Climate Change and the State: A Case for Environmental Realism

by Anatol Lieven

Climate Change 61 mins read

Strong and legitimate states remain central to any efforts to limit climate change and maintain Western democracy.

On the day when the death-roll touched thirty, Dr Rieux read an official telegram which the Prefect had just handed him, remarking, ‘So they’ve got alarmed – at last.’ The telegram ran: Proclaim a state of plague stop Close the town.

Albert Camus, The Plague1

In recent years, the internal challenges to Western liberal democracy and the early effects of climate change have both intensified drastically. In early 2020, the impact of the coronavirus outbreak added a harsh reminder of the capacity of epidemic diseases not only to kill human beings but to cause massive economic, social and political disruption.2

To shape an appropriate intellectual response to these challenges, security establishments need to prioritise the gravest actual threats to states. Furthermore, proponents of human security (and the environmentalists among them in particular) need to understand the central importance of states, and state legitimacy and strength, to any efforts to limit climate change, to maintain Western democracy, and to defend the lives and well-being of Western citizens.3

Climate change as a security threat

Since anything that has the ability to end human lives could potentially be seen as a security threat, the first thing to note about climate change and its associated effects is the number of casualties they are likely to cause. The threats posed by climate change should be divided between the long term (from 2100 CE) and the short to medium term, as much intellectual and political confusion stems from mixing up the two. In the long run, if the rise in global temperatures continues unchecked and leads to runaway climate change, human civilisation itself will be destroyed, except perhaps for a very lucky, very rich and very small minority of humans, or possibly genetically engineered post-humans. The long-term threat is thus existential in the clearest sense of that term.

In the short to medium term, the direct effects of climate change in Western democracies will be more limited, though still acutely unpleasant, as heatwaves and wildfires in California, southern Europe and Australia already demonstrate. The direct effects of heat alone will almost certainly kill far more people than all but the greatest wars. Even before climate change really kicked in, a heatwave in Europe in 2003 killed some 35,000 Europeans, more than the number of French casualties in the eight years of the Algerian War.4 A Russian heatwave in 2010, compounded with the effects of smoke inhalation from forest fires that same year, killed at least 41,000 people – twice as many as the number of Russians who died during the ten-year Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.5 The continuous rise in global temperatures over the past 20 years indicates that in many places, heatwaves are going to get far worse and more frequent – not in some distant future, but in the next two decades.6

The indirect effects of climate change can also be deadly. Wildfires in Greece in July 2018 killed 102 people, and fires in Australia that started in 2019 had killed more than 30 people by February 2020. The eventual effects of smoke inhalation – for a week in early January, Canberra had the worst air quality in the world7 – will cause many more deaths. Tropical diseases will spread, possibly reaching epidemic proportions. The coronavirus epidemic of 2020 originating in China, though not itself linked to climate change, is a warning of just how much diseases can harm even highly developed societies.8

The economic, social and political effects of the coronavirus on the Chinese economy and governance demonstrate that identifying a security threat is not simply a matter of counting the number of dead. As Richard Ullman has written:

A threat to national security is an action or a sequence of events that (1) threatens drastically and over a relatively brief period of time to degrade the quality of life for the inhabitants of a state, or (2) threatens significantly to narrow the range of policy choices available to a state or to private, non-governmental entities (persons, groups, corporations) within the state.9

In Europe, the most dramatic direct effects of even relatively modest global warming will be seen in the Mediterranean, where the summer is predicted to last for an additional month, heatwaves (with temperatures over 35°C) to be extended by more than a month and rainfall to decrease by up to 20%.10 The results will include severe damage to the region’s agriculture and tourism, the radical transformation of ecosystems towards semi-arid conditions and greatly increased wildfires. Runaway climate change would lead to the complete desertification of the region.

Climate change is bound to increase migration, especially to southern Europe, from badly affected areas in Africa and Asia, though by how much we do not know. Yet migration is helping to undermine the political unity of Western states at a time when such unity is necessary to adopt climate-change policies that will involve sacrifices by national populations.11 Every opinion poll on the motivations of those who have supported Brexit, Donald Trump or nationalist parties in Western Europe has pointed to anxiety over immigration as a principal factor.12 With a backlash against migration clearly under way, the only question is how much worse it will get. Moreover, mass migration to the West is likely to coincide with greatly intensified automation of the economy, including the development of some kinds of artificial intelligence. If present patterns continue, many forms of employment, including new ones, are likely to be lower in pay, job security and status than those destroyed by automation. Not just the working classes but sections of the middle classes as well are likely to be badly affected.13

