Although not called for in the scope of work, the authors felt that it might be useful to add a section depicting some future scenario sketches of potential environmental security threats that examine the possible responses of UN and related international organizations to illustrate the gaps in current UN procedures. These hypothetical future sketches were submitted to several experts for comments on the legal framework and responsibilities to respond.
3.1 Nuclear waste storage. Nuclear waste will be stored in large quantities in several hundred places in the world. Some of these places will be underground. Since the half-lives of some materials will be on the order of thousands of years, some form of monitoring and site marking will be required. Country X seems to be ignoring the most fundamental requirements for long-term storage. Without some help they will undoubtedly lose track of what they have buried.
The UN may find a country that would agree to set up a monitoring system and support all the financial and organizational aspects that this system may imply, but the UN has no legal power to require country X to accept or implement such a system. An example is Chernobyl, where the U.S. offered a monitoring system and assumed the related costs…. This should be a function of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA should monitor nuclear waste storage and be prepared to send specifically trained people and equipment to defined nuclear waste areas and to make necessary safety provisions…. If radiation was detected in a neighboring country's ground water, and other means were not available to inspect Country X's storage containment, then the neighbor might look for military means to protect itself…. It is likely that there will be a broad and growing trend to ship nuclear and other hazardous waste to less rich countries for processing and/or disposal that would be attracted by the opportunity of getting hard currency, though giving inadequate attention to safety precautions both against technical/engineering/transport facility leaks and international/national terrorists (examples of such voluntary and willing recipient countries are many, including Nigeria, China, and Russia).
3.2 Solid waste. A poor Country X has made a business of taking in solid wastes from richer countries around the world. Although they have made some money from the practice, the place is becoming a garbage heap. Strong opposition is developing within the country and civil war may erupt that could spill across the border.
This is initially a national issue. The concept of national sovereignty is critical in this example. If the affected country wants to have a civil war, there is, under traditional international law, no power that had a right to intervene. However, since a civil war in such a country could lead to increased environmental damage that could spread to neighbor countries, there is a right of self-defense involved. That could be brought to the UN Security Council.
3.3 Particulate emission from power plants and factories. China is burning indigenous high sulfur coal. The acid rain that is produced is falling on California. Further, the atmospheric conditions promise to exacerbate the situation next fall.
There is no international treaty or law that forces China to do anything about it. The U.S., as the most affected country, may put political pressure on China, but it would be a bilateral discussion, outside the UN…. Various treaties on transboundary impacts or airborne transport of pollutants may well apply to this case. Conventions concerning acid rain and sulfur emissions are The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution 1979, and two of its Protocols on Reduction of Sulfur Emissions in 1985 and 1994. They are regional conventions which only apply to the European nations; thus China has no legal obligation in this scenario. China has ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992 in January 1993; however, this convention as such is too weak to have any impact. China has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Also, if Chinese sulfur emissions are damaging the marine environment along the coastal regions, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China has ratified in 1997, can be relevant. If the emissions are harming the local biodiversity in California, the Convention on Biological Diversity ratified by China in 1993 may be relevant. However, neither of the conventions has a penalty article and they have not been ratified by the U.S.
If it is falling on California, then it is falling on Hawaii. Both of these states have had large Chinese-American population since the turn of the century. An alternative response is possible. These Chinese could unite into a powerful political and economic force under the leadership of a strong personality and with diplomatic help from the State Department threaten China with dire economic problems unless they desist particulate emissions. This Chinese-American group could lead a worldwide boycott of Chinese goods. They have relatives all over the world. They can write to their 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins urging "do not buy Chinese" and they can write to family members inside China to take political actions aimed at getting their government to address this situation.
Currently there is no penalty for not meeting the Kyoto Protocol targets, even if China were to ratify the convention, as have other developing countries.
3.4 Exploitation of mineral resources without effective management. Country X has a mineral resource, say uranium, which is clearly limited on a global basis and could be useful in the future. Nevertheless, the country has established a policy of land use that makes this resource inaccessible. If the world does nothing, the resource will be inaccessible for the next 200 years.
