Civilian-based defense and the environment

[From Civilian-Based Defense, Vol. 8, February 1993, Number 3, pp. 1-9, 
Published by Civilian-based Defense Association]


Paul Emile Anders

How can defense against foreign aggressors be provided without 
excessively damaging the environment?  Vice-President Al Gore is an 
ardent environmentalist and author of a book on environmental 
preservation, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit,  but 
as a U.S. senator he tended to be promilitary.  For example, he voted 
against the Leahy amendment to the Fiscal 1993 Defense Authorization 
Bill to halt production of the B-2 stealth bombers at fifteen planes 
instead of the twenty planes requested by the Bush administration. 
Gore’s environmentalism and advocacy of a huge military establishment 
are fundamental contradictions, because war and preparation for it are 
environmental disasters. The United States, for example, by the 
military’s count, has about 20,000 polluted military sites (Shulman, 
”Toxic,” p. 18). Even in peacetime the world’s military industrial 
complex puts enormous strain on the environment.  Environmental damage 
from CBD compared to the military would probably be low, making CBD 
increasingly attractive as the need grows for environmentally 
sustainable alternatives.

The World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland 
Commission), set up by the United Nations as an independent body, 
defined sustainable development in its 1987 report as development “that 
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of 
future generations to meet their own needs” (p. 43).

The report noted that “the next few decades are crucial” (p. 22).  
Realization of the need to create a sustainable world is growing, and it 
is becoming harder to dismiss warnings of the seriousness of 
environmental problems.  The Union of Concerned Scientists has, so far, 
collected over 1600 endorsements from prominent scientists for its 
”World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.”  Endorsers include “102 Nobel 
laureates—a majority of the living recipients of the prize in the 
sciences.  They say:

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.  Human 
activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the 
environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our 
current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human 
society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living 
world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.  
Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our 
present course will bring about.

Although environmental concerns may not by themselves cause many 
people to espouse CBD, such concerns will help move people in that 
direction. For example, a more sustainable world would lessen the 
perceived need for foreign goods and for the military to protect that 
supply, especially oil (witness the Gulf War).
     Among the important factors involved in comparing the 
environmental advantages of CBD compared to military defense, are 
military pollution, the need for some decentralization, specific 
environmental advantages of CBD, and its connection with 


Besides CBD’s other advantages over military defense, which this 
magazine has presented for many years, CBD environmental cost could be 
kept low if it were properly prepared.  War causes tremendous 
environmental damage. Some examples:

1. In the Gulf War, Iraq dumped 240 million gallons of oil into the 
Persian Gulf.  (For comparison the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s 
Prince William Sound was about eleven million gallons [Boston Globe, Jan 
6, 1993].)  The Associated Press reported that “John H. Robinson, the 
top US government expert on oil spills, said last summer that Saudi 
beaches were virtually lifeless, with sea grasses wasted, marine 
creatures gone.  Kuwait coral reefs were about 90 percent destroyed.  
Iraq also damaged 730 Kuwaiti oil wells, causing a billion gallons of 
crude to spill onto the desert, killing plants, birds and insects.”

2. Shyam Bhatia, reporter for the Observer newspaper, indicates that 
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq is poisoning the wells and draining the 
water supplies of Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq. Iraq’s forces are 
attempting to turn the Shiites’ marsh land haven into a desert (“New 
Repression of Iraqi Shiites Reported,” Boston Globe, Feb. 28, 1993).

3. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. government pursued a conscious program 
of defoliation with toxic Agent Orange.

Since 1978 the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or other 
Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques forbids 
environmental modifications for military purposes, but not all countries 
signed, e.g., France (Cramer, p. 13).  And international agreements may 
be disregarded.  Witness Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against the 

