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Book Advances Prescriptions from Leading Experts for Preventing and Sanctioning Environmental Damage from War

December 2000

The flaming oil wells left by Iraq’s army as it retreated from Kuwait in 1991 created an iconic image that etched in the global consciousness the severity of the environmental impacts of armed conflict. However, going back at least to the Punic Wars, when the Romans salted the fields around Carthage to prevent the growing of food, military conflict has had an important environmental dimension that has been inadequately addressed.

The flaming oil wells left by Iraq’s army as it retreated from Kuwait in 1991 created an iconic image that etched in the global consciousness the severity of the environmental impacts of armed conflict. However, going back at least to the Punic Wars, when the Romans salted the fields around Carthage to prevent the growing of food, military conflict has had an important environmental dimension that has been inadequately addressed.

The Environmental Consequences of War, published by the Cambridge University Press and edited by the Environmental Law Institute, presents for the first time an interdisciplinary analysis of policy prescriptions aimed at minimizing such damage through legal means, as well as assessing criminal and civil liability, and restoring damaged ecosystems to their former health. The book draws upon papers presented at and research connected to the First International Conference on Addressing Environmental Consequences of War: Legal, Economic, and Scientific Perspectives, which was co-sponsored by ELI, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences in June 1998 in Washington, DC.

“Given the broader context of wartime calamity, emphasis on the environment may seem inappropriate or misguided,” said co-editor Jay E. Austin, a Senior Attorney at ELI. “Yet even here, the primary concern is humanitarian and anthropocentric: at some point, incidental or intentional environmental harm can become so severe that it harms human health, especially that of innocent civilians. Environmental damage also impairs the long-term ability of the civilian population to support itself, destabilizing society and sowing the seeds for further conflict.”

The Environmental Consequences of War brings together the legal, political, scientific, and economic issues as analyzed by a renowned assemblage of international lawyers, military officers, scientists, economists, and other experts. The different chapters assess the existing law-of-war framework as well as the potential applicability of peacetime environmental law, scientific assessment, and economic valuation of ecological and public health damage.

The book begins with basic cultural principles introduced by University of Southern California law professor Christopher D. Stone. Then the book examines the existing legal norms and institutions for preventing and redressing wartime environmental damage in chapters by, among others Princeton law professor Richard Falk and George C. Marshall European Center law professor Michael N. Schmitt. Later, the book considers the scientific and economic methodologies for assessing and valuing the damage within a legal framework with chapters by Third World Centre for Water Management president Asit K. Biswas, World Conservation Union chief scientist Jeffrey A. McNeely, and Harvard law and economics professor W. Kip Viscusi, among many others. Finally, it looks forward to a variety of proposed and emerging institutions for preventing, assessing, valuing, and redressing the environmental consequences of war. To help minimize damage during armed conflict, the book includes discussions of the current environmental guidelines used in training the U.S. military. In their chapter on environmental guidelines for armed forces during peace and war, Navy Captain John P. Quinn, et al., describe the Navy’s efforts — in concert with other military services, the Joint Staff, and international military organizations — to develop environmental protection doctrine and policy to provide appropriate guidance for operational staff and leaders in this critically important area.

The book considers preventative initiatives as well. Ecologic senior associate Richard G. Tarasofsky describes and evaluates a draft convention prohibiting hostile military utilities in protected areas. The draft has been advanced by the Commissio