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Military Leaders Respond to Secretary Hagel Speech: Climate Change Threat to National Security

Secretary_of_Defense_Chuck_Hagel_hosted_a_meeting_with_Secretary,_Security_Council_Nikolay_Platonovich_Patrushev_at_the_Pentagon_(5)RELEASE: Retired Military Leaders Applaud Defense Secretary Hagel’s Arctic Strategy Speech Which Addresses the Threat of Climate Change

Washington, D.C. — The Center for Climate and Security (CCS), a policy institute with an Advisory Board of retired senior military officers and national security experts, applauds U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s speech today detailing the U.S. Department of Defense’s new Arctic Strategy and highlighting the threat climate change poses to national security. The United States is an Arctic nation, and it is critical that our military prepare for the dramatic changes underway. As CCS Advisory Board member Rear Admiral David W. Titley, USN (ret), former Oceanographer of the Navy, stated: “Secretary Hagel’s speech demonstrates the degree to which the U.S. military is taking the threat of climate change seriously. This is not just an environmental issue, and it is certainly not a partisan one. It is a matter of national security.”

CCS Advisory Board member Brigadier General John Adams, USA (ret) states: “Secretary Hagel makes clear what national security professionals have known for years: climate change is affecting the Arctic drastically and rapidly, and American national security demands that we urgently address this issue.” CCS Advisory Board member Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw, USMC (ret) emphasizes that urgency, stating: “Secretary Hagel has identified a climate-changed Artic as an area of increasing importance to our national security and we should take heed – and action.”

In this context, Secretary Hagel is continuing a long tradition within the U.S. military that emphasizes action over reaction. As General Gordon Sullivan, USA (ret) once said: “People are saying they want to be perfectly convinced about climate science projections…But speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

The national security impacts of climate change are perhaps most immediate and acute in the Arctic, but it is increasingly clear that those national security impacts are global. As Secretary Hagel noted in his speech: “Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.”

CCS Advisory Board Member Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson, USAF (ret) also notes the destabilizing effects of climate change, stating: “The link between climate change and national security is indisputable and it is important that the Defense Department is being proactive as Secretary Hagel’s speech highlights. Climate change threats to food, water, and energy security are real and time is of the essence.”

Failing to address climate change threats to food, water and energy security, especially those impacting already-fragile or particularly vulnerable nations, could force the United States into post facto responses to such threats once they materialize, leading to costly disaster response and conflict resolution efforts. On the other hand, acknowledging and taking steps to address and reduce the adverse security impacts of climate change will ultimately save lives and money and strengthen national security.

The Center for Climate and Security applauds Secretary Hagel for his pragmatic approach to addressing the national security risks of a changing climate, and calls on the U. S government as a whole to support his continued work in this area.

Read the speech:

Read the DoD Arctic Strategy:

To speak with a CCS expert on this topic, contact Francesco Femia at

Related material: The U.S. military has been planning for climate change impacts from as early as 2003, as expressed in the following documents:

2013: Department of Defense FY 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap: Department of Defense

2011-2012: Key Strategic Issues List: U.S. Army War College

2011: Incorporating Sea Level Change Considerations in Civil Works Programs: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

2011: Defense Science Board Task Force Report: Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security: Department of Defense

2011: The National Military Strategy of the United States of America: Redefining America’s Military Leadership: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

2011: National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces: Naval Studies Board, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

2010: Quadrennial Defense Review Report: Department of Defense

2010: The Joint Operating Environment, Ready for Today, Preparing for Tomorrow: United States Joint Forces Command

2010: Climate Change Impacts and AFRICOM: A Briefing Note: Institute for Defense Analyses, Christine Youngblut

2010: U.S. Navy Climate Change Road Map: Task Force Climate Change, Department of the Navy

2009: US Navy Arctic Roadmap: U.S. Department of the Navy

2009: Climate Change Effects: Issues for International and US National Security: Institute for Defense Analyses, Christine Youngblut

2008: National Defense Strategy: Department of Defense

2007: A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power: Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard

2007: The Joint Operating Environment, Trends and Challenges for the Future Joint Force Through 2030: United States Joint Forces Command

2007: National Security and the Threat of Climate Change: Center for Naval Analysis

2003: An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security: Pentagon Office of Net Assessments


  1. Alvin Volkman says:

    Patterns of disease will almost surely change qualitatively and quantitatively. It is possible that no new diseases will appear. Past and even current experience, however, has shown that diseases that were seen more often in warmer climates are currently increasing in frequency in more northern latitudes. Medical school curricula would have to dedicate more time to the study of so-called “Tropical Diseases.”

  2. Alvin Volkman says:

    See above.

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