The Obama Administration released its second and last National Security Strategy (NSS) today. In the NSS, climate change is appropriately listed, along with eight other threats such as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and global economic crisis, as among the “top strategic risks to our interests.” This follows on the leadership of the Department of Defense in its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (CCAR), where climate change is identified as a “threat multiplier” and as posing “immediate risks to national security.” However, based on how responses to climate risks are conveyed in the NSS, there is room for improvement.
In the “Confront Climate Change” section of the NSS, the strategic risks of climate change are described as follows:
Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water.
This is an adequate description of the how climate change interacts with the broader security landscape. However, the section does not go as far as it could in terms of describing what the U.S. should do to address those broader risks. For example, what is the U.S. strategy to bolster the climate resilience of strategic partners and allies; integrate climate risks into conflict prevention goals; combat climate threats to military readiness, operations and strategy; elevate civilian-military and military-military cooperation on addressing climate change risks; adjust practically and geopolitically to a new Arctic landscape; or prepare international security institutions, such as NATO and the UN Security Council, to handle the growing risks?
While important climate change diplomacy and development objectives are appropriately identified in the “Combating Climate Change” section, a more comprehensive strategy is needed.
Verdict: The NSS does an excellent job of describing how climate change interacts with the broader security landscape and it goes further than the 2010 NSS by identifying climate change as a top strategic risk. But there is a clear need to develop a more detailed and integrated strategy that includes a broader suite of responses and commitment of resources for those responses. In short, the NSS shows a growing understanding of these risks, and that the risks are increasing; it is to be hoped that as the Administration implements the NSS, those broader strategies and resource commitments will also emerge.