The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), a highly-respected Defense Industry association, produces a regular publication called National Defense Magazine. The magazine is a go-to resource for anyone who wishes to take the temperature of the national security establishment in the United States.
An article by Erwin, et al. in the most recent November issue, refreshingly titled “Top Five Threats to National Security in the Coming Decade,” promises crystal clarity on what security threats the United States is taking seriously, and is likely to continue taking seriously, in the coming decade. Those top five threats are, in no particular order: biological weapons, nuclear weapons, cyber-attacks, transnational crime, and yes, climate change. On climate change, the authors offer some interesting explanations for why the security establishment takes the issue seriously (also see a previous piece of ours that explores this same subject in some detail).
First, the article, citing the U.S. military in general, describes climate change as a:
“ring-road” issue that surrounds its future strategic planning… No matter which way the Defense Department turns, U.S. global interests will eventually intersect with the effects of a warming planet
The Stimson Center’s David Michel colorfully elaborates:
There’s no tree-hugging, sandal-wearing, granola eating aspects to the military’s approach…The water-food-energy nexus of issues caused by climate change is going to be a rising challenge for the military and the national security strategy reflects that.
The authors then break down the U.S. military’s interest in the issue by highlighting what are essentially three major national security concerns that will be affected. This includes climate change impacts on:
a) the U.S. military’s humanitarian mission, particularly in the Asia-Pacific
b) regions and nations of the world that are of political and strategic interest to the United States
c) U.S. global leadership in terms of securing and maintaining “the free-flow of public goods,” particularly in a melting Arctic
Here are some notable excerpts. On the U.S. humanitarian mission:
The challenge for the U.S. military, as it shifts its primary focus to the Pacific Ocean, will be balancing its response to acute events with a chronic, sustained preparedness for the long-term effects of climate change, Michel said. The Pacific already averages 70,000 annual deaths to natural disasters ranging from floods to typhoons and earthquakes.
“We’re likely to see more of those sorts of acute events,” Michel said. “But even at the same frequency and strength as we see them today … as populations continue to grow, as urbanization along coastlines continues, more people will be exposed.”
On international political and strategic concerns:
…phenomena associated with climate change like persistent drought, violent flooding and agricultural disruption are real and immediate concerns for many of the nations the United States partners with around the world, Michel said. The effects are also causing the most disruption in some of the world’s most politically unstable regions — Southern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America.
“To the extent that climate change is an issue for our partners … it is going to become an issue for us,” Michel said. “The military is also aware that … climate impacts could be accelerants of instability in the countries where we have political interests or strategic concerns.”
And on securing and maintaining the free flow of goods in the Arctic:
In the Arctic…the United States is woefully unprepared for the challenge. The Coast Guard has a single operational icebreaker and the military hasn’t built one for more than 30 years…
The Arctic is also an area where 20 federal agencies have some role, creating headaches for strategists and diplomatic efforts to manage competition there…
In the Arctic, as in Asia and the Pacific, the United States will be forced to acknowledge and address climate change, if it is to uphold its professed role as a global power to secure and maintain the free-flow of public goods…