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Green Soldiering

Author: Colonel Seakle KB Godschalk ~ Environmental Services, SANDF

( Article Type: Explanation )

On face value, the phrase ‘green soldiering’ seems to be a contradiction in terms. How can an organisation or activity that is inherently destructive in nature claim to be environmentally sensitive or sustainable?

Some people say this is not possible. Experience all over the world shows, however, that this is indeed possible. In many countries, military training areas are important centres of biodiversity amidst monoculture agricultural land. This is mainly due to three reasons: firstly, because many military activities require an environmentally sensitive approach with no or little environmental footprint to avoid detection. Secondly, strong control is usually exercised over the use and management of military training areas and bases; and, thirdly, the military presence prevents the transformation of military land into agricultural land.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is the second oldest defence force in the world, with a formal environmental policy and structures. The SANDF became environmentally active in 1977 and issued its first environmental policy in 1978. Only the US Department of Defense started earlier, during 1970, forced by legal imperatives. Countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) only came on board, environmentally speaking, during the 1980s. Whereas the US Department of Defense was largely compliance driven, the SANDF started its environmental programme after realising its stewardship responsibility towards the natural resources entrusted to it. During the early 1990s, the SANDF adopted a Military Integrated Environmental Management approach. Today the SANDF has a fully-fledged environmental policy and structures that are highly respected among both government institutions and civil society alike. The mission of Environmental Services in the SANDF is to ensure the environmentally sustainable management of military activities and facilities.

To what extent can the military be environmentally sustainable? Of course, during actual warfare, environmental issues take second place although even then the Geneva and other conventions regulate military activities, as well as some environmental impacts (eg. protecting cultural resources). However, today there are very few actual wars being fought. Most military missions all over the world are related to peace-keeping operations. As the immediate threats during such operations are generally less severe than during warfare, more attention can be given to environmental and other ‘soft issues‘. Moreover, most of any military’s time is spent on training and preparing for its military missions under well-controlled conditions.

Sustainable Training Area Management plans integrate the training needs of the organisation with the environmental constraints and carrying capacity of its training land. Ecological management activities cover aspects such as the prevention and control of soil erosion, veld-fire management, alien invasive plant control, problem animal control, and managing biodiversity, including rare and endangered species, to name but a few.

An important partnership programme is Operation Vuselela, which aims at eradicating alien invasive plants on military properties while employing unemployed military veterans. This is a subsidiary programme of the Working for Water programme. Pollution prevention, integrated waste management, resource efficiency and base beautification form the core of base environmental management plans. A joint partnership between the Department of Defence, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and Rand Water has been initiated to develop and implement a water-efficiency programme for the Department of Defence. Cultural resources are also included in the environmental programme and managed in accordance with relevant legislation.

Environmental education and awareness training aims at sensitising soldiers at all levels of the organisation as to their environmental responsibilities. Formal environmental modules are presented during several senior management courses, such as the Joint Senior Command and Staff programme at the National War College, as well as functional training such as project managers. This training is gradually being extended to military courses at all levels.

Currently, policies and guidelines on the incorporation of Environmental Considerations in Operations (ECOps) are being developed, while environmental staff forms an integral part of the planning and execution of big military exercises. The Department of Defence is also developing a formal Environmental Management System based on the ISO 14 001 standard. In 2001, the Department of Defence published its Environmental Implementation Plan in terms of the National Environmental Management Act.

The SANDF is represented on the Committee for Environmental Co-ordination and several other environmental forums. It has established Regional Environmental Advisory Forums for Defence in order to enhance coordination with other role-players and obtain expert advise. The SANDF has an active relationship with the US Department of Defence in the Environmental Security Working Group (ESWG) under the bilateral Defence Committee. The ESWG has developed several joint guidebooks on military environmental management aspects. These guidebooks are also used by other militaries.