For too many unskilled or semi-skilled migrants, poor, insecure jobs are the only ones available. These jobs trap migrants and their descendants in impoverished ghettos, from which bad schools, crime, low property prices and social isolation make it very difficult to escape. At the same time, nativeborn members of the working classes are competing with migrants for the same low-quality jobs.14 Thus, climate change will worsen current threats to liberal-democratic legitimacy in the West by amplifying the problems created by economic stagnation, social inequality and above all migration (or, perhaps more accurately, the negative reaction to migration among some citizens). These problems do not pose an existential threat to Western states as such, but they certainly do imperil existing Western political orders.

The existential nature of the risk to democratic regimes in the medium term, and to all states in the long term, means that climate change, unlike other phenomena on which ‘war’ has been declared, can legitimately be considered a vital issue of national security. Barry Buzan and his colleagues wrote back in 1998:

The need is to construct a conceptualisation of security that means something more specific than just any threat or problem. Threats and vulnerabilities can arise in many different areas, military and non-military, but to count as security issues they have to meet strictly defined criteria that distinguish them from the normal run of the merely political. They have to be staged as existential threats to a referent object by a securitising actor who thereby generates endorsement of emergency measures beyond rules that would otherwise bind.15

It is not unheard of for states to securitise their response to natural disasters, both in terms of organising relief efforts and in adopting measures to prevent criminal activity, such as looting. The role of the US Army Corps of Engineers in disaster prevention and relief is a case in point. As the quote from Albert Camus at the start of this essay suggests, disease epidemics have also been treated as a security issue through the proclamation of a state of plague (in effect, a form of martial law) that has allowed the military as well as the police to quarantine cities, and to confine and presumably treat the sick. The plague depicted by Camus may be fictional, but the outbreak of coronavirus in China is all too real, and the Chinese state has effectively imposed martial law in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, to limit people’s movements and construct emergency hospitals. So far, the penalty for trying to evade these measures has only been arrest. In the Venetian Republic and elsewhere in the past, rulers ordered guards to kill people attempting to escape from quarantine.16 Given that the spread of disease is very likely to be a consequence of climate change, Western liberal democracies cannot afford to ignore the prospect that such temptations may arise if they want to remain liberal democracies.

Western security establishments and military chiefs must declare much more strongly and consistently that climate change poses a potentially existential threat to the nations that they are sworn to defend.17 There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the resources devoted to limiting climate change have so far been grossly inadequate, especially compared to those devoted to military security. Secondly, the sacrifices required from populations will be similar to those needed in times of war. Thirdly, there will be no chance of persuading conservative voters to accept crucial economic changes and sacrifices unless the military can speak authoritatively of an existential threat.18 This is of particular importance in the United States, where so many Republicans have now adopted climate-change denial as an element of their political culture, and have developed a deep distrust of scientific experts.19 Only the military retains the cultural prestige among Republican supporters sufficient to convince them that climate change really is a threat to the United States.

On the face of it, Western securitising actors have already spoken. All major Western militaries – even that of the US – have identified climate change as a security threat. But for a statement to be effective, it is not enough just to say it. It needs to be said loudly enough to be heard above the hubbub of other issues. Western security establishments have allowed their intermittent statements about climate change to be drowned out by discussion of the traditional threats posed by China and Russia. Not surprisingly, the Western media has followed suit. Concerning NATO’s approach to climate change, a RAND Corporation report noted:

In the case of nuclear weapons, terrorism, and cyber issues, each offers more uncertainty than climate change. However, vast amounts of resources are dedicated to the sponsoring of research, understanding the threat, and the preparations for potential consequences. The contrary is true for the potential security impact of climate change … The lack of engagement at NATO headquarters on this point is more appropriate for the management of a tolerable or acceptable risk, while the literature suggests that climate change presents risks that likely won’t be tolerable or acceptable.20

For their part, most climate-change activists have liberal-internationalist or Marxian backgrounds that have given rise to a visceral hostility not only to the ‘securitisation’ of issues but to nation-states as such. They have addressed their own statements to sympathetic transnational communities, but while these messages have been effective in these circles, it has become miserably apparent that the people to whom they are directed lack both the tools to take effective action and sufficient ability to inspire sacrifices among the wider population.

