The White House heard from representatives from the Pentagon, NASA, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security this week on the national security risks of an ice-free Arctic.
Nafeez Ahamed provides a thorough report of the briefing, and how it may indicate the Administration’s increasing concern over climate change as a domestic and international security threat:
National security officials have taken an increasing interest in the destabilizing impacts of climate change — particularly its potential to generate instability or conflict as nations compete for more limited resources like food and water.
Possibly driven by the accelerated Arctic melt process, extreme weather events over the last few years — from record-breaking heat waves and droughts in the United States and Russia to snowstorms and cold weather in northern Europe – have affected harvests, impacting global food production and contributing to civil unrest.
The West Australian also reported:
At the White House meeting…scientists have been asked to come up with scenarios that will inform research program on changes in the Arctic and the impacts on Arctic ecosystems. The Arctic is thought to be warming twice as fast as NASA’s calculation of a 0.8C rise in temperatures globally since 1880.
There are a number of existing U.S. government documents warning of the risks of a melting arctic, including the Naval Studies Board’s “National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces,” the U.S. Navy’s Arctic Road Map, and more recently, the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmaps from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), which both include references to the national security risks of a melting Arctic.
The DHS and DOD Climate Change and Adaptation Roadmaps provide a good compliment to the Administration’s National Science and Technology Council’s five-year Arctic Research Plan, released in Feb. 2013, which was aimed at better understanding and predicting Arctic environmental changes. As noted on the White House blog, the Arctic Research Plan:
Provide[s] a roadmap for unprecedented collaboration between agencies on high impact research activities that will provide a solid scientific basis for on-the-ground progress in the Arctic. It also complements a number of steps being taken by the Administration to enable data-driven and science-based stewardship in the Arctic region, including the recent launch of regionally-focused data communities on ocean.data.gov.
There are clearly national security risks and opportunities for U.S. leadership in a melting Arctic – a dynamic that was fully recognized by the George W. Bush Administration as well. But additional actions will need to be taken in order to reduce these risks, and take advantage of opportunities – particularly as the United States takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, and will want to come to the table with some successes under its belt. For example, ratification of the UN Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), universally supported by the United States military and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will be a critical prerequisite for more robust and constructive U.S. leadership in the Arctic region. And in order for the U.S. military, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department to do their jobs in managing risks and opportunities in the region, modest but additional resources will be needed to fund the core elements of an Arctic strategy.
Nonetheless, it is very encouraging to see the Administration elevate its interest in the security implications of a melting Arctic. U.S. leadership is certainly needed in this space.