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Sec. Albright & Sec. Shultz On National Security, Climate Change & the Arctic

Kissinger_Shultz_Albright_Jan2015The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held an all-star hearing on January 29th, titled “Global Challenges and the U.S. National Security Strategy.” Witnesses included three former Secretaries of State: Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Dr. George P. Shultz and Dr. Madeleine K. Albright. The entire hearing is worth watching, as it is full of sage advice from the former Secretaries of State.

Climate change – a “multiplier” of many of the national security threats described by the former Secretaries (and an added barrier to achieving U.S. strategic aims) – was explicitly addressed during the hearing. Below, we’ve highlighted specific points on climate change as it relates to U.S. national security strategy from Sec. Albright’s prepared testimony, and from comments during the hearing by Sec. Albright and Sec. Shultz.

Excerpts on climate change 

Sen. Manchin posed a question to the witnesses asking them to pinpoint where the United States’ greatest concerns may be, and where U.S. efforts should focus (at approximately the 1.40.00 minute mark). Responses from Sec. Shultz and Sec. Albright follow:

Sec. Shultz: I think, and I gather in Washington it’s very controversial, but I have a friend at Hoover, retired Chief of Naval Operations, Gary Roughead and we’ve started a project on the Arctic. Sen. Sullivan knows about the Arctic. There is a new ocean being created there. That hasn’t happened since the last ice age. There are big melts all over the world taking place. The climate is changing and there are consequences. So that’s happening and we’ll never get anywhere with it unless we somehow have actions that take hold on a global basis. And I might say sort of parenthetically, I have the privilege of chairing the MIT Advisory Board on their big energy initiative and more or less the same thing at Stanford. So I see what the guys doing R&D and girls doing R&D are doing and it is really breathtaking. We had a MIT scientist come to Hoover the other day and I think he has cracked the code on large-scale storage of electricity. That is a game changer because it takes the intermittency problem out of solar and wind.  And also we must know how vulnerable our grid is and if you have some energy stored where you use it you are much safer. At any rate I think these energy R&D things are beginning to get somewhere. But that’s a big threat.

Sec. Albright: Can I just say a word. I do think the biggest threat is climate change in its national security aspects as has been described and it leads me to say the following thing: our problem is that not everything can be handled militarily and that we also have a short attention span. These are very long-term problems. And also Americans don’t like the word “multilateralism.” It has too many syllables and ends in an “ism,” but basically it is a matter of cooperating. And if you look at these issues it will require American leadership within a system that other countries play a part in. And otherwise, I agree with everything that both Henry and George have said. But I do think short attention span and multilateral ways of dealing with them.

Secretary Albright’s prepared testimony also included references to the security risks of climate change:

None of these challenges pose an existential threat to the United States, but the intensity – and complexity – of them can seem daunting … particularly after we have been through more than 13 years of protracted war, and threats such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, disease, and food and water shortages also loom on the horizon.


On a global level, the United States must also seize the opportunity of this year’s UN Conference in Paris to assert our leadership on the issue of climate change, which the Pentagon recently highlighted as an urgent national security threat. While more tough work lies ahead, the agreements reached with China and India have laid the groundwork for global action on this defining challenge of our time.

The full hearing and testimonies are available on the Senate Armed Services Committee website.


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