Guest post by Amar Causevic
This article summarizes findings from a recent journal article, Facing an Unpredictable Threat: Is NATO Ideally Placed to Manage Climate Change as a Non-Traditional Threat Multiplier?” published in the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies’ “Connections: The Quarterly Journal.”
Climate change acts as multiplier of other threats to national and international security. The multiplier effects of climate change include stresses on the ability of families to provide for themselves (which can contribute to increased refugee and migration flows), a broader spread of diseases, potentially causing or exacerbating lethal pandemics, and other significant challenges to human security.
Climate change, and its attendant “threat multiplier” effects, also present challenges to militaries around the world. Increased temperatures, and the resulting negative effects, can have significant implications for military operations, personnel, and installations. For example, sea level rise and the increased incidence and severity of extreme storms directly affect military facilities, increase the cost of security, and impede the capacity of states and alliances to address traditional threats.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the biggest and most powerful military alliance in the world. Its main responsibility is to provide security for its member states. However, the Alliance has long been directly and indirectly engaged in providing security to non-NATO member states as well. Ever since the September 11 attacks, NATO has taken on a range of non-traditional military roles, such as assisting in counter-piracy operations, enforcing no-fly zones, peacekeeping, working with various multilateral organizations on institution-building in fragile states, providing humanitarian assistance, etc. As the effects of climate change increase year to year, NATO faces a critical question: To what extent is the Alliance capable of managing climate change as a non-traditional threat multiplier?
Traditional Views and the Realist Perception of Threat
Traditionally, the academic sphere of international relations has given more attention to so-called “hard” threats, which are roughly defined as military induced threats among and towards nation-states. This concept was established with the Westphalian peace treaty in 1648 and has remained a respected element of security doctrine into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Realism is the oldest—and in military circles, the most respected—theory of international relations. The theory clearly provides answers to dilemmas such as why states go to war and how states should respond to potential threats. Even though schools of realism have certain differences on how they interpret the world, all of them share the common denominator: states fight for survival in the anarchical international system, and in order to survive, they seek to acquire power. Realism is a theory with a strong state- and human-centric perspective.
Definition of Security beyond Realism and Climate Change as a Non-Traditional Threat
Realism provides an effective insight into states’ behaviors and actions when it comes to traditional war, intra-state conflict, geopolitics, alliances, and the balance of power. Nonetheless, realist theory is quite limited when it comes to defining nontraditional threats such as climate change, and providing answers to how states should act with respect to it. Climate change is definitely not a traditional threat to security. It is a planetary scale threat for people of different classes, different nations, different political ideologies, different countries, and it is hard to predict how climate change will interact with other drivers of insecurity.
Understanding climate change as a security threat means understanding security in the twenty-first century. The environmental sector encompasses broad fields of threats to security; it ranges from issues of survival of the species to large-scale issues such as minimizing the impact of major floods. Non-traditional threats are harder to define and require different response strategies because they focus on the relationship between human civilization and the biosphere, and not on the relationship among states themselves. Climate change impacts cause two types of threats: (i) easily securitized (e.g. survival of human civilization); and (ii) non-easily securitized (e.g. destruction of the entire ecosystem). The Copenhagen School offers a theoretical approach that recognizes climate change as a direct threat to humankind, because it focuses on the concept of non-military threats arising from outside the state-centric perspective. It is also useful to supplement this theory with Ulrich Beck’s explanation of the risk society concept – a process in which modern society organizes its security in response to the risk it is facing.
Climate Change as a Non-Traditional Threat Multiplier
Unlike traditional security threats that imply the ignition of one security risk at different points of time, it is possible—perhaps even likely—that climate change may initiate multiple chronic conditions, which could occur simultaneously on a global level. In the summer of 2013, for instance, Russia was hit by an extremely destructive drought. A state of emergency was declared in twenty regions across the country. In the end, a ten percent drop in Russian production caused a forty percent increase in global wheat markets.