Security and legitimacy

Securitisation theory, with its emphasis on broadening the concept of security threats to encompass problems without an obvious military component, emerged in the 1990s in response to the apparent collapse of traditional security threats with the end of the Cold War. In recent years, however, Russia’s limited recovery and China’s rise have supposedly resurrected the old security threats and launched a ‘new cold war’. Yet to see the Cold War chiefly in terms of traditional military threats is to radically misunderstand that struggle. It was a cold war, not an incandescent one. The threat of direct military conflict in Europe between the superpower blocs had in fact receded enormously by the mid-1950s.21 Indeed, it can almost be said that the West had won the Cold War by the late 1940s, with the failure of communist parties to gain power in Western Europe, either by election or revolution, and the resumption of Western European economic growth with the help of the Marshall Plan. After that, it was really a matter – as George Kennan presciently realised – of containing the communist bloc until it collapsed under the weight of its own failures and oppressions, while the economic and political superiority of Western democracy and social-market capitalism became more and more apparent.22

In that sense, the most important battle of the Cold War was fought on the field of state legitimacy. Each side sought to assert and maintain the credibility it derived from victory in the Second World War; to encourage the acceptance of its ideology as superior both at home and further afield; and to demonstrate its success in achieving vital state tasks. Actual war between the superpowers was only likely as the result of miscalculation or accident (as during the Cuban Missile Crisis), rather than deliberate strategy. Of course, the struggle between communism and capitalism became violent outside of Europe, as the Western and communist blocs engaged in proxy conflicts in the developing world.23 Yet the question of whether Angola or El Salvador would become quasi-capitalist or semi-communist was never of decisive importance; and in these struggles too, the issue of the legitimacy of the state among the population played an important role. The Soviet Union’s communist system derived tremendous legitimacy from its victory in the Second World War, but it was never fully accepted in Eastern Europe and some of the Soviet republics, and its economy ended in utter failure, at least by comparison with the West. Thus, the communist political order was eventually overthrown, and the Soviet Union itself broken up, not because of external invasion or the threat of it, but because of the system’s own internal failings and lack of legitimacy. In the West today, only the truly paranoid (or those seeking to protect military budgets) seriously assert the possibility of a Russian invasion of NATO. Western security anxieties concerning Russia (and increasingly China as well) have instead become focused on Moscow’s capacity to encourage and manipulate the internal discontent and division within Western democracy, thereby undermining the legitimacy of Western democratic systems.

While the Cold War demonstrates the importance of state legitimacy in determining the fate of regimes, Chinese history shows how ecological factors can play a key part in state weakness and collapse. Situated on the floodplains of two great and unpredictable rivers, China has repeatedly found that the management of water has been central to domestic order and state survival. Even Emperor Yu the Great, one of China’s mythical founding emperors, is primarily credited not for law-giving or victory in war, but for the creation of levee and canal systems to irrigate the land and prevent floods and droughts. On repeated occasions, the failure of Chinese authorities to limit the effects of extreme weather events was seen as an indication of a dynasty’s loss of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ – the ancient Chinese conception of state legitimacy. The result was increased banditry, mass unrest and displacement. Internal rebellion was responsible for the fall of dynasties at least as often as outside invasion, and very often the first led to the second.

In an era of climate change, the legitimacy and security of Western states too will depend on their ability to manage natural disasters and protect populations from their effects. The Netherlands is an example of a society for which defending against the sea has always been just as important as defending against foreign invasion, if not more so, and where the word ‘dyke’ evokes feelings of security.24 In the struggle to limit the effects of climate change, including the rise in sea levels that climate change can be expected to produce, every coastal state is gradually becoming like the Netherlands.

In the short to medium term, however, the threat to the West is not of disappearing permanently beneath the waves, but of experiencing a steepening decline in the legitimacy of liberal-democratic political orders due to a variety of factors that climate change is sure to worsen. States need legitimacy at least as much as military or even economic power to raise revenue and maintain order without having to resort to divisive, debilitating, expensive and deeply unpopular applications of force. States and political systems that enjoy legitimacy can survive failures and defeats that would destroy those seen as less legitimate. The varying consequences of the Great Depression for the US and Britain, on the one hand, and Germany and Japan on the other, illustrate the point. Over time, however, no degree of traditional or legal legitimacy will save a state that persistently fails to achieve the vital goals of its population.

Legitimacy in the West

Opinion polls in Western states have revealed a frightening drop in citizens’ faith in the legitimacy of the democratic political order since 2008. Surveys in Britain showed that dissatisfaction with democracy reached 61% in 2019, no doubt fuelled by the Brexit shambles. In the US, the proportion of the population dissatisfied with democracy has risen by 34% since the 1990s. For the first time in history, a majority of Americans are unhappy with the democratic system itself.