The existence of nuclear power plants adds a dangerous new element 
to war. Where they exist they blur the distinction between conventional 
and nuclear war.  In Europe, for example, a conventional war in which 
nuclear power plants were hit, whether accidentally or intentionally, 
could render much of the continent uninhabitable, the equivalent of many 
Chernobyls. In a 1988 speech, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev 
said, “If, God forbid, a conventional war breaks out on the continent, 
who will guarantee that the warring sides will not, deliberately or 
accidentally, launch a strike against nuclear power stations? And will 
it take many such strikes to inflict irreparable damage on all the 
population of Europe and, indeed, other continents?” (Arms Control 
Reporter, Dec. 1988, 703.B.19).  (In 1987 France and the Federal 
Republic of Germany had 70 nuclear power plants [Hungarian Engineers for 
Peace, p. 17]). CBD would lessen the justification for such intentional 
targeting.  An attack on the nuclear power plants of unarmed opponents 
would be seen as disproportional and would outrage world opinion.  Also, 
the absence of armed resistance would reduce the danger of accidental 
targeting.  Article 56 of the Geneva convention of 1949 forbids attacks 
on nuclear power plants (see Cramer, p. 14), but accidental or intended 
attacks are clearly possible or even likely in a large-scale war. It 
would be in the interests of any country, including countries  adopting 
CBD, to eliminate such vulnerable targets and move towards 
decentralized, renewable sources of power. The recent case in 
Pennsylvania where an intruder drove through the main gate at the Three 
Mile Island nuclear power plant, crashed through a fence and into a 
door, and then hid for four hours (Wald, N. Y. Times, Feb. 11, 1993), 
highlights just how vulnerable nuclear power plants are, even to 
individual action. When a country builds a nuclear power plant, it is 
like giving its enemies a nuclear weapon.

Having nuclear power plants helps a country develop the expertise 
to develop nuclear weapons, although much more is required, such as 
weapons–grade material. The danger of environmental catastrophe from 
the production and use of these weapons is clear from the nuclear 
bombing of Japan, the widespread contamination from the testing and 
manufacture of nuclear weapons, and the possibility of nuclear winter 
(Sagan, p. 12) in the event of their large-scale use.


The U.S.Nuclear Weapons Complex, under the management of the U.S. 
Department of Energy (DOE), has produced a horrendous amount of  
contamination.  The book Facing Reality: A Citizens’ Guide to the Future 
of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex has catalogued some of the more 
egregious instances of pollution by the complex. The expected thirty-
year job to contain it will cost billions of dollars. Three instances 
from the Guide’s “contamination sampler” illustrate the problem:

The Fernald Feed Material Production Center in Ohio emitted between 
600,000 and 3,000,000 pounds of toxic uranium dust into the air and 
water. Known contamination of residential well water was kept secret for 
years during the 1980s…

Hanford Reservation in Washington has released massive quantities of 
radioactive isotopes into the air, soil, groundwater and Columbia River. 
Dozens of huge tanks are filled with waste of unknown composition; some 
of them have generated compounds that risked causing a disastrous 
explosion. Thousands of cubic feet of highly radioactive reactor fuel 
rods were recently discovered buried in shallow trenches.

Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has one of the world’s 
largest radioactive dumps, containing more than 12,000,000 cubic feet of 
radioactive waste, and is still adding about 180,000 cubic feet per 
year. More than 2,000 contaminated sites have been identified, with an 
expected cleanup cost of more than $2 billion. (p. 2)

Pollution on the 22,000-acre Massachusetts Military Reservation on 
Cape Cod illustrates the military’s insouciance with nonnuclear 
materials.  Women living in Falmouth, just south of the reservation, 
have cancer at a rate 46 percent higher than women elsewhere in the 
state.  Just west of the Reservation, in Bourne, women have a 37 percent 
rise in cancer (Shulman, Threat, pp. 147-148).  Seth Shulman notes that 
”the military’s environmental studies estimate that personnel at the 
base have dropped as many as 6 million gallons of aviation fuel simply 
to test planes’ automatic fuel release mechanisms. The military has also 
dumped and burned solvents like benzene and toluene, flammable wastes, 
lubrication fluid, diesel fluids, hydraulic fluids, transformer oils, 
and paint thinner. Many people, however believe that elevated disease in 
the area may be due primarily to the high levels of TCE 
[trichloroethylene] dumped by the military” (Threat, p. 148).  As a base 
commander said at a community hearing in Virginia, “We are in the 
business of protecting the nation, not the environment” (Renner, p. 

Because of its huge size, the military degrades the environment 
even by its day-to-day operations.  The scope of these operations 
staggers the imagination.  For example, in 1991 Serge Schmemann noted 
that in the Russian Federation, “according to various official figures, 
the military absorbed 40 percent of the machinery output, 50 percent of 
the Russian Federation’s industrial output, 40 percent of the national 
budget, 18 percent of the gross national product.”  The world’s military 
machines are voracious consumers of energy, land, and natural resources. 
According to the Center for Defense Information, for example, the U.S. 
military annually uses enough fuel oil to run the United States’ public 
transit system for more than ten years (Shulman, “Toxic,” p. 23).  The 
military’s pollution-producing consumption in most countries dwarfs the 
pollution that probably would be created by implementing and maintaining 

The military not only damages the environment by its current 
practices, but also uses many of our scientists and engineers to develop 
new weapons. We need their expertise to help solve our nonmilitary 
problems like creating sustainable societies, not to develop new 
weapons. Military research and development (R&D) siphons off much of the 
world’s total R&D. For example, last year the United States spent 3.3 
billion dollars developing the quixotic Strategic Defense Initiative 
(Star Wars).  The world simply cannot address the real problems of 
environmental degradation and at the same time siphon off a large part 
of its R&D and economic resources to the military. CBD might free 
resources to address this degradation.