Since the early 2000s, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad enforced an agricultural strategy with a goal of attaining self-sufficiency in national food production. During the effort to increase agricultural output, the country overused its water reserves. To make matters worse, Syria was home to one million Iraqi refugees, which contributed to additional social stress. From 2006 to 2010, large parts of the country were hit by consecutive droughts. When drought hit again in 2011, desperate farmers went to the cities and started protesting; when mixed with a complex ethnic composition and social structure in crisis, the drought certainly contributed to increasing tensions. Environmental disasters are able to severely hurt modern economies. When hurricane Sandy ravaged the east cost of the United States and parts of the Caribbean, an estimated 1.8 million structures and homes were destroyed or damaged. Economic losses surpassed US$ 65 billion. Tourism was the hardest hit industry, with 10,000 job cuts and losses of US$ 1 billion.
NATO and Climate Security
NATO first defined and recognized environmental challenges as a potential threat to security in 1969, establishing its Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society. Since then, the Alliance has developed a couple of different initiatives that address the non-traditional threat of the climate change.
The Alliance officially recognized climate change as a threat in its 2010 Strategic Concept for the Defense and Security of the Members of NATO. The Emerging Security Challenges Division (ESCD) was established the same year as the Strategic Concept. The ESCD was established to respond to a growing range of non-traditional risks and challenges, with climate change being one of them. The division’s goal is to monitor and anticipate threats arising from non-traditional risks and catapult non-traditional security challenges to the center of NATO’s radar. Moreover, NATO adopted the Green Defense framework which among other things highlights NATO’s readiness to explore smart energy (i.e. renewable energy) application for military use.
NATO successfully tested climate security response mechanisms on a couple of occasions. In May 2014, a low-pressure cyclone in Bosnia and Herzegovina caused the biggest floods and landslides in the region’s recorded history, with flood damages costing billions of dollars. Twenty-one NATO members provided humanitarian aid, helicopters, rescue teams, medicines, blankets, and tents across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Upon the request of the Bosnian government, NATO activated the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), which conducted operations in flooded Bosnian territory. Eighteen NATO member states sent boats, water pumps, power generators, humanitarian aid, and helicopters. Without the engagement of NATO’s EADRCC and NATO troops on the ground, Bosnia and Herzegovina would have faced serious if not impossible obstacles in its recovery efforts.
Climate change is a non-traditional threat that has profound ramifications on a planetary scale. It simultaneously affects every person, rich and poor, as well as every state, big or small, developed or developing, young or old. Climate change is a threat multiplier that will shape the security environment in the twenty first century. Although NATO is already engaged in developing policy and conducting operations responding to climate change impacts, it is easy to understand why climate change considerations are not yet fully integrated into the Alliance’s modus operandi. After all, NATO was conceived in the Cold War and—at least until the September 11 attacks—its main purpose was to react to traditional threats. Climate change is just one of many threats to which NATO must respond.
NATO will need to implement a stronger and more coherent approach to dealing with climate change. More precisely, the Alliance needs to develop more concrete policies to address the threat, including as it relates to building the capacity of partner nation forces to manage environmental security crises. This can include a faster process of sharing climate change-related knowledge between member states and the Alliance, including by learning from capacities that exist on the member state level, scaling-up and upgrading them to work on the Alliance level. NATO militaries also need to integrate issues related to climate change risk into their training and exercise routines. Moreover, member states need to work on developing a common Alliance strategy for responding to the negative impacts of climate change on military planning and operations. Because there is currently a disparity about how this issue is addressed, all member states must be encouraged to integrate the mitigation of climate risks into their national defense strategies. Climate change needs to have higher importance in budget, operations and logistics segments within NATO itself because risks that are emanating from increase in the global temperatures are exacerbating from year to year seriously endangering Alliance’s member states as well as their partner nations.
Amar Causevic, Guest Author, Researcher, Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere Programme, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org