As reported by the Boston Globe, four-star Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, provided an “unexpected answer” when recently asked “what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region?” Climate change.
While not entirely unexpected, given Admiral Locklear’s significant comments on the subject in January of this year, in the context of flooding in Jakarta and the U.S. “Asia-Pacific rebalance,” his comments on climate change to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee during the posture hearing for PACOM on March 5, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s forward-leaning perspective on climate change as an “accelerant of instability,” it represents a clear indication that the United States’ key military leadership in the region are taking the climate change threat very seriously.
From the article:
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”
The US military, he said, is beginning to reach out to other armed forces in the region about the issue.
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’
For Admiral Locklear’s previous comments on the subject, click here and here. For a look at our perspective on how the United States could advance climate investments in the Asia-Pacific as a way of promoting security, and broadening its influence in the region, click here for our article from last February “A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific: The Missing Piece of the New U.S. Security Strategy.”