     In the name of national security, the military is often exempt 
from environmental regulation. The military also tends to demand 
secrecy.  The less known about a military’s capability, the less likely 
it will be successfully attacked.  Environmental damage caused by the 
military is thus insulated from exposure by the media, government 
regulation, and private whistle blowers. The Soviets, for example, used 
the ocean around Novaya Zemlya as a nuclear dumping ground, including 
nuclear reactors and entire submarines (see Cramer, p. 15).


War and preparation for it do not foster environmental sustainability. 
We need to consider what more sustainable societies would be like and 
how CBD would suit such societies. The environment is not the main 
reason for advocating CBD, which stands on its own merits as a defense. 
However, the need to restructure society in accordance with an 
environmentally sustainable policy is becoming increasingly clear. The 
importance of making all activity, including defense, fit the policy 
will become increasingly clear too

     In the October 1992 issue of this magazine, Normand Beaudet 
remarked that economic decentralization and self-sufficiency diminish 
the need for military defense (see also Martin, p. 30; Jean-FranŤois 
Beaudet, p. 126; and Wittig, p.169).  Smaller factories, storage 
facilities, etc., provide fewer tempting targets to attack and hence 
diminish the perceived need for military defense. As Herman E. Daly and 
John B. Cobb, Jr., have pointed out, “If smaller communities within 
regions are relatively self-sufficient, the life of the nation can 
continue despite extensive and widely dispersed attacks on its 
infrastructure” (p. 348). The plight of Armenia illustrates the consequences of dependence on foreign sources of power. On February 11, 
1993 a gas pipeline supplying the only fuel to Armenia was blown up 
forcing the besieged republic to shiver through a fierce snowstorm 
without heat or light. Saboteurs trying to tighten a wartime blockade 
were suspected. The incident prompted Armenia to retaliate with 
warplanes and heavy artillery, and it was reported that forests and city 
parks were stripped bare for firewood (“Gas Pipeline to Armenia Explodes 
for Second Time”, Boston Globe, February 12, 1993).

Exemplifying the vulnerability of centralized commerce and 
administration was the bombing of New York’s World Trade Center Complex 
on February 26, idling most of the Center’s ten million square feet of 
office space. New York Governor Mario Cuomo called the bombing an 
”economic catastrophe” for New York and New Jersey. This raises the 
complex question, beyond the scope of this article, of how to 
decentralize such facilities.  Suburban sprawl is no solution, but some 
decentralization within compact urban areas seems desirable.

Decentralization that diminishes the need for the military and 
creates a favorable situation for CBD also can favor a more 
environmentally sustainable economy, with small family farms, renewable 
and other small and local sources of power, smaller manufacturing 
facilities, cottage industries with good earnings, etc.  Such an economy 
entails less travel and less transport of food and other goods. As E.F. 
Schumacher said in Small is Beautiful, “Small-scale operations, no 
matter how numerous, are always less likely to be harmful to the natural 
environment than large-scale ones, simply because their individual force 
is small in relation to the recuperative forces of nature” (p. 33). Not 
all decentralization is good for the environment. Large subway systems, 
for example, may be advantageous. Human-scale cities are probably a key 
part of a sustainable society; suburban sprawl is probably not.

George Crowell notes that “A great variety of small-scale energy 
technologies based on the use of widely available sunlight, wind, water, 
and waste biomass could form the basis for a decentralized energy 
system.  Not only would such a system be difficult for an invader to 
control, it would also be ecologically sound.”  In addition Crowell has 
highlighted the general advantages (including their usefulness for NVCD 
[nonviolent civilian defense]) of family farms in Canada, as opposed to 
larger-scale agriculture and food processing. Moreover,”If urban people 
further developed close, personal working relationships with nearby 
farmers, sharing the burden of crop failures, and perhaps assisting them 
at harvest time, a food system supporting effective NVCD would be in 
place” (Crowell, p. 4-5).  Although an invader could spray the 
defenders’ crops with herbicides, it would be a complex operation and 
probably would outrage world opinion.  And defenders could have enough 
food stored to avoid immediate harmŃimportant if the invader needs 
victory quickly.