Confidence in democracy in Europe fell sharply in the 1970s and the 1990s too (to say nothing of the 1920s and 1930s). However, as recent reports by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge University and the Journal of Democracy argue, the present decline is considerably more serious, if only because a much higher number of young people are now disillusioned with democracy and willing to consider authoritarian alternatives.25 The present decline is also of much longer duration, stretching back almost 12 years to the financial recession of 2008, and is more severe within certain European states – notably France and the Mediterranean countries.26 Faith in the institutions and political processes of the European Union has dropped precipitously in many countries since 2008, crippling efforts at closer union and further expansion.

Unlike the democratic recessions of the 1970s and 1990s, therefore, the prevailing downward trend appears rooted in longer-term causes that seem unlikely to diminish and may well drastically worsen. They include not just prolonged economic stagnation but also new economic patterns whereby even periods of growth provide limited benefits for the majority of the population, and even generally available jobs do not provide the same status or security as in the past. Moreover, anxiety about demographic change seems almost certain to increase as migration continues. Judging by the results of the Syrian refugee crisis, another surge of migrants due to the direct or indirect effects of climate change could plausibly end liberal democracy in several European countries.

In addition, it has become apparent that in some countries different parts of the population hold drastically different views about the cultural and ethnic identity of the nation, and therefore about the basic source of the political order’s legitimacy. As a result, the losing side in elections no longer necessarily recognises the moral legitimacy of election results. In the United States, for example, since the 1990s many leaders and members of the Republican Party have not viewed the Democratic presidents as truly legitimate, not because of any electoral malpractice, but because the two men in question failed to correspond to what their Republican detractors see as the fundamental cultural (and in Barack Obama’s case, racial) identity of the United States.

Democrats also regard the legitimacy of the Trump administration and George W. Bush’s administration before him as undermined by the fact that the curious electoral system established by the US Constitution allowed each to be elected with a smaller share of the popular vote than his Democratic opponent. In the coming years, the considerable electoral advantages enjoyed by the Republican Party – such as the growing mismatch between the distribution of Senate seats and the distribution of the US population – will further sap this legitimacy. Even now, Republicans need not win electoral majorities in order to block legislation and frustrate effective government. In European parliamentary democracies too, it is not necessary for extremist parties to win majorities in order to paralyse democracy; as in Weimar Germany, they only have to win enough parliamentary seats between them to make the creation of a centrist ruling coalition mathematically impossible.

The West may be gradually approaching a situation similar to that of a number of Middle Eastern countries, in which fundamental differences over the identity of the state that cannot be resolved by elections make democracy unworkable. If the legitimacy of the US Constitution is seriously challenged, the very foundations of US democracy will be undermined. No Middle Eastern state has ever doubted that threats to the internal political order were a security issue. Westerners forgot this for a while, because no such threats to Western systems seemed to exist. Now they do.

Realism and climate change

The basic arguments of securitisation theory have been amply confirmed by recent developments. Climate change has evolved from being one of the potential vulnerabilities mentioned by Buzan and his colleagues to the central issue for Western states, and indeed for humanity in general. Likewise, migration and the resulting fear-driven identity politics have turned out very much as predicted by the ‘Copenhagen School’ of Buzan and like-minded scholars, only worse.27 Yet these ideas continue to meet with immense resistance in international-relations and security-studies circles, both from traditional realists and the various schools linked to liberal internationalism and the Marxian tradition.

Realists such as Stephen Walt are, I believe, correct in their opposition to widening the concept of security so far that it becomes meaningless – for example, by extending it to encompass the impact of illegal narcotics under the unfortunate banner of the ‘war on drugs’.28 However, every variant of realist theory is bound up with the interests, security and power of states and political orders – all of which can be undermined in ways that are not limited to foreign aggression or subversion. The challenge for realists in addressing climate change is therefore not to alter their basic philosophy, or to change their basic premise of the centrality of states, state power and state interests. Instead, they must become more clear-eyed and practical about what constitutes contemporary state interests by acknowledging that states are threatened as much by domestic insecurity as by external attack. History confirms it. In China, as noted, ecological threats and their management have been central to state security and legitimacy. Within the European tradition too, many of the greatest and most intelligent realist practitioners – Cardinal Richelieu, Klemens von Metternich, Pyotr Durnovo – were deeply concerned with threats to the security and legitimacy of their countries’ domestic political orders, which was why some of them adopted a very cautious and unaggressive approach to relations with other states. (Whether they were right to respond to domestic threats in the way that they did is another matter.)

