Thumbnail images: 



A new paradigm has emerged in the very concept of soldiering in the post-Cold War scenario – the seeds of which were first planted by practices driven by the Indian military’s green consciousness. Brigadier Michael Harbottle, a UN peacekeeper par excellence from the UK, published a monograph, What is Proper Soldiering: A Study on New Perspectives for the Future Use of the Armed Forces in the 1990s, in 1991. The monograph was inspired by Late Major General Eustace D’Souza’s famous work “Swords to Plowshares”, in which he describes the environmental activities of the Indian Army’s Ecological Task Forces (ETF). It was none other than General D’Souza who undertook this scholarship and took the message to the international community through military diplomacy, in order to make the world cognizant about this unique Indian way of soldiering.


Why is the Indian Military Unique?


Well before the discourse of environmental degradation/security and climate change entered public consciousness, the Indian Army engaged in environmental restoration in the form of afforestation and sand dune stabilisation. It began in the 1980s and since then a number of ETF units have been raised in the Territorial Army, which are still active.


However, in comparison to forestry, climate change and ozone depletion are much more complex global challenges. Other vital operational issues of technology have emerged like the control and reduction of ozone depleting substances (ODS) in military equipment. As a responsible member of the comity of nations, under the Montreal Protocol, banking and replacement of ODS (like CFCs and halons, which are also global warming gases) in air conditioning and fire fighting equipment in tanks and other critical equipment was executed by the three services under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).


It is in ozone protection that the Indian military did take a lead when a window of opportunity arose in the closing years of the first decade of this century with the initiative of Distinguished Fellow Air Marshal A. K. Singh (Retired) of the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi. A toolkit for Defence Forces on Ozone Protection and National Security: A Military Perspective was published by UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/CAPS. For training and implementation, officers from foreign militaries were invited to learn from the Indian experience. The last international workshop organized in November 2010 by CAPS was on “Benefits of ODS Phase-out in Defence”. Within the Army, HQ (Headquarters), Technical Group of the Corps of the Electronic and Mechanical Engineers (TG, EME), as the nodal agency, conducted national seminars on ODS phase-out. Later, CDs as training aid were made available for units and formations so that they could attain awareness about the twin problems of ozone protection and climate change. In 2010, HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) also organised a seminar on renewable energy in defence services.


The Case of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) 


While out of area contingency operations (OOAC) and military operations other than war (MOOTW) such as disaster relief are well-known, not much has happened for the military to become a key instrument of environmental stewardship. The US Pacific Command (USPACOM) launched an Environmental Security Forum in 2011 in Honolulu (Hawaii) and followed it up with similar forums in Indonesia (2012), Australia (2013), The Maldives (2014), Thailand (2015) and Fiji (2016). Some of the subjects that feature in the forum include – new approaches to mitigating and adapting to climate change, environmental sustainability, water resource management, disaster preparedness, pollution, global warming, deforestation, overfishing, sustainable environmental management in military operations, lessons learned from military to support disaster relief operations, managing bio-security risks in the military context, emerging technologies, waste management, resource protection, and energy among others. A total of 20 countries with over 80 delegates participated. The author was invited by the USPACOM and the Government of Thailand in 2015 to share his research on the ETF of the Indian Army. Other militaries also shared their experiences at the forum; for instance, the Royal Thai Navy showcased mangrove restoration and marine environmental protection activities, being undertaken by its regular combatants.


So how does the USPACOM carry it out?


For more than a century the US Army’s Corps of Engineers have been dealing with all aspects of water including building/decommissioning of dams. The Institute for Water Resources (IWR) of the US Army Corps of Engineers is the nodal agency which coordinates environmental security matters through their various military commands, in this case, the US Pacific Command. Adequately funded and staffed with mostly civilian academics of varied disciplines, they coordinate their activities with the Corps of Engineers, the commands, and the diplomatic staff to engage with countries within their jurisdiction. Once issues and problems are identified, a follow up action is taken and technical help provided. This post-seminar implementation or end state is the most important driver of military diplomacy, which they execute skilfully. In the ways-means-ends equation in any form of diplomacy, the ends are the most vital component, a truism that is self-evident. 


