Resilience and Environmental Security in Peace Building












In today’s tightly coupled global economy, the definition of national security is changing. Security is no longer merely concerned with defense against hostile regimes and terrorist attacks; now it also includes protection of our sources of food, energy, water, and materials, which are the foundation for economic growth and community prosperity.  In 2014, the US Department of Defense identified climate change as one of the greatest immediate threats to national security. According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: You cannot tackle hungerdiseaseand poverty unless you can also provide people with a healthy ecosystem in which their economies can grow.”

“The loss of human security can be a slow, silent process–Or an abrupt, loud emergency. It can be human-made-due to wrong policy choices. It can stem from the forces of nature. Or it can be a combination of both…” (UNDP, 1994, pg. 22).

That the world is warming is no longer in doubt. 2014 was the first year on record that global average temperatures exceeded 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures, 2015 was warmer yet and scientists predict 2016 will surpass 2015. Now in 2017, we have seen and witnessed several environmental occurrences like the hurricanes in USA, intense flooding, drought/famine in many countries too. As the global population continues to rise, the global demand for resources continues to grow, and the impacts of climate change begin to materialize, competition over natural resources is set to intensify.

One does not have to look far these days to find media headlines that illustrate the intertwined nature of today’s major crises: political unrest, shortages of food, water, and energy, climate change, natural disasters, terrorism, mass migration, disease outbreaks, etc. What is not obvious from a cursory look at these news stories is that the environmental security threads run through nearly all of them, and more importantly, that the interactions and connections among these strands have the potential to threaten every state as well as the individuals residing therein, no matter how prosperous or secure. Thus, environmental security, when seen through its proper lens, is critical to human security, and thus to national and homeland security decision-making.

The relationship between the environment and the security of man and nature is interconnected to human survival. There is no doubt that mankind has been successful in modifying the planet to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. But the gains achieved by this spectacular re-engineering have come at a price. It is now widely apparent (and acknowledged) that humanity’s use of the biosphere, that sphere that embraces all air, water and land on the planet in which all life is found, is not sustainable. Over the next 100 years, one third of current global land cover will be transformed, with the world facing increasingly hard choices among consumption, ecosystem services, restoration, conservation and management. Environmental security is central to national security, and affects humankind as well as its institutions and organizations anywhere and at anytime.

Although, not all environmental problems lead to conflict, and not all conflicts stem from environmental problems. Far from it. Indeed it is rare for linkages to be directly and exclusively causative. But there is enough evidence for the central tendency. Similarly, while environmental phenomena contribute to conflicts, they can rarely be described as sole causes. There are too many other variables mixed in, such as inefficient economies, unjust social systems and repressive governments, any of which can predispose a nation to instability–and thus, in turn, make it specially susceptible to environmental problems. There is often a number of further factors that undermine security. They include faulty economic policies, inflexible political structures, oligarchical regimes, oppressive governments and other adverse factors that have nothing directly to do with environment. But these deficiencies often aggravate environmental problems, and are aggravated by environmental problems in turn. Environmental deficiencies supply conditions which render conflict all the more likely. They can serve to determine the source of conflict, they can act as multipliers that aggravate core causes of conflict, and they can help to shape the nature of conflict. Moreover they not only contribute to conflict, they can stimulate the growing use of force to repress disaffection among those who suffer the consequences of environmental decline.




Figure 1: Environmental Security Cascade Model (Lanicci & Ramsay, 2014).

All this means that national security is no longer about fighting forces and weaponry alone. It relates increasingly to watersheds, forests, soil cover, croplands, genetic resources, climate and other factors rarely considered by military experts and political leaders, but now must be viewed as equally crucial to a nation’s security and military prowess. Which ultimately means that when these environmental resources are degraded or otherwise depleted, so our security declines too.  While we need to expand our understanding of security to incorporate an environmental dimension, we also need to adapt our policy purview by doing more to highlight collective security. The environmental issue is a problem to which all nations contribute; by which all will be affected; from which no nation can remotely hope to insulate itself; and against which no nation can deploy worthwhile measures on its own.

However, there is the aspect of resilience that concerns the capacity for renewal, re-organization, development and leading to peacebuilding, which has been less in focus but is essential for the sustainability discourse.


