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Climate Change, National Security and the Big Blue Rabbit

PACOM_AORStars and Stripes magazine’s Wyatt Olson recently published a very interesting and thorough article titled “PACOM not waiting for politics to plan for climate change challenges.” The article details the reasons U.S. Pacific Command is taking climate change seriously, and some of what it’s doing to combat the threat.

A great quote from the piece, which perfectly encapsulates the national security community’s risk management approach to climate change, comes from Brig. Gen. Mark McLeod. He stated:

Seventy percent of the bad storms that happen in the world are in the Pacific,” he said. “Call it climate change, call it the big blue rabbit, I don’t give a hoot what you call it — the military has to respond to those kinds of things.

The article outlines PACOM’s partnerships with Pacific nations on combating climate change/ the big blue rabbit, particularly the small island states. Olson notes:

Indeed, despite claims by some that global warming is a myth, there’s growing accord among analysts and military thinkers around the world that the repercussions of climate change will require the same application of strategy the military would employ when grappling with any foe. To that end, PACOM initiated a series of forums held throughout the region designed to brainstorm military-civil solutions to climate-related security issues. Pacific Command is already collaborating with several small island nations to help them cope with problems from rising sea level, such as saltwater encroachment into ground water.

The Center for Climate and Security’s Francesco Femia is quoted in the piece as well. In describing the significance of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which identified climate change as a threat multiplier and emphasized some of the broader human security implications of climate change (food, water and energy, for example), Femia said the QDR:

…opens the door for the Department of Defense and PACOM in the region to look more broadly at how they can help in terms of working with nations and partner militaries in helping those nations be prepared for events before they occur…

On the role of PACOM, and how climate change presents an opportunity for U.S. leadership in the region, Femia noted:

In a lot of ways, the front line on this issue is PACOM, given its [humanitarian disaster relief] responsibilities…So we’re actually seeing the U.S. military playing a leading role in figuring out how climate change plays into our relationships in the area — including, from a more traditional security perspective, how our assistance to our allies and prospective allies in terms of climate adaptation feeds into influence in the region vis-à-vis China.

Andrew Holland of the American Security Project touched on the defense planning cultures (or lack thereof) in certain small states in the region, and how PACOM can help in this regard when it comes to climate change:

“The small states don’t have as much of a defense planning culture — or defense planning documents at all — but their leadership are going around the world saying, ‘Hey, our security’s threatened. Our very existence as a state is threatened,’” Holland said.

PACOM is often the most important diplomatic engagement for many of these small nations, he said.

“The military doesn’t have the luxury of playing politics with this, with something that’s actually happening, and you’re seeing the effects already on the ground,” Holland said. “They have to be planning for it because they can’t wait for there to be political agreement to begin planning real responses to this.”

For the full article, click here.


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