Panel 11 – Disaster diplomacy

Conveners: Christian Webersik (University of Agder, Centre for Integrated Emergency Management) and Ilan Kelman (University College London)

Abstract: Disaster risks are expected to continue increasing globally as more people move to disaster-prone regions, as more infrastructure is built, as economic activities expand, and as the environment continues changing. With these changes, fears over disputes and conflicts have been voiced including with respect to geopolitical tensions.

One approach for examining cross-border disaster-related activities

is disaster diplomacy. Disaster diplomacy examines one aspect of disaster-politics interactions: how disaster-related activities (disaster risk reduction, disaster response, and disaster recovery) do and do not impact diplomatic collaboration. Violent and non-violent conflicts are mitigated, seeking cooperation modes through disaster-related work. Major gaps exist in disaster diplomacy work regarding the type of disasters expected, such as nuclear incidents, resource conflicts, and health-related events.

This panel will contribute to the body of research on disaster diplomacy, examining how and why disaster-related activities might or might not be used more to foster international relations. The focus will be on understanding, and determining strengths and gaps in, laws, policies, and formal and informal mechanisms and competencies relevant to disaster-related activities involving international relations.

Long Abstract:One framework for examining cross-border disaster-related activities is disaster diplomacy. Disaster diplomacy examines one aspect of disaster-politics interactions: how disaster-related activities (disaster risk reduction and disaster response) do and do not impact political and diplomatic collaboration (Kelman 2012, 2016). Much disaster diplomacy research has focused on violent conflict and countries deemed to be ‘enemies’ such as Greece-Turkey from the 1950s to the 1990s (Ker-Lindsay 2007); Cuba-USA when Fidel Castro led Cuba (Glantz 2000); and climate change leading to sub-Saharan war (Buhaug 2010; Burke et al. 2009). Less disaster diplomacy work has explored how political conflict could be influenced by disaster diplomacy. For example, Kelman (2007) speculated how disaster diplomacy could frame how Hurricane Katrina felling forests might influence the USA’s long-running lumber dispute with Canada.

Meanwhile, most disaster diplomacy work has focused on environmental hazards. Greece-Turkey disaster diplomacy has been influenced primarily by earthquakes (Ker Lindsay 2007) with small impacts from wildfires, tsunamis, storms, and floods (Koukis et al. 2016). Cuba-USA disaster diplomacy has been mainly climate- and weather-related (Glantz 2000; Kelman 2007) although Glantz (2000) discusses how wind patterns could have distributed over the southern USA fallout from an incident at Cuba’s Juragua Nuclear Power Plant if the plant had ever been completed. The few, detailed disaster diplomacy case studies not involving environmental hazards include a train explosion in North Korea in 2004 (Kelman 2012), poisoning in Morocco in 1959 (Segalla 2012), and Southeast Asia Regional Haze over previous decades (Brauer and Hisham-Hashim 1998; Islam et al. 2016).

Recent work (Kelman 2016) has looked at health diplomacy and medical diplomacy within a disaster diplomacy framework. The argument is that epidemics and pandemics are cross-border disasters. Both health diplomacy and medical diplomacy are well-developed and tested in research, policy, and practice (Aginam 2003; Ansari 2013; Iglehart 2004). Most work has focused on achieving health objectives despite conflict, such as smallpox and polio eradication (Barrett 2003), without necessarily determining the theory or practice of whether or not health objectives could or should be used to resolve conflict (Araya and Barbara 2008; Vas 2001). Health-related disaster diplomacy could be a significant aspect of cross-border nuclear incidents, yet little research has covered this topic thus far, nor with respect to digital opportunities for crossing borders no matter what the state of affairs being governments.

While neither war nor other forms of violent conflict are necessarily expected between hostile/neighbouring countries, many possibilities remain for potential disaster diplomacy including three novel applications of the disaster diplomacy framework:

•Disasters which do not necessarily involve environmental hazards, including nuclear incidents such as nuclear power plants and nuclear-powered vessels.

•Significant political disagreement/conflict over Arctic resources.

•Health diplomacy for a disaster, especially with regards to epidemics and pandemics.

The hypothesis to be explored in this panel is:

• Disaster-related activities could and should be used much more to foster international relations.

• With climate change affecting the globe, even more than in lower latitudes, new opportunities for oil and gas exploitation as well as shipping will create new risks in terms of accidents

The research questions investigated to confirm or refute this hypothesis are:

• What are the security implications of climate change?

•Which legal and policy frameworks, mechanisms, and competencies exist for disaster-related activities?

•What informal mechanisms and competencies exist for disaster-related activities?

•How could needed mechanisms and competencies for disaster diplomacy be maintained and enhanced?