“The physical features of the Somali country are much the same wherever the traveler may land. Bereft of all vegetation but a few scattered thorn- bushes bristling like hedgehogs, it is destitute of wealth and forbidding in aspect. The fine sand is driven by rainless storms into innumerable drifts. All the world seems ablaze; and it is but seldom that a cloud obstructs the pitiless sun."
– Douglas Jadine, the British Secretary to the Administration for Somaliland in the early 1920s.
Jadine’s description of the East African state whose name has become synonymous with chronic state failure hasn’t changed much since his day. Today, Somalia remains the kind of place that doesn’t entice anyone to want to stay much longer than it takes for a Mogadishu custom officer’s stamp to dry on a passport. However, Somalia and other severely economically and politically challenged countries on strategically important squares on the geopolitical chessboard are very consequential in the creation of a more stable global security order. Developed nations will have to help failing states to build institutional capacities to effectively oversee, manage and protect their territories to prevent insecurity spillage into bordering states.
However, there is one under-appreciated force that threatens to exacerbate the failing state challenge. It is a slow moving effect with multidimensional impacts that is persistently in the blind spot of national security practitioners. Climate variation is a threat-multiplier, worsening existing conditions and conflicts especially in sub-regions of strategic economic and political importance to the West. This emerging long term stressor must become understood as a consequential force in the maintenance of global stability and security.
Canary in the coal mine
In addition to the harmful impacts of sharp political divisions, water and food scarcity – all human security factors – we can add climate variability as an underappreciated force that continues to erode the capacities of fragile states like Somalia, Mali, Libya, Egypt and Syria to deliver on national and human security promises. Somalia is the proverbial canary in the coal mine that illustrates how the interplay between climate variation (long term and cyclic) and persistent state dysfunction can lead to insecurity spillage. Somalia is the sad worst case example of what can occur when states on the edge are pushed over the edge by the strengthening hand of climate change.
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