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Climate Security and the U.S. Pacific Command Posture: Strategic Long-term Challenges

Marines gather to listen to Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, speak aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Marines gather to listen to Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, speak aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

On Thursday April 16, 2015, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea. Witnesses included Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, III, USN Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. Admiral Locklear has been particularly concerned about the threat of climate change to the region, in the context of U.S. strategic interests (see here, here, here and here). Admiral Locklear’s written testimony for Thursday’s hearing reiterated those concerns. Below are excepts from Admiral Locklear’s testimony. The full testimony is available here, and a transcript of the hearing is available here.

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Climate Security excerpts from:

STATEMENT OF ADMIRAL SAMUEL J. LOCKLEAR, U.S. NAVY COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND BEFORE THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE ON U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND POSTURE, 16 APRIL 2015
(emphasis added)

Security Environment

The Indo-Asia-Pacific remains one of the most dynamic regions on earth. It is vital to U.S. economic and security interests, and activities in the region will shape much of our nation’s future. The region encompasses 52% of the earth’s surface and is composed of 83% water and 17% land. Over half of the people on the planet reside on that 17% of land, and by the middle of the century, the Indo-Asia-Pacific will potentially contain 70% of the world’s population. This high population density coupled with destabilizing factors such as natural disasters, climate change, ideological radicalism, and population migration will continue to put immense pressure on regional governments. Contained in the thirty-six nations in USPACOM’s area of responsibility are the world’s two largest economies after the U.S. (China and Japan), and five smallest economies. The region also contains the world’s most populous nation (China), the largest democracy (India), the largest Muslim-majority (Indonesia), and the smallest republic (Nauru). It contains seven of the ten largest standing militaries, five nuclear nations, and five of the U.S.’s seven mutual defense treaty alliances. The socioeconomic diversity and population density throughout the USPACOM area of responsibility (AOR) create strategic long-term challenges. These challenges include: political instability, social inequality, poverty, increased sensitivity to climate change and natural disasters, risk of pandemic disease, and epidemic drug use and distribution.

Natural Disasters: The Indo-Asia-Pacific accounted for over 40% (1,690 incidences) of the world’s reported natural disasters during the period between 2004 and 2013, and, because of the region’s coastal population density, these disasters were particularly deadly, claiming more than 700,000 lives. The Pacific Rim’s tectonic plate structure produces its well-known Ring of Fire, which regularly triggers earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Weather extremes and anomalies continue to plague the region. Understanding the scope and severity of long-term climate change, unexpected climate shocks, and climate variability events such as El Nino are shared global challenges.

In addition to seismic and climate challenges, areas of large populations, dense living conditions, and poor sanitary conditions in the region create optimal conditions for the rapid spread of human- or animal-borne diseases. To address these challenges, USPACOM focuses on pre-crisis preparedness with training and exercises. For example, many of the lessons learned and preparedness measures implemented after Typhoon Haiyan (Operation Damayan, November 2013) resulted in less damage and loss of life when Typhoon Hagupit passed over the Philippines last December. U.S. forces regularly train with allies and partners on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and stand ready to respond in support of interagency partners to a natural disaster or the frequent vectors of disease that plague the region. Regional information sharing and rapid response to health crises are improving, but the danger remains high. USPACOM will continue to focus on improving pre-crisis preparedness and working with allies and partners in the region to ensure an effective response when an event occurs.

Oceania:

Climate change will continue to be an important issue across the Oceania region. This year’s forecasted El Nino event will likely result in drought and increased tropical cyclone activity. The Republic of Marshall Islands will almost certainly face water shortage resulting in requests for aid or disaster declarations under a subsidiary agreement to the Amended Compact of Free Association. Fiji, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga will likely face similar situations. The December 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference addressed the impact of rising sea levels – a keen interest to Pacific Island Nations.


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