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Recycling the Battlefield

Publié le 1 janvier, 2008 | Pas de commentaires
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Biodegradable anti-personnel mines, recyclable explosives, reduced-led ammunitions and fuel-efficient military planes are some of the measures one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers is taking to protect the environment in its list of social responsibilities. Experts are divided over the move by BAE Systems—some commend it while others are appalled by it.

(Translation of Mines compostables, published in Quartier Libre, 14. 11, February 14 2007, by Pasquale Lo Mascolo)

Frieze Art Fair 2007
Kirsteen, Frieze Art Fair 2007, 2007
Certains droits réservés.

BAE Systems, the world’s fourth largest weapons producer, has adopted an environmental policy. With a corporate responsibility committee in place since November 2005, the British company is trying to improve how it produces and develops technologies to reduce the collateral damage of war. The company is trying to reduce its energy and water consumption, its greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the amount of waste it produces. Its largest facilities conform to the ISO 14001 environmental management standards to improve its environmental performance. Through these efforts, it is striving to conceive weapons less harmful to the environment.

Daniel Clapin-Pépin, professor of environmental ethics and environmentalism at the Université du Québec à Montréal stated the paradox of the issue. “It is the perfect mix of human ingenuity and stupidity—an industry of death is promoting life.1” During an interview with the BBC last September, Deborah Allen, director of corporate responsibility for BAE Systems, said, « No company, regardless of what they make, can now just make a product, bung it out there, and then forget about it.2 » How ironic and contradictory–the idea that weapons can be environmentally friendly. As described in the British Ministry of Defence’s Sustainable Development and Environmental Manual, “A concept of “green munitions” is not a contradiction in terms. Any system, what ever its ultimate use, can be designed or managed to minimize its impact or potential to impact the environment.3

Sustainable development

“How can we speak of sustainable development when we are developing destruction? It’s deceiving,” says Jean Lapalme, an ecologist who recently wrote an essay on war and sustainable development 4. He denounces that this concept be used to mean almost anything. The term “sustainable development” was coined in 1987 following the Brundtland Report. It is defined as a development that will “fulfil current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfil their own”5. Military and armed conflicts are clearly identified as causes of socially unsustainable development. They sacrifice the Earth’s depleting resources and drain human and natural resources. These are all resources that could be used to fight poverty and underdevelopment.

“BAE System’s environmental policy is purely capitalist. There is nothing ethical about. It’s outrageous and disgusting,” claims Daniel Clapin-Pépin, as he continues to add colourful adjectives. “They are using the environment for marketing. They mislead people by selling war products on the premise of having an environmental policy. But according to Alexandre Carette, associate-researcher at the Centre d’étude et de recherche sur la sécurité internationale de Montréal, a center for studies and research on international security affiliated with the Université de Montréal, weapons are necessary 6. He believes that green weapons are a step in the right direction. “Although it is surely a public relations gimmick and an extra selling argument, we cannot be opposed to the idea because we are talking about weapons. Any small gesture to help the environment should be welcomed.”

“Nothing is insignificant”

Michel A. Bouchard is studying the environmental effects of armed conflicts and supports the idea of green weapons. “It might seem insignificant, but nothing is insignificant. The human drama of war aside, the environment is the foundation of human life. Damage to resources such as water, biodiversity, forests and agricultural land can have detrimental, even lethal effects on populations.7” Many studies have already been carried out on protecting the environment during periods of armed conflicts. Other studies look at the post-war effects, such as the consequences of using depleted uranium (BAE Systems hasn’t used any since 2003) during the 1991 Gulf War or the conservation of protected areas in Rwanda 8. The concept of green weapons doesn’t simply mean removing lead in munitions, reducing pollution, noise and smoke caused by grenades. Its goal is to promote reusing and recycling materials, promoting clean energy, and manufacturing by taking into account product life cycles, precision and improved efficiency. Michel A. Bouchard, associate researcher at the Tunis International Center for Environmental Technologies, is calling on a reform to rethink current strategies. Such a reform must be apparent before, during, and after hostilities by all involved actors. Dispositions in international law, such as the Protocol I amendment of the Geneva Convention in 1977, which prohibits direct environmental consequences during armed conflicts, confine such harmful actions. The researcher reminds that, “War is a time when laws do not apply.” All efforts must be considered. “A gun shell is made to kill one person. Let’s make sure it only kills one.”