Showcasing Indian Military’s Best Environmental Practices


In Mongolia, mining has been practised unsustainably for long and now steps are being taken to resort to environmental stewardship as is being practised by a few other militaries such as the Indian Army (Bhatti mines in the National Capital Region (NCR) under 132 ETF is one good example). The author was invited by the USPACOM and Government of Mongolia to present the ETF model in an International Workshop on Bareland and Rangeland Restoration in the Gobi for Climate and Environmental Security, at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in 2016. In this regard, two aspects, which the author, as an Indian, could notice among the Mongolian participants were – great admiration for, first, the people of the land of Buddha and second, the ETF model. Bringing attention to changes in lifestyle as well as frugality as a virtue, the concepts of Buddhist philosophy and Gandhi’s advice were evoked: “For my material needs, the village is my world, for my spiritual needs, the world is my village.”


The Mongolians wish to adopt the ETF model, keeping their unique national circumstances in mind. This is indicative of the fact that the concept has received wide publicity in the world. The Ministry of Defence, Army HQ, and the Additional Directorate General Territorial Army (TA) can proudly exhibit the activities of ETF as well as employ the model/concept as a tool of military diplomacy and keep it relevant and updated for future environmental security challenges. In this exercise, the first structural issue is – consolidation of our own disparate work under one umbrella by nominating Centres of Excellence – a task yet to be implemented.


An Institutional Mechanism for Environmental Diplomacy through the Military


It seems that many ecological traditions of the Indian military, such as the ETF, are unique. Importantly, we need to sustain this knowledge as with rapid urbanization traditional ecological knowledge may get lost or forgotten. Officers today may mostly be of urban upbringing. For other ranks too, it may be incorrect to assume that all recruits have ‘green fingers’ and/or belong to agricultural, forest-related or herding background as in the past. Hence, this aspect needs to be a vital part of professional military education (PME).


Business-as-usual and autopilot like performance by the military may not help. Military leadership needs to be acquainted with this reality; and in arboriculture plans it is high time that local ecological knowledge is also imparted to all ranks and families of military personnel. This will enhance awareness of biodiversity in the military.


As already noted, the absence of a single point contact on ecological matters in the military is a matter of concern. For example, within the Army, the ETF is under Territorial Army (TA) Directorate, while the Ecological Cell falls under the Quarter Master General (QMG) branch that is concerned more with defence land. Corps engineers focus on non-fossil energy and road-building in the fragile Himalayas and soon they may be mandated to take up climate proofing of defence infrastructure against extreme weather events and sea-level rise (as well as adaptation of the coastal infrastructure). HQ Technical Group of the Corps of the Electronic and Mechanical Engineers (TG, EME) is in-charge of current and futuristic technologies which now include green technologies, reduction of dependency on fossil fuels and so on. As mentioned earlier, halon banking is under the DRDO. Jurisdiction over defence land is divided between the Ministry of Defence, land bureaucracy along with army formations and units. Naval and air force assets are under their own HQ.


HQ IDS is focused on jointmanship and war-fighting, and may or may not have any mandate on military diplomacy through environmental and ecological themes. However, seeds of this idea need to be sown, and once a decision is taken, it will be possible to begin the process with professionalism for which scholarship is essential – both for those in the military (as PME) and as an academic discipline in public and private universities.


Each line directorate, institution or service needs to nominate a Centre of Excellence on the expertise it possesses. TA directorate, for example, may have one on ETF and the knowledge that is linked to it on forestry and restoration of degraded land. For technical matters like solar/wind energy, engines, green buildings, the TG, EME in coordination with the Corps of Engineers and DRDO may set up a centre using the existing resources under HQ IDS. Universities and think tanks working on military-environment interface may also be integrated. Single point interaction by HQ IDS may be accomplished with the navy and air force too.   