As we move toward a more sustainable society, conditions may well become 
more favorable to CBD and the need for it more apparent. Consider, for 
example, that friendly relations between countries help to resolve 
international environmental problems, an increasingly important facet of 
international relations. The acid rain in Canada partly caused by U.S. 
emissions, for example, has not been eliminated, but the United States 
has finally agreed to measures designed to lessen it. It’s difficult to 
imagine North and South Korea, still at odds decades after the Korean 
War, resolving an environmental dispute. A CBD policy would tend to 
promote the friendly relations that enhance the solution of 
international problems.  A country’s military often seems threatening to 
neighboring countries.  A country that relied on CBD would tend to deal 
with other countries by cultivating positive relations through 
diplomacy, law, and cultural understanding, for example. Such positive 
relations will be important as environmental degradation leads to 
scarcer resources.  Wars over resources may become common. The growing 
shortage of water in the Middle East, for example, poses a threat.

Are there spin-offs from CBD that would enhance a nation’s ability 
to meet environmental threats?  CBD is based on people power.  An 
essential facet of CBD is that people would learn and prepare it before 
a conflict starts.  (This distinguishes CBD from spontaneous resistance 
to a putsch or invasion.)  Some of the tactics of CBD have also been 
used in environmental causes; for example, demonstrations and boycotts.  
An attitude is also learned. Resist oppression. Don’t suffer passively 
when you are threatened.  That attitude can be useful in insisting that 
environmental degradation not threaten our welfare.

More commonly the influence has flowed in the other direction: 
people learned the tactics of nonviolent action as environmentalists, 
tactics that can be used for CBD.  Confrontational tactics may in the 
future have a diminished role in preserving the environment. Getting to 
environmental sustainability calls for a cooperative approach that 
encompasses business interests and all segments of societyŃan approach, 
for example, that would also be useful in establishing a policy of CBD.

CBD and the Environmentalists

The anticipated environmental benefits of CBD and the relative lack of 
environmental damage from it compared to the military should make CBD an 
attractive method of national defense for at least some 
environmentalists, and most people consider themselves 
environmentalists. According to a 1989 CBS-New York Times poll, three 
fourths of the American public endorsed the statement, “Protecting the 
environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be 
too high, and continuing environmental improvements must be made 
regardless of cost.” The number agreeing with the statement rose from 
45% in 1981 to 74% in 1989 (William Schneider, “Welcome to the Greening 
of America”, National Journal, May 27, 1989). Although people actually 
seem much less willing to pay for environmental improvement then the 
survey indicates, the increasing percentage agreeing with the statement 
is encouraging.

Could CBD be promoted to environmental groups?  Invasion scarcely 
threatens North America, for example. But the environmental threat from 
the military has concerned people, and proponents of CBD have potential 
allies among environmentalists.

Various organizations have already shown an interest in both 
environmentalism and social defense, as, for example, the Fšderation 
Gewaltfreier Aktionsgruppen (FšGA) Graswurzelrevolution in Germany(Ohne 
Waffen, pp. 4,33-35). Some Greens have been in the forefront as 
proponents of CBD, for example, the late Petra Kelly.

It will do us little good to escape militarism and war if we wreck 
the environment with nonmilitary pollution. CBD proponents should 
confront the planet’s environmental problems and promote sound public 
environmental policy and live in an environmentally sustainable way, for 
example, by using recycled materials, working to make alternative energy 
sources available, and advocating for a more just and humane society.  
These changes are not only valuable in themselves, but they will attract 
environmentalists to CBD.

Countries where CBD becomes part of national defense policy should 
implement it in an environmentally sound manner.  As CBD takes shape, 
its promotion will require buildings and equipment. Environmental savvy 
should guide decisions about acquisition and use.  Travel should be 
undertaken in accordance with sound environmental guidelines, favoring, 
for example, bicycles and public transit (where feasible) rather than 
cars. Interest is growing in living in a more environmentally sound way.

A sustainable society does not mean deprivation; it would foster a 
more satisfying life.  People with beautiful cities and unspoiled 
countrysides, social justice, and a sense of empowerment would want to 
help defend their communities against aggression and perhaps do so with 
CBD. If attacked, they would more likely use CBD successfully.  Although 
it is beyond the scope of this article to adequately picture a 
sustainable society, I will mention a few likely features.  I rely here 
on the work of Donella and Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers Beyond the 
Limits, where the reader can delve more fully into this:

1. Obviously, constraint of pollution emission and in the use of 
nonrenewable resources.

2. A stress on “quality development, not physical expansion” (p.210).

3. “Material sufficiency and security for all” (p.211).
     4. Acceptance of our need for love, beauty, community, and other 
nonmaterial values (p.216).