Contemporary advocates of this way of thinking have sometimes been accused of drawing some of their ideas from Carl Schmitt, the authoritarian critic of the Weimar system in Germany and (albeit briefly) a Nazi supporter.29 Perhaps the most sinister and frequently condemned aspect of Schmitt’s thought is his insistence on the ‘friend–enemy’ distinction as central to the self-definition of societies and states, and to domestic and international politics.30 This topic raises the question of whether the ‘enemy’ for purposes of defining threats to the state needs to be human. Could climate change and disease possibly play a similar role in consolidating states and societies? This may seem an absurd idea, until one thinks of Beijing’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Schmitt would have approved of it, and in the future Western states will probably also have to adopt similarly martial methods to address disease and the civil disorder ensuing from natural disasters.

Another contribution that realist thought can make to the debate on climate change is the notion of solidarity with future generations. This is an idea that sits uncomfortably in the current zeitgeist, relentlessly focused as it is on the satisfaction of existing consumers. Yet states, and especially nationstates, exist over a long period of time. ‘A man knows that he is mortal’, wrote Milan Kundera, ‘but he takes it for granted that his nation possesses a kind of eternal life’.31 The central purpose of nationalism is to prolong that life as far as possible into the future. Most realist concerns about the security of states would be completely meaningless if conditions of safety were restricted to existing generations.32 The fact that previous generations have sacrificed themselves for this purpose creates both the expectation and the obligation that future generations will do so too.33

The failures of liberal internationalism

Theorists whose thinking derives from the liberal-internationalist and Marxian traditions (such as those working in critical security studies and emancipatory theory) have greater and more fundamental difficulties than realists in accepting the elevation of climate change and its associated challenges as a national-security threat, because this would require them to qualify or abandon their hostility to existing nations, and to the idea of enduring and powerful collective identities.34

These attitudes have had a significant and damaging effect on thinking about action on climate change among environmentalists, since so many of them draw their basic political views from these traditions.35 Concentrating on global agreements and institutions is not wrong in itself, but it tends to downplay three crucial facts: that whatever international agreements are reached will need to be implemented by states; that states will need to be strong enough to implement them; and that democratic and authoritarian states alike will need to motivate their populations to make the sacrifices required. Furthermore, a desire among many activists to emphasise the dire social consequences of climate change, including greatly increased migration, while simultaneously upholding the traditional liberal-internationalist belief that migration is a good thing, has produced analyses of mass migration that are sometimes self-contradictory to the point of unreason.36

It is true that national and ethnic identities, like all collective identities, are not essential or eternal, but change enormously over time; and that national identities are only one form of identity among the many we all possess. But modern history and contemporary experience decisively refute any notion that such identities change quickly, that they can be changed both radically and predictably by elite manipulation, or that they are no more important for politics and political action than any alternative identities. Radical and sudden change in national identities can happen, but usually only in the context of catastrophic transformations such as the French and Russian revolutions or the Second World War, which on the whole we might wish to avoid.37 Most of the time, the development of national identities tends to be relatively slow and unpredictable, and to carry with it legacies of the past.38

Liberal-internationalist and Marxian theoretical approaches are at their core normative or prescriptive (explicitly so in critical security studies and emancipatory theory), and characterised by what Johan Eriksson has called ‘instinctive moralism’.39 Consider, for example, Antonio Franceschet’s definition of ‘human security’:

Human security is a liberal, cosmopolitan idea that individuals, regardless of their citizenship, location and identity ought to be made secure from a range of fears, threats and deprivations … Human security is made intelligible by the politics of applying law and legalism to global politics. Many of the human security discourses and initiatives to have emerged since the end of the Cold War are shaped, mobilised but also limited and constrained, by this wider problematic of the legal constitution of global politics.40

This approach treats human security as a matter of individuals rather than members of societies and citizens of states whose well-being and security depend on the security of their societies as a whole. It ignores the central and inescapable role of states in providing not just physical but social security for their people, and in actually carrying out any agreements made at the international level. In explicitly disregarding the factor of citizenship, it overlooks the duty of care that states owe to their own people, and the solidarity that people feel with their fellow citizens.

