Guest speakers will explore nexus of environmental change, global security at 2020 Military Writers’ Symposium

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water — Benjamin Franklin

Water figures in Wilson Center Fellow Sherri Goodman’s nightmares, but not because she’s drowning.

And observers at this year’s Military Writers’ Symposium will hear about this fright source — especially how melting icecaps caused a mad scramble for Arctic supremacy.

The symposium, co-founded by Carlo D’Este ’58, is in its 26th year. It will run virtually Wednesday and Thursday, bringing a slate of talks on the intersection of environmental change and global security. The topic fits with Norwich University’s Environmental Security Initiative, a joint endeavor by the John and Mary Frances Patton Peace & War Center and the Center for Global Resilience and Security, to examine this nexus through research, internships, experiential learning and programming.

“One of the great advantages of where we are is that we are able to export the symposium to anyone around the globe … (and) learn about Norwich as a result.” Dr. Travis Morris, director, John and Mary Frances Patton Peace and War Center, Norwich University

As specialf programming, Norwich Pro, a professional development arm of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies, will offer a microcertificate course on the Arctic Circle’s militarization.

As most other fall events, the symposium was planned to be live on campus, where students and visitors could convene. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the symposium went virtual, as Homecoming and Commencement had. Admission to the virtual events is free. Register here.

“One of the great advantages of where we are is that we are able to export the symposium to anyone around the globe,” said Dr. Travis Morris,  a criminal justice professor who directs the John and Mary Frances Patton Peace and War Center and the School of Justice Studies and Sociology. “People can attend from anywhere … (who) are certainly interested in the topic and will learn about Norwich as a result.”

Dr. Tara Kulkarni, an engineering professor and the Center for Global Security and Resilience’s director, said water availability, access, and quality are important to the center’s mission of building resilient communities.

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Wilson Center Senior Fellow Sherri Goodman speaks at Mack Hall in 2019. She will discuss water and climate security at this year’s virtual Military Writers’ Symposium. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

“Understanding, preventing, minimizing, and mitigating threats like weaponization of resources like water that are so essential to humanity, our environment and our existence is at the heart of what the Environmental Security Initiative is all about.”

Guest speakers will include Adam Higginbotham, winner of this year’s Colby Book Award for “Midnight in Chernobyl,” engineer and author Dr. Nadhir Al-Ansari, global security expert Dr. David Kilcullen, author and journalist Andy Brown and Goodman, who spoke on climate change last fall in Mack Hall.

In that speech, Goodman, described how global warming put the need for water in starkest relief. Sustained rising temperatures, she said, were forcing militaries to cut training, worsening drought, increasing wildfires. The warming was also waking more water in a dangerous way, melting Arctic icecaps to spark a scramble for oil and natural gas between Russia and China.

In her wake-in-a-cold-sweat scenario, a Russian nuclear icebreaker ship collides with a Chinese liquefied natural gas-carrying vessel in the Bering Strait.

Engineer’s perspective

Goodman, Al-Ansari, Kilcullen and Higginbotham will join Brown and 2020 Richard S. Schultz Fellow Nicole Navarro ’21 in delivering individual presentations Wednesday. Goodman, Al-Ansari, Kilcullen and Higginbotham will reconvene Thursday for a Weaponizing Water panel discussion moderated by William Lyons ’90, a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel who is also an executive, entrepreneur and Center for Global Resiliency and Security senior fellow.

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2020 Richard S. Schultz Fellow Nicole Navarro ’21 will speak on China’s weaponization of water ports to control business, politics and trade in Tanzania during the Military Writers’ Symposium. (Courtesy photo.)

In an email, Kulkarni said she’s particularly glad to have Al-Ansari, the first engineer invited to the symposium. Authors Ruth Weiner and Robin Matthews have written that engineers are “builders of war machines,” Kulkarni said, and the term engineer was associated with military involvement well into the 18th century.

“It was only in the late 1700s as we focused on building public facilities rather than just the military infrastructure that the civil engineering profession became a thing,” Kulkarni wrote. “So, it is about time that an engineer got involved in the symposium. Especially with Norwich University’s distinction at being the first institution outside the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to offer engineering.”

The symposium, she said, will let engineering students see the big picture. They’ll learn about big-picture problem-solving, economics’ effects on engineering and the ethics of taking technological advances too far.

Morris said the symposium will also let students better understand the link between water, environmental security and military threats.

“This should always be a consideration from training to deployment,” he said. “This is where cyber(security) was 18 years ago. Environmental security will be increasingly important as the years go on.”

See full details on the symposium here.

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