Resilience has become an important term in the language of many disciplines ranging from psychology to ecology. Unfortunately, there is no commonly accepted definition of resilience that is used across all disciplines, however for the purpose of this presentation we will analyze the more widely used definitions in terms of their core concepts.

Resilience, a concept concerned fundamentally with how a system, community or individual can deal with disturbance, surprise and change, and also framing current thinking about sustainable futures in an environment of growing risk and uncertainty.

“Resilience is the ability of a system, entity, community, or person to withstand shocks while still maintaining its essential functions and to recover quickly and effectively.” (Rockefeller Foundation).

One increasingly relevant scientific approach to deal with analysis of interwoven systems of humans and nature is through the concept of resilience. Examples range from city planning to small-scale water innovations to combat poverty in drought-prone areas in the developing world. Resilience thinking is about generating increased knowledge of how we can strengthen the capacity to deal with the stresses caused by climate change and other aspects of global change. It is about finding ways to deal with unexpected events and crises and identifying sustainable ways for man to live within the Earth’s boundaries. To continue to live and operate safely, humanity has to stay away from critical ‘hard-wired’ thresholds in the Earth’s environment and respect the planet’s climatic, geophysical, atmospheric and ecological processes.

Fostering resilience is thus a way of peace-building, which should be based on an integral approach, with the concept of “human security” and the “rightsbased approach” at its heart. Resilience policies should be people-centered, comprehensive, multisectoral, context-specific and forward-looking. They should put first human beings, respect for their rights, and their integral development as well as the development of the society at large.

Resilience can contribute to more sustainable ways of conflict prevention and reinforce efforts of pre-emptive peace-building. It can encourage policies aimed at addressing the systemic factors underlying societal vulnerabilities instead of focusing too much on acute prevention of events. It can open up possibilities for transforming the root causes of potential crises and stresses.  The concept of resilience can contribute to developing “a political culture of acting sooner”, a proactive and forwardlooking approach that steps in at a very early stage where the seeds of a potential crisis or conflict can be transformed and managed in a sustainable way.



Table 1: Analyzing Resilience 

Resilience Type Local Community Aims Goals Peace Building Activities
Coping A quest to maintain a positive peace through a community successfully resisting conflict pressures from within or without


The status quo of a community at peace is seen as good and this is the goal Local conflict prevention
Adaptation A  quest for the status quo ante bellum


The term status quo ante bellum (often shortened to status quo ante) is a Latin phrase meaning “the state existing before the war”. The term was originally used in treaties to refer to the withdrawal of enemy troops and the restoration of prewar leadership.


It seeks to return to the pre- war dispensation after being overwhelmed by an armed conflict – but the goal is often unattainable Assistance for the community to adapt to a new and typically less permissive environment, with an emphasis on trust-building and confidence-building measures
Transformation A quest to transform the systems of representation and structures of power at sub-national and national levels


Build or revive new state- society relations, more often than not via political violence A problem for peace building given the role of political violence.  The nearest practical approximation is stabilization strategies.


Why the Focus on Resilience Could be Useful?

  1. Resilience is a crucial reminder that successful conflict prevention, mitigation, or transformation, all depend on a syndrome of qualities and capabilities of local communities, not on externally engineered processes.
  2. Resilience thinking directs us to value prevention and to work on advanced planning procedures and early warning systems – approaches that should receive more support, analytical and financial, than is often the case today.
  3. Capacity-building at the local level has shown time and time again to be valuable for peace building, and resilience thinking acknowledges this and focuses peace builders on the informal and local sources of peace. It also draws attention to the inherent strengths of local actors, rather than their weaknesses.
  4. While resilience might not speak to the individuals involved, it could still be a useful concept for outsiders to assess risk and evaluate a community’s responses to shocks, crises and/or chronic stresses coming from the post- conflict environment.

