels intervened and sparked an external dispute that continues in 2017[8].  Ensuing flame wars between Filipino and Chinese hackers and economic measures enacted by the PRC against the Philippines threatened stability in both the domestic and international spheres of both countries.  The threat posed by IUUF is not just about fish, its direct and follow-on effects have the potential to drag Southeast Asia into disastrous conflict.


[1] Till, G. (2013). Seapower: a guide for the 21st century. London: Routledge Ltd.

[2] Caputo, J. (2017). A Global Fish War is Coming. Proceedings, 143(8), 1,374. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from

[3] One of the World’s Biggest Fisheries Is on The Verge of Collapse. (2017, August 02). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

[4] Asia-Pacific region achieves Millennium Development Goal to reduce hunger by half by 2015. (2015, May 28). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

[5] Guy, A. (n.d.). Local Efforts Put a Dent in Illegal Dynamite Fishing in the Philippines. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

[6] Jacobs, A. (2017, April 30). China’s Appetite Pushes Fisheries to the Brink. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

[7] Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy (Rep.). (2015, August 14). Retrieved

[8] Are Maritime Law Enforcement Forces Destabilizing Asia? (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

Assessment Papers Blake Herzinger Environmental Factors Resource Scarcity South China Sea Southeast Asia

Assessment of the Potential Security Challenges Posed by Water Security Between Afghanistan and Iran

Max Taylor is currently an Intern Intelligence and Security Analyst at Intelligence Fusion where he focuses on the Afghan security landscape.  Max also has a Master’s degree in International Security and Terrorism from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.  Max contributes to the @AfghanOSINT Twitter account.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 

Title:  Assessment of the Potential Security Challenges Posed by Water Security Between Afghanistan and Iran

Date Originally Written:  September 8, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  October 23, 2017.

Summary:  Whilst the relationship between Afghanistan and Iran is characterised by generations of shared history and culture, concerns over water security provide a more contemporary security challenge.  Iran’s reliance on Afghanistan’s water supply and Afghanistan’s refusal to cede control over its waterways to Iran will ensure that this issue, if left undressed, will fester.

Text:  Water security between Afghanistan and Iran is not necessarily a new concern, as disputes can be traced back to the 19th century when Afghanistan was under British control[1].  However, as time has progressed, water security as a challenge facing Afghanistan and Iran has continued to grow.  In an attempt to respond to the looming challenges posed by water security, both countries have engaged in various treaties and agreements which intended to ensure Iran received a sufficient amount of water.  The question as to how to allocate sufficient water supply to Iran has not been simple, as the treaties designed to manage the Afghan water supply have largely failed to provide effective oversight and control.  Therefore, with much of Iran’s water supply originating in Afghan sovereign territory, Iran has very little control over their own water supply.  This relative lack of reliable control over their own water supply is a particularly pressing concern for Iran, and is likely to continue to dominate the Afghan-Iran relationship.  This article will aim to expand upon this assumption by first examining the position from which both parties approach their water security, and will then analyse what Iran has done to address the problems it faces.

From Iran’s perspective, the forecast is somewhat bleak.  A study by Dr M. Molanejad and Dr A. Ranjbar[2] suggested that Iran has seen more extremes of weather as a result of climate change, such as draught, and can continue to expect additional extremes of weather.  Precipitation levels recorded in Molanejad and Ranjbar’s study show that in 1998, Iran saw its lowest total precipitation since 1969, but show that such extremes are only going to occur more often.  As within 10 years of the 1998 draught, a similar extreme low in rainfall was recorded which exceeded that of 1998.  Furthermore, agreements such as the 1973 agreement between Afghanistan and Iran which guarantees that Iran can expect to receive 22 cubic meters per second of water from Afghanistan provide little comfort.  The water allowance extract of this agreement is a static figure (albeit with the option to buy increased water allowance) and therefore does not correlate with predicted Iranian population increase.  With Iran’s population expected to be over 90 million in 2021[3], the figures of the 1973 agreement will not be sufficient in years to come.  As climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of extremes of weather, it is wise to assume that Iran’s fragile reliance on their Afghan water supply will become increasingly important.

Within this context the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) is unlikely to commit to  agreements which may limit their control over their own water ways.  Development of water management projects such as the Baksh-Abad Hydroelectric Station is both an effective way to win over the hearts of the Afghan population in the NUG’s ongoing conflict against the Taliban and a highly symbolic move.  In Afghan provinces such as Nimroz, where agriculture characterises the majority of the province, a damming project instigated by the NUG is an effective way for the NUG to connect with a population traditionally isolated from Kabul’s central control.  Construction of water management projects also acts as a symbolic gesture to the people of Afghanistan and the international community.  The NUG’s leading role in organising the projects suggests to observers that the NUG is capable of rebuilding itself in the wake of decades of conflict.

