Sustainability will remain a pipe dream until leaders understand ‘security’


Demand for resources has driven conflict throughout history. Now it’s time for a political rethink on land and water

A camel takes a drink in Jordan

A camel takes a drink in Jordan. The Middle East faces conflict if its water shortage is not tackled. Photograph: Neal Clark/Robert Harding Collection

Let’s go back to basics – historically and conceptually. The cornerstone of security for all civilisations before the Industrial Age was land and water: without secure tenure of the land underpinning the lives of one’s citizens, any ruler’s tenure was short-lived. Without water, farming and productive enterprise was impossible. Armies were conscripted either to protect one’s own land and water, or to take possession of somebody else’s.

It wasn’t all that different through the Age of Empires, up to the conclusion of the Second World War. It was still about territory, resources, and lebensraum, as well as geopolitical influence. It’s only in the last few decades that military security has become somewhat decoupled from this, and geared more to conflicts such as the Cold War, and the ongoing ‘Wars‘ on ‘terror’ and drugs.

Now there are all sorts of signals that security concerns are beginning to focus once more on land and water – most tellingly in the growing furore about food security, and the so-called ‘land grabs’ going on around the world.

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