Natural resources and the environment are the key elements linking environmental security and resilience to peacebuilding (see figure 2). Based on a six-step process, the purpose of the process is to identify the states, changes, risks and disturbances, drivers and mechanisms, impacts, and measures and responses from an environmental security and resilience perspective to gain a better understanding of conflict dynamics and identify entry points for peacebuilding. For example, identifying hunger as a key impact under step five, the government could invest into irrigation schemes or (temporarily) subsidize staple food. This could reduce the conflict potential and strengthen the social contract between the government and the affected communities. However, for each measure taken, consideration must be given to who is affected, either positively or negatively (see dashed arrow connecting step six and two). On the resilience side, the capabilities (including knowledge, technology, networks and financial assets) and responses of the communities strongly depend on the social capital of the group concerned. For example, a loss of harvest might not result in hunger because the affected community might receive remittances from family members living outside the drought affected area. The framework enables peacebuilding organizations and other stakeholders from development organizations and humanitarian assistance to identify core risks to environmental security without losing sight of the wider political and cultural structures into which these insecurities are embedded.






Figure 2: Framework for Environmental Security and Resilience in Peacebuilding

Source: Rebecca Froese, Janpeter Schilling et. al May, 2017


Most conventional development tools and approaches are not well-suited for use in fragile settings, and special practices need to be adopted. Peace building is one of the primary ways in which the international community engages with fragile states. Peace is more than security and stability. It is a constant process that involves creating an environment which is guided by the principles of the rule of law, social and ecological justice, and respect for human dignity in pursuit of the common good, where all human beings can live a dignified life.

Today, peace building is understood as a complex, long-term process that aims to solidify peace and avoid a lapse or relapse into conflict by strengthening a state’s capacity to manage conflicts at all levels, effectively and legitimately carry out its core functions, and lay the foundations for sustainable development (UN PBSO; UN Peacekeeping). For peace building strategies to be effective, it is recognized that they need to be carefully planned, coherent, focused, tailored to the needs of a particular context and based on national ownership. Peace building processes should also involve multiple stakeholders, including civil society, local actors and government (despite possible corruption problems), in order to build capacity, foster ownership and ensure the durability of any changes to the brickwork of a society (UN PBSO, 2013).

3.1 Operationalizing Resilience in Peace Building

Instances of resilience appear to be all around peace builders, including in Somalia, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, the United States and England. But a recognition that something important is occurring at the local level is not the same thing as having an analytic framework that enables us to better understand what’s occurring. A first crucial challenge for peace builders is to create such a framework for resilience phenomena. 

For this, resilience analysts will need to consider units and levels of analysis and also causal attributions. Refer to Table 1 please, they will need to develop answers to questions like the following: 

  • What exactly do we mean by “local communities”?
  • Is it all of this unit, or some part (sub-system) which can carry an aim such as maintaining a positive peace?
  • What would count as resilience self-help mechanisms used by this unit to achieve its aims and goals?
  • What would count as shocks and stresses, and what would represent different system or sub-system processes linking shocks and stresses and resilience mechanisms to different outcomes, e.g., success or failure in adaptation outcomes?

3.2 Peace Building Strategies

Effective and strategic community peacebuilding is built on a foundation of inclusive consultation, not only at the beginning but throughout the process.

  • Strengthening Local Peacebuilding Infrastructure and Leadership.
  • Participatory Conflict and Resource Mapping.
  • Local Leadership Capacity to Address Conflicts.
  • Use of Cultural Traditions as a Tool for Change.
  • Public Legal Education.
  • Community Interactive Theater.
  • Small Community Infrastructure Projects



In conclusion, we will find that effective peacebuilding must take cognizance of the importance of the subject for which peace is being sought, which is MAN. We cannot fully solve the problem of providing a conflict-free human environment without examining the role that governance will play. Many of the environmental hazards are as a result of technological innovation made by man himself. Policies must continually evolve to limit innovations to what will protect the environment. At the same time policies must be evolved to make it possible to absorb and/or adapt to changes resulting from various human activities. In all of these, inclusiveness must count, for everyone need to contribute to ensure that we ultimately have an environment that is safe, secure, resilient and peaceful.



Rebecca Froese, Janpeter Schilling

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 494, online available at:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1905 ff., online available at:

COMECE, Europe’s Vocation to Promote Peace in the World (2016), p. 15, online available at:

UN Trust Fund for Human Security, Human Security in Theory and Practice (2009), online available at:


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