The Real Target

Philip E. Coyle, a leading authority on military research at the Center for Defence Information in the United States is not against green weapons, but he sees them in a much broader context. The number of people killed by lead ammunition that miss their targets will always be minimal compared to the number of people killed by these ammunitions, regardless of whether they are green or not. He applies the same theory to recyclable explosives and biodegradable mines. “If BAE Systems wanted to do something positive for the environment, they would cease making weapons that kill. Killing people with green weapons doesn’t justify what they do.9” The researcher mocks, “I hope that BAE’s employees also recycle their aluminium cans. But that doesn’t diminish the effects of war on human society.” On a similar note, Luc Mampaey, a researcher with the Groupe de recherche et d’information sur la paix et la sécurité de Bruxelles [The Brussels Research and Information Group on Peace and Security], wrote in 1999:

« The 1990s will remain the years of military marketing. Clean wars, precision bombings, non-lethal weapons, collateral damage—military staff sold us their wars as others would sell detergent. All the semantics and all of the latest technologies can never hide the true image of war: a hell on Earth for people who must live them, and a disaster for the environment.10

Collateral Damage and International Rights

According to Human Rights Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting human rights worldwide, the United States and the United Kingdom dropped nearly 13,000 cluster munitions, containing an estimated 1.8 to 2 million submunitions, over Iraq in just three weeks of major combat between March and April 2003 11. Once the cluster munitions explode, the submunitions can spread over an area equivalent to a football field and even up to many acres. Between 5% and 30% of these submunitions do not explode and their effects are the equivalent of anti-personnel mines. Handicap International estimates there are between 15,000 and 20,000 new landmine victims every year. That’s a victim every 30 minutes 12. Adopted in September 1997 and in force since 1999, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, commonly-known as the Ottawa Treaty, has been ratified by over 150 countries. The United States is not one of those countries.

References

1. Comments by Daniel Clapin-Pépin, professor of environmental ethics and environmentalism at the Université du Québec à Montréal, were obtained during an interview with the author in February 2007.
2. BBC News. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6081486.stm> Last viewed on November 28, 2007.
3. Ministry of Defence. JSP 418 The MOD Sustainable Development and Environmental Manual. April 2005. p. 319 (602 pages).
<http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/CorporatePublications/DefenceEstateandEnvironmentPublications/JSP418/Jsp418Volume1.htm> Last viewed on November 28, 2007.
4. Comments by ecologist Jean Lapalme were obtained during an interview with the author in February 2007.
5. BRUNDTLAND, G. Notre avenir à tous, Montréal, Les Éditions du Fleuve, 1988.
6. Comments by Alexandre Carette, associate-researcher at the Centre d’étude et de recherche sur la sécurité internationale de Montréal, a center for studies and research on international security affiliated with the Université de Montréal, were obtained during an interview with the author in February 2007.
7. Comments by de Michel A. Bouchard, a professor at the Université de Montréal and an associate researcher at the Tunis International Centre for Environmental Technologies, were obtained during an interview with the author in February 2007.
8. PLUMPTRE, Andrew et al. L’impact de la guerre civile sur la conservation des aires protégées au Rwanda. <http://www.worldwildlife.org/bsp/publications/africa/155/Rwanda-French.htm> Last viewed on November 28, 2007.
9. Comments by Philip E. Coyle, a leading authority on military research at the Center for Defense Information in the United States, were obtained during an interview with the author in February 2007.
10. MAMPAEY, Luc. Groupe de recherche et d’information sur la paix et la sécurité de Bruxelles [The Brussels Research and Information Group on Peace and Security]. <http://grip.org/bdg/pdf/g1689.pdf> Last viewed on November 28, 2007.
11. Human Rights Watch. World Report 2004. Cluster Munitions: Toward a Global Solution. <http://hrw.org/wr2k4/12.htm#_ftn71> Last viewed November 28, 2007.
12. Handicap International. Landmines issues. <http://www.handicap-international.ca/en/default.asp?id=28&mnu=28> Last viewed November 28, 2007.

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