Any suggestion that what has been called the ‘primacy of the state’ is necessarily in opposition to ‘human security’ and the well-being of individuals is fundamentally false.41 Of course, prioritising what are presumed to be state interests can have dreadful results, but it is equally true that none of the great advances in collective and individual welfare of the past century – social security and public-health systems among them – could have been achieved without the action of strong states. In the case of limiting climate change, it should be manifestly obvious that only strong and legitimate states will be able to implement changes on the massive scale required. Social and political movements may often play a key role in spurring states to act, but they cannot of themselves either pass or enforce legislation.

In addition, by conceptualising human security in terms of international legal forms, analyses like Franceschet’s colossally overestimate the importance of international law, as opposed to national interests, in shaping state actions. By casting human security as a ‘liberal, cosmopolitan idea’, such thinking alienates both realists and conservative patriots, making it much more difficult to get them to grasp the new and potentially mortal threats to the security and vital interests of their nations. Moreover, the suggestion that an emphasis on states and national identities undermines globalism and global institutions misses the point entirely. Like it or not, the elites of powerful states, backed by burgeoning nationalist sentiment among sizeable portions of their populations, will not in the foreseeable future (if ever) surrender significant economic or legal power to international bodies. As we have seen, even the EU is only a partial exception to this rule. The liberal-internationalist and human-security view of what ought to happen may be noble in itself, but it does not describe what is actually happening, and there is no sign that it will ever happen.

*  *  *

While appeals to international communities of sentiment have succeeded in mobilising useful activist movements, they have so far failed to move solid majorities of voters in key countries to support policies that will require them to make personal sacrifices. It seems clear, therefore, that if the ruling elites of these countries (and, in democratic states, sufficient numbers of voters) are ever to agree to serious and economically painful measures to limit carbon emissions, they will need to be convinced that the direct and indirect effects of climate change pose a serious threat to the security of their states and regimes.

The expansive mode of Western liberal internationalism, insofar as it ever existed, is now well and truly over. The EU will likely survive, but it is highly improbable that its model will spread. If we wish to resist enormous threats and preserve whatever can be preserved of Western liberal democracy, we need to start thinking in terms of state as well as human survival.

SURVIVAL: Global Politics and Strategy

Volume 62, 2020 – Issue 2.


1 Albert Camus (Stuart Gilbert, trans.), The Plague (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2004), p. 59.

2 This essay is based on the arguments put forward in Anatol Lieven, Climate Change and the Nation State: The Realist Case (London and New York: Allen Lane and Oxford University Press, 2020).

3 The strongest arguments for the ‘securitisation’ of such interests have been made by the so-called ‘Copenhagen School’ of security studies and international relations. See Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Ole Waever et al. (eds), Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993); Barry Buzan, People, States and Fear: An Agenda for European Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era (London: ECPR Press, 2007 [1983]); and Jef Huysmans, ‘Revisiting Copenhagen: Or, on the Creative Development of a Security Studies Agenda in Europe’, European Journal of International Relations, vol. 4, no. 4, 1998, pp. 479–505. For an environmentalist critique of the securitisation of environmental issues, see Daniel Deudney, ‘The Case Against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, vol. 19, no. 3, 1990, pp. 461–76. It should be noted, however, that Deudney was talking about environmental issues in general, most of which – unlike climate change – do not involve existential threats.

4 Shaoni Bhattacharya, ‘The 2003 European Heatwave Caused 35,000 Deaths’, New Scientist, 10 October 2003,

5 ‘Russia Confirms Deaths Rose by a Quarter in Heatwave’, BBC, 6 March 2012,

6 For an assessment of the impact of climate change on heatwaves, see Stefan Rahmstorf and Dim Cornou, ‘Increase of Extreme Events in a Warming World’, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 20 March 2012,

7 See Amy Remeikis, ‘Canberra Chokes on World’s Worst Air Quality as City All but Shut Down’, Guardian, 3 January 2020,

8 See US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Climate Change Impacts on Human Health’, January 2017,; US Global Change Research Program, ‘The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment’, 2016,; Elizabeth G. Hanna, ‘Health Hazards’, in John S. Dryzek et al. (eds), Handbook of Climate Change and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 217–31; Paul R. Epstein, ‘Climate and Health’, Science, vol. 285, no. 5,426, July 1999, pp. 347–8; and Jonathan A. Patz et al., ‘The Effects of Changing Weather on Public Health’, Annual Review of Public Health, vol. 21, 2000, pp. 271–307,

9 Cited in Marc A. Levy, ‘Is the Environment a National Security Issue?’, International Security, vol. 20, no. 2, Fall 1995, pp. 40, 51.

