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New Dept. of Defense Directive on Climate and Security

The_PentagonBy RADM David Titley, USN (Ret.), Advisory Board, The Center for Climate and Security 

If you Google “arcane bureaucratic tool” the Department of Defense Directive (DODD) should be high on the results list.  That said, these little-known directives can be very influential in how the Pentagon conducts its day to day business.  However, late last week Robert Work, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, signed out a DODD that may just be the most meaningful climate-related document the DoD has released.

The document is mercifully short, at just seven pages of substance. The directive immediately states, in plain English, the impact of climate change on the Department:

“The DoD must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military” to include:

  1. Identification and assessment of the effects of climate change on the DoD mission.
  2. Taking those effects into consideration when developing plans and implementing procedures.
  3. Anticipating and managing risks that develop as a result of climate change to build resilience.

Pretty simple: Adapt to the climate impacts seen today and projected tomorrow; anticipate and manage climate-related risks to ensure the DoD can continue to successfully carry out its missions.

The remainder of the document lists responsibilities and gives authorities to the relevant Under- and Assistant Secretaries, the Service Component Heads, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commanders.

While the entire directive is worth a read, some highlights include:

  1. The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD(AT&L)) develops and oversees the implementation of DoD policy on climate change adaptation and resilience.
  2. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment (ASD(EI&E)) remains the DoD’s primary climate change adaptation official.
  3. ASD(EI&E) also oversees the DoD’s climate change adaptation research, development, testing and evaluation programs and collaborates with the Services, other federal agencies and the private sector to meet the climate change adaptation requirements.
  4. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness manages climate-related risks to the DoD’s logistics infrastructure, materiel acquisition and supply, key transportation modes and routes and stockpile activities. The global impacts of increasing storm surge, rising sea-levels, flooding risk and extreme operating conditions fall within this purview.
  5. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition oversees climate-related impacts and considerations when acquiring or modifying weapons systems, platforms, equipment and products. Think Arctic requirements for Naval and Army units.
  6. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P)), working with USD(AT&L) is tasked to develop policies, plans, programs, forces and posture needed to implement the DoD strategy in a changing climate.
  7. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security will develop, coordinate and integrate DoD climate change policy for homeland defense activities.
  8. The Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)) oversees the climate-related investments and manages the climate risk for all DoD intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and environmental system capabilities. The USD(I) works with the Director of National Intelligence to assess and manage the risks, impacts, vulnerabilities and effects of climate-related change on the operating environment.
  9. The Component Heads are to integrate climate change considerations and manage climate-related risks while executing their ‘man, train and equip’ missions.
  10. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) will work with our allies and partners to “optimize joint exercises and war games incorporating climate change considerations”.
  11. The Combatant Commanders (CCDRs) will incorporate climate change impacts into plans and operations and address climate-related risks and opportunities in their planning. The CCDRs will also assess the risks to U.S. security interests posed by climate change within their area of responsibility.

There’s much more, but these excerpts capture the tone and tenor of this directive.

Is it perfect? Of course not. I would have liked to have seen a greater emphasis on the near-term and climate-related security challenges of a rapidly changing Arctic. The role of Policy (USD(P)) should probably be expanded, especially when working with USD(I) to better understand the complex linkages between unforeseen geostrategic threats – and new opportunities – and the impacts of climate change on society’s food, energy, water and health postures. Other observers likely have equally valid wish lists.

But as Admiral Gorshkov famously is reputed to have said, “better is the enemy of good enough,” and this directive is more than good enough. In effect until rescinded or otherwise modified, the Secretaries, Component Heads, CJCS and Combatant Commanders now have ample authorities to address the defense and security aspects of climate risk. Over time they will need help in the form of resources and continued leadership and focus at the top. Ultimately the Department will also need the support and backing of the Congress to address these climate-related risks. Although the near-term outlook for that support is not bright, politics and perceptions do change, especially when backed by the “facts on the ground.” In the meantime, this directive tells the Pentagon to lean forward and address these risks.

Not bad work for a seven page bureaucratic document.

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