This relates to the local policy of the country in charge. Country X can be asked to the World Court, but it refuses to go. The UN General Assembly can pass a resolution (that is without any legal power), public pressure can be created, but nothing can oblige Country X to change its policy…. Perhaps it would be a good thing to save the resource for the next 200 years. However, country X should be urged to establish a land use policy that will permit exploitation of uranium resources 200 years from now. Such a land use policy could come into being by diplomatic maneuvers or, if necessary, sanctions…. This could be a future issue for WTO.
3.5 Disease epidemics. A vaccine or antidote for Ebola has been found in a derivative of a forest plant. The country in which the plant has been found has decided to embargo all uses of the plant because it believes that the Ebola virus may ultimately be a weapon and it wants to reserve the medicine for itself.
This is a national sovereignty issue. The UN and any other international organizations have no legal authority to force this country to share its resources…. Scientists have a code of their own and will pass the details about how to use the plant to another scientist – perhaps their roommate while attending MIT.
Article 15 in the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity subverts the sovereign rights of States over the natural sources and their right to determine access to "genetic resources" for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. This convention appears to be the only one that is relevant to this scenario. Nevertheless, the definitions of "genetic resources" and their "environmentally sound use" are too nebulous and weak to have any impact on forming a legal framework in the international arena.
3.6 Earthquake prediction. Seismic transducers lead to the ability to predict earthquakes with fair accuracy both as to timing and intensity. An earthquake has been predicted for Albania. Several million people are in peril. Mass exodus has begun. These are refugees from an anticipated event.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Program (WFP) could volunteer to help the refugees if they leave the country, but within the country, they can't do anything without the approval of the country or a Security Council Resolution, as in the case of food delivery to Somalia.
3.7 Spills from stockpiles of biological weapons. In attempting to dispose of disease-based weapons (such as Anthrax), Country X has a major spill that imperils the health of 50,000 people who are in the neighboring countries.
In the example of Chernobyl, nobody could do anything, as Russia didn’t agree, saying that they can handle the situation…. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction very likely would authorize some kind of international intervention in this case, especially if the country was signatory to that treaty.
3.8 Environment as a weapon. Despite UN provisions to the contrary, Country X is known to be developing weather control as a weapon. The "cover" is that the research will improve the irrigation of local crops.
This breaks the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD). The Secretary-General may try to negotiate, or send special representatives to the country, but the host country would have to approve this.
3.9 Military intervention. Some countries recognize the linkage between environmental degradation and regional stability and integrate environmental protection into their military mission. This orientation leads to military intervention by troops on foreign soil into the forest practices of another sovereign nation.
The Security Council can intervene; Chapter 7 comes into play…. The invaded country could appeal to the Security Council for Peacekeeping Forces to provide a buffer between their forces and the allied invasion, and to buy time for a negotiated settlement on forest practices and financial aid…. Still, this is a national sovereignty issue. Nothing was done about the Aral Sea in Central Asia.
3.10 Seemingly benign use of rainmaking. Country X begins to practice rainmaking by seeding clouds over its territory. There is good statistical evidence that it works. Country Y is downwind and argues that it is being robbed of its rightful share of rainfall.
This is a bilateral issue. Country Y may complain and the UN may designate a facilitation team to investigate and/or to help the two countries negotiate a satisfactory conclusion, but, legally, nothing can be done about it.
3.11 Damming of rivers. Rivers running through Country X are being dammed by that country to facilitate its agricultural irrigation. The rivers feed a large lake on which several other countries border. The lake is drying up and with it fishing and agriculture in the adjacent countries.
There are Commissions, totally outside the UN, that exist (e.g. the Danube, the Rhine Commissions) that would be the first forum to use…. The UN has no legal power to do anything related to this kind of conflict. For example, the Tigris River is a long-standing matter of dispute between Turkey, on one side, and Syria and Iraq on the other. The latter two complain that their rights were denied, but the UN can do nothing about it; the two sides have to sit down and negotiate. It is the same situation with the Nile, where there are discussions to have a "Nile Commission" or "Nile Convention" among the relevant countries. In the Mekong River case, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia reached basic agreements after many years of discussion.