10 Wolfgang Cramer et al., ‘Climate Change and Interconnected Risks to Sustainable Development in the Mediterranean’, Nature Climate Change, 22 October 2018,; and MedECC (Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change), ‘Risks Associated to Climate and Environmental Changes in the Mediterranean Region’, 2019,

11 For an extended version of this argument, see Lieven, Climate Change and the Nation State, chapter 2.

12 See ‘Explaining the Brexit Vote’, The Economist, 16 July 2016; Ispos MORI, ‘Concern About Immigration Rises as EU Vote Approaches’, 31 July 2016; Richard Wike, Janell Fetterolf and Moira Fagan, ‘Europeans Credit EU with Promoting Peace and Prosperity, but Say Brussels Is out of Touch with Its Citizens’, Pew Research Center, 19 March 2019,; Phillip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad, ‘Many Worldwide Oppose More Migration – Both Out of and Into Their Countries’, Pew Research Center, 10 December 2018,; Pew Research Center, ‘Top Voting Issues in 2016 Election’, 7 July 2016,; and ‘Exit Polls’, CNN, 23 November 2016,

13 See Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?’, Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, Oxford University, 2013, pp. 13, 19,; P. Beaudry, D.A. Green and B.M. Sand, ‘The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks’, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 18,901, 2013; Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, ‘Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets’, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 23,285, March 2017; Ivan Krastev, After Europe (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), p. 24; Michael Chui et al., ‘Where Machines Could Replace Humans and Where They Can’t – Yet’, McKinsey Quarterly, July 2016,; David H. Autor, Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, ‘The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 118, no. 4, 2003, pp. 1,279–333; Branko Milanovic, Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018); Robert Reich, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (New York: Vintage, 2016), pp. 203–10; and Ian Bremmer, Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism (New York: Penguin, 2018), pp. 16–17. On the threat to jobs in the petroleum and chemical industries, see Arlie Russell Hochschildt, Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: The New Press, 2016), p. 320.

14 See ‘Forgotten in the Banlieues: Young, Diverse and Unemployed’, The Economist, 23 February 2013; Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse, ‘Understanding Urban Riots in France’, Brookings Institution, 1 December 2006,; and Karina Piser, ‘The Social Ladder Is Broken: Hope and Despair in the French Banlieues’, Nation, 1 March 2018, For the tendency of social despair in France’s banlieues to turn some young people towards Islamist extremism, see Gilles Kepel, Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 136–9.

15 Barry Buzan, Ole Waever and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), p. 5, emphasis added. See also Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

16 See Philip Ziegler, The Black Death (London: HarperCollins, 2009); and Carlo M. Cipolla, Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth Century Italy (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981).

17 The Copenhagen School coined the term ‘speech act’ to describe the designation of a problem as a security threat to a ‘referent object’ (in most cases a state) by an authoritative ‘securitising actor’, such as a country’s political leadership or military establishment. See Ole Waever, ‘Securitization and Desecuritization’, in Ronnie D. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 46–86. For an intelligent critique of the concept of the speech act and some examples of its dreadful misuse, see Thierry Balzacq, ‘The Three Faces of Securitization: Political Agency, Audience and Context’, European Journal of International Relations, vol. 11, no. 2, 2005, pp. 171–201.

18 Communication that affirms the sense of self and the basic world views of the intended audience has been shown to create a greater openness to risk information. See Susanne C. Moser and Lisa Dilling, ‘Communicating Climate Change: Closing the Science–Action Gap’, in Dryzek et al. (eds), Handbook of Climate Change and Society, p. 165; Matthew Nisbet, ‘Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement’, Environment, vol. 51, no. 2, 2009, pp. 12–23; Joseph P. Reser and Graham L. Bradley, ‘Fear Appeals in Climate Change Communication’, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), available at; Daniel Kahneman, ‘Maps of Bounded Rationality: A Perspective on Intuitive Judgement and Choice’, Nobel Prize acceptance lecture, 8 December 2002,; and Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012).

19 For a discussion of the American tradition of distrusting experts, see Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage, 1966). On the Republican culture of climate-change denial, see Riley E. Dunlap and Aaron M. McCright, ‘A Widening Gap: Republican and Democratic Views on Climate Change’, Environment, vol. 50, no. 5, 2008, pp. 26–35; Nisbet, ‘Communicating Climate Change’; and Kari Norgaard, ‘Climate Denial’, in Dryzek et al. (eds), Handbook of Climate Change and Society, pp. 399–413.

