National Defense Magazine has published a great piece by Sandra Erwin on one of Asia’s primary security issues – weather and natural disasters, and what that means for U.S. foreign policy. She states:
During Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s latest trip to the Far East, the impact of weather events was a front-burner topic in most meetings with local leaders, said a senior defense official who participated in the U.S. delegation that the defense secretary led in September.
This suggests that helping address the Asia-Pacific’s destructive weather patterns, which will be exacerbated by climate change, should be of critical importance to the U.S. military, and the U.S. government in general – particularly in context of its renewed strategic focus on the region. And while the primary rationale for such assistance is, and should be, humanitarian, there are clear diplomatic and national security co-benefits that follow. Citing a senior defense official, Erwin states:
The Obama administration will be seeking to boost the military’s capabilities to provide post-disaster relief, the official said. “We view that as a very important mission in that part of the world and we are working every day to strengthen our capacity to deliver such aid.”
Although the primary goal is to help the needy, there are also self-serving reasons to assist countries in distress, the official noted. “It’s a good opportunity to show a side of the military that often isn’t shown in broadcast news or other outlets in that part of the world,” he said. “We view it as a very important humanitarian mission but it is also in our interest to build goodwill and partner capacity.”
In a piece we wrote earlier this year titled “A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific,” we also argue that the United States will need to place the Asia-Pacific’s climate and natural disaster woes at the center of its so-called “Pacific Pivot.” Through providing disaster relief, as well as investments in climate resilience (for both climate adaptation and mitigation) the United States can build a broader and deeper relationship with allies and prospective allies in the region, which in turn could help it non-threateningly compete with China for influence. In short, the U.S. national security leadership has the opportunity to marry humanitarian relief and climate investments with its broader national security strategy. Let’s hope they seize it.