Beyond the Limits barely mentions defense, however; I propose that a 
sustainable society needs CBD.


The implementation of CBD should not be too drawn out.  Indeed, progress 
toward sustainability will make conditions more favorable to CBD.  
Although research on CBD must continue, CBD should not be delayed for 
decades in waiting on research. Policy makers decide what to do based on 
the available options, one of which is CBD. Although CBDŃlike other new 
policiesŃis not a proven winner, war is a proven loser.  Many aspects of 
CBD can be fruitfully investigated and researched, but the military is 
an environmental catastrophe and likely to remain so, whereas CBD can be 
an   environmentally sustainable deterrent and defense.  The World 
Scientists’ Warning to Humanity about environmental threats to the 
planet helps us to put decades-long scenarios for implementation of CBD 
into perspective: “No more than one or a few decades remain before the 
chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the 
prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.”  The sentiment of the 
Brundtland Commission was similar: “The next few decades are 
crucial…Attempts to maintain social and ecological stability through old 
approaches to development and environmental protection will increase 
instability.  Security must be sought through change” (p. 22).

Finally, it might seem excessive to call for a different way of 
life, more self-sufficient and with diminished world trade, in the name 
of replacing armed defense with CBD.  But the enormity of military 
expenditures, its pernicious effect on our values and on the environment 
suggest the opposite. These changes not only make a better defense, but 
also are important steps toward averting the global environmental 
catastrophe in the face of which the “World Scientists” warning to 
humanity was issued.


Arms Control Reporter, Dec. 1988.

Associated Press. “Updating Previous Big Spills.” Boston Globe, Jan. 6, 

Council for a Livable World.  1992 Voting Record: Senate Nuclear Arms 
Race Index. Washington, D.C.,1992.

Cramer, Ben. “Les guerres inavoués.” Alternatives Non Violentes, no. 85 
(winter 1992).

Crowell, George. “Nonviolent National Defense-Canada. Civilian-based 
Defense: News & Opinion, vol. 6, no. 2 (Sept. 1989).

Daly, Herman E., and John B. Cobb, Jr.  For the Common Good: Redirecting 
the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future. 
Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.

Facing Reality: A Citizens’ Guide to the Future of the U.S. Nuclear 
Weapons Complex. San Francisco, Calif.: Tides Foundation, 1992.

“Gas Pipeline to Armenia Explodes for Second Time.” Boston Globe, 
February 12, 1993.

Gore, Al. i.  Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Hungarian Engineers for Peace. A World Movement of Engineers for Peace: 
Proposal for an Action Plan. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: Santa 
Barbara, Calif., 1988.

“New Repression of Iraqi Shiites Reported” (Reuters), i, 
February 28, 1993.

Ohne Waffen-aber nicht wehrlos! Der Bund fźr Soziale Verteidigung stellt 
sich vor. Minden: Gesellschaft des Bundes fźr Soziale Verteidigung, 

Renner, Michael. “Assessing the Military’s War on the Environment.” In 
State of the World 1991: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress 
Toward a Sustainable Society. By Lester R. Brown and others. N.Y.: W.W. 
Norton, 1991.

Sagan, Carl. “Nuclear Winter: A Report from the World Scientific 
Community.” Environment, vol. 27, no. 8 (October 1985).

Schaeffer, Robert. Warpaths: The Politics of Partition. N. Y.: Hill and 
Wang, 1990.

Schmemann, Serge. “Glimpsing the Future, the Red Army Frets.”  N. Y. 
Times, May 19, 1991.

Schneider, William. “Welcome to the Greening of America.” National 
Journal, May 27, 1989, p. 1334.

Shulman, Seth. The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the 
U.S. Military.  Boston: Beacon Press,  1992.

Shulman, Seth. “Toxic Time Bomb.” Boston Globe Magazine, April 5, 1992, 
p. 23.

Schumacher, E. F. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. 
N. Y.: Harper Colophon Books, 1975.

Wittig, Hans-Georg. “Some Notes on Civilian Defense with Regard to the 
Limits to Growth.” In Gustaaf Geeraerts, ed., Possibilities of Civilian 
Defence in Western Europe. Amsterdam and Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger, 

World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. 
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

“World Scientists Warning to Humanity.” December 1992: Union of 
Concerned Scientists, 26 Church St., Cambridge, Mass. 02238, USA. 
Besides appearing as a brochure, this document also appeared in Nucleus, 
vol.14, no.4, same address.

Source: Civilian-based Defense


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