Published 2018-01-04

This post is also available in Swedish

Seeking to show interconnectedness of threats

Malin Mobjörk of SIPRI classifies security risks — at least those that ensue from climate change. It all goes to show the interconnectedness of the various threats to humans and the environment.

How climate change and increasing competition for natural resources affect peace, security and development is a relatively new research field. One person engaged in the subject is Dr Malin Mobjörk. She pursues this commitment both as head of a new research group at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and as a researcher in the Mistra Geopolitics programme.

‘Today, what researchers are discussing among themselves is less whether climate change and security risks are connected, and more about the circumstances in which these risks arise and how we can manage them.’

Now, however, she is taking a break from the daily grind of building up SIPRI’s research in the field. Instead, she is in full swing packing: she and her family are about to move to Washington DC. There, within the Mistra Fellows framework, she is to spend six months as a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The Center, where she is to work until the end of June 2018, bears the name of one of the more respected US presidents. An independent research institute with a clear international focus, it is also one of the organisations that have worked longest on issues related to climate, environment and security.

For Mobjörk, the route to Washington has been via studies in political science and philosophy at Linköping University, a thesis on environmental research, a research position at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) and her current role as Senior Researcher and Programme Director at SIPRI.

‘Regardless of where I’ve worked, I’ve tried to sort out and structure the discussion and the controversies about how climate change is going to affect our common security,’ Mobjörk says.

It is no secret that security researchers, with their various specialities, are not entirely unanimous on how climate and the environment affect security and conflicts. This is, or at least has been, partly because of the newness of the research field and partly because of the participants’ differing points of entry to the subject. Depending on the direction from which they have viewed the ‘climate and security’ problem complex, they have sometimes come to different conclusions.

‘By sorting out different aspects of security risks, I hope to clarify how they are connected. For organisations to become better at managing the risks, this knowledge is important.’

In Mistra Geopolitics, Mobjörk leads one of the ‘work packages’, as they are called.

‘It’s a great initiative with room for all the different academic approaches that handling

such a complex issue requires. But we’re not just setting out to study the subject; we also aim to influence its development more directly.’

Now she, at least temporarily, she is embarking on a new, divergent phase. Having delegated to others much of her everyday work of establishing new activities, she hopes instead to be able to immerse herself more in her own research.

She applied to the Wilson Center in particular because its scholars and experts have long been working on environmental and security issues, doing high-quality studies, and have a clear focus on policy work.

‘The Center’s interesting for me personally, as well as for my work at SIPRI and in Mistra, not least because of its closeness to the US administration. My hope is that I’ll get a better insight into what changes are currently taking place with the current administration.’

Exactly how they will turn out is hard to predict in the political landscape currently being reshaped under President Donald J Trump’s leadership. However, according to Mobjörk, the picture is less clear than the media reporting sometimes claims.

‘We know that major budget cuts in the environmental area are under way. But at the same time we see how many agencies are continuing the work, but doing it under other names. So it’ll be interesting to see how it works in practice, and to perhaps better understand what’s in store.’

Mobjörk believes she is being welcomed by the Wilson Center because SIPRI is seen as an interesting organisation and Mistra Geopolitics as a highly relevant, exciting research programme.

‘Letting me go and work there isn’t just a matter of hospitality, for sure. They see this as a strategic exchange in which we have a lot to learn from each other.’

So it’s off to Washington DC on 29 December — not only for Mobjörk. Her husband and two children are accompanying her on the adventure.

Per Westergård