With climate change promising to increase the frequency of extreme weather and the creation of additional water management projects continuing in Afghanistan, time is not on the side of Iran.  Iran is not ignorant of this fact, and has attempted to assert an element of control over Afghan’s water supply.  Iranian President Rouhani has attempted to voice his concerns regarding water security through traditional diplomatic means, but Iran has also been accused of pursing more covert avenues of approach.  Afghan and U.S. officials have frequently accused Iran of supporting the Taliban by funding[4] and supplying the group.  As part of this support, Iran is accused of using the Taliban to sabotage key Afghan water management projects such as the Kamal Khan Dam which Iran claims will negatively affect the Iranian Sistan-Baluchestan Province.  In 2011, a Taliban commander was allegedly offered $50,000 by Iran to sabotage the Kamal Khan Dam[5].  Predictably, Iran explicitly denies that it supports the Taliban, and justifies its dialogue with the group by highlighting their common interest in combating the Islamic State.

Iran’s alleged support for the Taliban as a foreign policy tool has led to obvious implications for the Afghan-Iranian relationship.  With Iranian support for the Taliban being denied by Iran, and largely conducted under the guise of plausible deniability, the Afghan NUG is struggling to bring Iran to justice for their accused support.  Regardless, the sheer volume of accusations of Iranian support for the Taliban emanating from analysts, policy makers and Afghans alike adds an element of credibility to the claims.  The exact nature of Iran’s support for the Taliban is unclear, as the Taliban is a largely decentralised force with local commanders having substantial autonomy.  Furthermore, the Taliban’s traditional opposition to Iranian backed Shia groups in Afghanistan also holds back an ideologically supported relationship forming freely.

In order to comprehend the complexity of the issues posed by Afghan-Iranian water security, it is important to observe the subject from the perspective of both countries.  Iran finds itself stuck between a metaphorical rock and a hard place, with climate change and a rising population acting as the rock, and the continued creation of water management projects acting as the hard place.  On the other hand, the Afghan government is faced with a powerful Taliban insurgency and a distinct lack of public support from within more remote areas of the rural south.  Therefore, improved irrigation would act as an effective bridge between the NUG and the rural Afghan population of provinces such as Nimroz.  With both Afghanistan and Iran’s disposition in mind, it is difficult to comprehend how such an issue will be resolved.


[1]  Fatemeh Aman, Retrieved 10th September 2017, from:

[2]  Dr M. Molanejad & Dr A. Ranjbar, Retrieved September 8th 2017, from:

[3]  Parviz Garshasbi, Retrieved September 8th 2017, from:

[4]  Ahmad Majidyar, Retrieved September 8th 2017, from:

[5]  Radio Free Europe, Retrieved September 10th 2017. from:

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Environmental Factors Iran Max Taylor

Call for Papers: Environmental Factors and Resource Scarcity as a Conflict Driver



Divergent Options is calling for papers assessing situations or discussing options related to Environmental Factors and Resource Scarcity as a Conflict Driver.

Please limit your article to 1,000 words and write using our Options Paper or Assessment Paper templates which are designed for ease of use by both writers and readers alike.

Please send your article to by October 20, 2017.

If you are not interested in writing on this topic we still welcome individual articles on virtually any national security situation an author is passionate about.  Please do not let our call for papers cause you to hesitate to send us your idea.  We look forward to hearing from you!

As background, the January 2017 Global Trends report released by the United States National Intelligence Council envisions a future where:

Environmental and climate changes will challenge systems in different dimensions; heat waves, for example, stress infrastructure, energy, human and animal health, and agriculture. Climate change— observed or anticipated—almost certainly will become an increasingly integral component of how people view their world, especially as populations are projected to swell in those areas most vulnerable to extreme weather events and sea-level rise, including coastal megacities and regions already suffering from water scarcity. Many of the ecological and environmental stresses from climate change—and the infectious diseases it will affect—will cut across state borders, making coordination among governments and international institutions crucial to effective responses. Policies and programs to mitigate and adapt to these challenges will spur opportunities for those well-positioned to benefit.

How will this vision of the future affect national security?

What can be done to address this vision of the future?



Call For Papers Environmental Factors Resource Scarcity