The Indian National Defence University (INDU), once set up may be the ideal place to house the nodal (overall) Centre of Excellence with academic staff, which must be a combination of qualified civil academics and military officers. Each institution that performs an ecological task like the ETF may also have a networked structure. The defence-related think tanks that conduct research and development in the field of environmental security can likewise encourage scholarship. They may also act as nodes for specific tasks – the manner in which CAPS undertook the innovative halon banking exercise with the UNEP and a number of foreign militaries in a remarkable way during 2008-2010.


For futuristic issues having serious ecological implications, the College of Military Engineers (CME), Pune can be co-opted for nuclear, biological,  chemical, and radiological matters and the Army Medical Corps (through the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune) can  be incorporated to  address  new/old  strains of infectious diseases. The Cantonment Boards in coordination with the Station Commanders can be tasked to recommend new ideas with respect to maintenance of defence land, hygiene, sanitation and waste management – how the existing waste is to be disposed, recycled, reused, and finally reduced to zero. As a part of the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) – National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, Military Engineer Services (MES) and DRDO can be encouraged to give innovative and cost-effective proposals regarding green buildings. To begin with, carbon footprint of all buildings can be recorded and inventory made for time series data (annual) so that they could be modified appropriately to green buildings where possible. Indian-manufactured solar panels, water-related technologies and wind mills can be supplied to military stations in other countries (WTO rules permitting).


The Indian Coast Guard already is mandated for oil spill cleanup and can build its expertise to engage further with foreign coast guards in the region. In Thailand, the naval Special Forces, being divers and familiar with the underwater marine ecosystem, are mandated to restore mangroves in degraded coastal regions. The Indian Navy may like to interact with the Thai Navy to learn some of the best practices in mangrove restoration and management, as well as take into fold other maritime neighbours for mutual learning. The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy can simultaneously begin their homework on the implications of climate change and actions to be taken if and when emissions from military aviation and warships get accounted for in the international negotiations. Our remote sensing resources can also identify ecological hot spots and in turn, preventive diplomacy can be put in motion as a tool of conflict prevention.


Options and Imagination


The cost of implementing such action plans has to be worked out. Initially this expenditure may not be accepted willingly as defence budget is tight and such strategic issues may not convince policy-makers and the legislature to spend without any visible short-term results. Even if some budget is sanctioned, we may still lack a world-class national technical means (when compared with advanced countries), or the institutional Centres of Excellence where single point coordination can be administered. Thus, barring the cost of enrolling suitable civilian academics and recently retired offices as a nucleus, the sunk cost of the various military establishments may be able to absorb this accretion. Later, budget could be allocated for inviting select foreign militaries for workshop and short training programmes, as well as for their follow up.


With imagination and innovation military diplomacy through ecological themes can be progressed. Identifying a project or an issue by itself will not be an easy task. The ETF model is already our strength and must be at the centre of military diplomacy initially, more so as it will also help in preserving our biodiversity and generate green consciousness among the officer cadre and other ranks. For military diplomacy through green technology, we should first set our own house in order and identify what we can offer. The ODS experiment is a good example but it is now history. The choice of the final nodal Centre of Excellence may now be fixed. As suggested, the INDU may be the ideal location.


Diplomacy today has many layers. In military-to-military diplomacy India needs to consolidate its traditional strengths in matters of biodiversity and ETF-type of work. It is obvious that, to start with, developing countries will feature more in our diplomatic outreach. But as our expertise expands, even the developed countries may take a leaf out of our practices for their requirements. This article is just a rough framework based on the author’s research, field work and interactions at national and international levels. The long-term strategic effects of this type of diplomacy will be non-regrettable. Green and sustainable practices are the future of civilization and the military must take the lead in this project.  


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.