20 Tyler H. Lippert, ‘NATO, Climate Change and International Security: A Risk Governance Approach’, RAND Corporation, 2016,

21 On the Soviet side, the key moment was Joseph Stalin’s decision in 1949 to withdraw support for the communists in the Greek civil war. On the US side, it was Dwight Eisenhower’s rejection in 1953 of Republican pressure for a ‘rollback’ of Soviet power in Central Europe.

22 George Kennan predicted in a 1948 lecture at the Pentagon: ‘if economic recovery could be brought about and public confidence restored in western Europe – if western Europe, in other words, could be made the home of a vigorous, prosperous and forward-looking civilization – the Communist regime in eastern Europe … would never be able to stand the comparison, and the spectacle of a happier and more successful life just across the fence … would be bound in the end to have a disintegrating and eroding effect on the Communist world’. See Dana H. Allin, Cold War Illusions: America, Europe and Soviet Power, 1969– 1989 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), p. 13.

23 It is interesting to note that of the three Cold War conflicts in which the armies of one or the other superpower became directly involved, only Korea can be described as wise or successful. The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan were tragically unnecessary disasters for the US and the Soviet Union, respectively.

24 This is a key example cited by the Copenhagen School. See, for instance, Buzan, Waever and Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis, pp. 27–8.

25 Roberto Stefano Foa et al., ‘The Global Satisfaction with Democracy Report 2020’, Bennett Institute for Public Policy, University of Cambridge, January 2020,; Sean Coughlan, ‘Dissatisfaction with Democracy “At Record High”’, BBC, 29 January 2020,; Richard Wike, Laura Silver and Alexandra Castillo, ‘Many Across the World Are Dissatisfied with How Democracy Is Working’, Pew Research Center, 29 April 2019,; and Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, ‘The Danger of Deconsolidation’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 27, no. 3, July 2016,

26 Poland and Hungary have largely reverted to old patterns of authoritarian nationalism that were masked – but not eliminated – during the EU accession process.

27 See Waever et al. (eds), Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe; and Buzan, People, States and Fear.

28 See Stephen M. Walt, ‘The Renaissance of Security Studies’, International Studies Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 2, June 1991, pp. 211–39.

29 For an analysis of the influence of Schmitt on the Copenhagen School, see Michael C. Williams, ‘Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics’, International Studies Quarterly, no. 47, 2003, pp. 511–31.

30 Carl Schmitt (George Schwab, trans.), The Concept of the Political (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 27 ff.

31 Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (London: Penguin, 1980), p. 229.

32 For an extended version of this argument, see Lieven, Climate Change and the Nation State, pp. 63–90.

33 See Richard Weaver, ‘The Problem of Tradition’, in Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives (Washington DC: Regnery, 1956); Richard B. Howarth, ‘Intergenerational Justice’, in Dryzek et al. (eds), Handbook of Climate Change and Society, pp. 338–54; Yael Tamir, ‘Pro Patria Mori! Death and the State’, in Robert McKim and Jeff McMahan (eds), The Morality of Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 227–44; and Roger Scruton, Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet (New York: Atlantic Books, 2013), pp. 91–2.

34 For an introduction to critical security theory and emancipatory theory in security studies, see Keith Krause and Michael C. Williams, Critical Security Studies: Concepts and Cases (London: UCL Press, 1997); Bill McSweeney, Security, Identity and Interests: A Sociology of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and Ken Booth, ‘Security and Emancipation’, Review of International Studies, vol. 17, no. 4, 1991, pp. 313–27.

35 See Paul G. Harris, What’s Wrong with Climate Politics and How to Fix It (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), pp. 33–63; Gregory White, Climate Change and Migration (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014).

36 See, for example, Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (New York: Nation Books, 2011), pp. 179–224.

37 For a counter-argument, see Andrew Moravcsik, ‘Is Something Rotten in the State of Denmark? Constructivism and European Integration’, Journal of European Public Policy, vol. 6, no. 4, 1999, pp. 669–81.

38 For an example of this approach, see Bill McSweeney, ‘Identity and Security: Barry Buzan and the Copenhagen School’, Review of International Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, 1996, pp. 81–93.

39 Johan Eriksson, ‘Observers or Advocates? On the Political Role of Security Analysts’, Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 34, no. 3, 1999, pp. 311–30.

40 Antonio Franceschet, ‘Global Legalism and Human Security’, in Sandra J. Maclean et al. (eds), A Decade of Human Security (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), p. 31.

41 See McSweeney, ‘Identity and Security’.