3.12 Diseased People as Weapons. A religious group believes it is time to erase the evils of humanity from the Earth. It infects 50 volunteers with Ebola to make contact with unsuspecting travelers in the ten busiest airports of the world.
WHO early warning and monitoring system might detect members of the terrorist group while inspecting villages in Ebola areas and notify local authorities to detain them for questioning.
3.13 Crop failure. In Country X the wheat crop has failed. It has been attacked by some strange plant disease that has hitherto been undetected. The agronomists in Country X suspect that the crop is a victim of a biological attack from their traditional neighboring enemy state.
Country X may think that, but they have to prove it…. They could request an international scientific inspection mission led by UNEP and FAO to investigate and report their findings to the Security Council.
3.14 Russian-Norwegian Nuclear Issue. During the 1990s, Norway requested a meeting with Russia and the EC to discuss better management of the nuclear wastes from Russian nuclear submarines and onshore storage tanks. This proved to be ineffective. Finally, gases building up during these years inside a nuclear storage ship called Lepsa, in Murmansk, Russia, exploded. Radioactive waste was thrown into the air and the Arctic Ocean by the steam explosion. Some have been evacuated from the area between Murmansk and Norway, and the damage has probably been underreported. Radioactive ice is slowly moving to Alaska and contaminated fish are spreading the impact farther. The estimated costs for this cleanup, ranging over the next ten years, are large. The longer-range cleanup costs and economic losses are incalculable.
An alternative to this scenario sketch is possible. After years of no access to the Lepsa, Norway could have brought the issue to the Security Council, claiming that if the ship explodes, it could be a threat to international peace and security. Citing the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and the Convention on the High Seas (article 25), the Norwegian Ambassador to the UN could have requested UN force protection for IAEA-nominated UN inspectors to board the Lepsa to recommend how to prevent the potential gas explosion. This discussion in the Security Council could persuade Russia to agree to cooperate with the inspectors. Based on such a success and precedent, NATO might collaborate with Russia to secure the nuclear submarines and the nuclear storage tanks onshore at Severodvinsk (North Harbor)…. U.S. Senators from Alaska might call for a NATO-Russian team funded by the EU, U.S., NATO, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Canada, to intercept the "slow motion Chernobyl" from arriving in Alaska and neighboring areas.
3.15 North Korea. A Somalia-like case of food security might exist in North Korea. In this scenario, UN Peacekeeping forces are used to protect the delivery of food from the UN's World Food Program. In this case, the Security Council has to determine that a threat to international peace and security exists, and act under Article VII of the UN Charter. This creates the problem of asking Member States to provide troops to go into a hostile environment where casualties would be probable.
The US food delivery program was successful in Somalia, but when the mission evolved into peacemaking, the operation turned into a disaster. Every effort should be taken to prevent this mistake in North Korea.
General Comments on Scenario Sketches:
Most of the environmental security scenarios are bilateral. The whole concept of National Sovereignty is critical for all these examples. A problem begins in one country but affects other countries. A major concern for the UN must be national sovereignty, which severely limits actions today by the UN or any other international agency without the approval of the country where the problem begins. The UN can pass resolutions condemning the action and can raise public and international interest, but there is no legal framework under which the country would be obliged to change its behavior. An alternative approach by U.S. Ambassador John McDonald in Appendix C: United Nations Environmental Mediation Program (UNEMP) recommends the creation of a more powerful legal framework for the UN system to address this problem.
Although there is no clear legal framework for almost any of these cases,
a rigorous analysis of how the treaties from Section 2 of this report might
apply to cover these scenarios would be very interesting. Detailed research
into the scope of various treaties is required, including their internal
enforcement provisions, which countries are bound by them, etc. A creative
international lawyer always tries to find in the detailed treaty language
an argument that authorizes enforcement of one or more of the treaties,
possibly including UN enforcement.