Climate Change Risks to the U.S. Military
The U.S. military understands that climate change is a security threat, as evidenced by strategic documents like the Quadrennial Defense Review, the setting up of a U.S. Navy Task Force Climate Change, and other actions dating all the way back to 2003. Though the Department of Defense has performed a number of studies assessing climate change risks to U.S. military infrastructure, more needs to be done to illuminate its broader effects on military readiness, operations and strategy. This program of research focuses on assessing climate change risks to the U.S. military’s mission, and highlighting solutions for the way ahead. For more, see our “Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission.”
A Responsibility to Prepare
The world in the 21st century is characterized by both unprecedented risks and unprecedented foresight. Climate change, population shifts and cyber-threats are rapidly increasing the scale and complexity of risks to international security, while technological developments are increasing our capacity to foresee those risks. This world of high consequence risks, which can be better modeled and anticipated than in the past, underscores a clear responsibility for the international community: A “Responsibility to Prepare.” This responsibility, which builds on hard-won lessons of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework for preventing and responding to mass atrocities, requires a reform of existing governance institutions to ensure that critical, nontraditional risks to international security, such as climate change, are anticipated, analyzed and addressed systematically, robustly and rapidly by intergovernmental security institutions and the security establishments of nations that participate in that system. For more, see the Responsibility to Prepare page, including the launch report.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), decreases in winter precipitation, likely driven by climate change, may be acting as a “threat multiplier,” exacerbating environmental, social, economic, and political drivers of unrest, including drought, water scarcity, food security, and migration, and will likely continue to do so as the countries of the MENA region transition and change. Indeed, the pursuit of democracy, prosperity, and stability in the region is intimately tied to its food and water resources. Climate change places a significant stress on those resources, but political change in the region presents the opportunity to build a more resilient future. This program of research examines the past, present and projected future role of climate change, water and food security in the MENA region, and what this means for government legitimacy, regional and international security. For more, see our multi-author volume “The Arab Spring and Climate Change,” our article in the SAIS Review of International Affairs, “Did We See it Coming? State Fragility, Climate Vulnerability, and the Uprisings in Syria and Egypt,” our briefers on Egypt, Iran, Mali, Libya, the Nile Basin, Syria, and our press page.
The United States is in the early stages of what it characterizes as an “Asia-Pacific rebalance” – a reorientation of its foreign policy and national security posture to the Asia-Pacific region, which is host to burgeoning populations, growing economies, strategic choke-points like the South China Sea, and a number of rising powers. But the region is also one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, hosting a growing coastal population, numerous critical waterways fed by glaciers, threatened island states, and projections of severe water insecurity in the near future. This program of research explores the intersection of climate change and the various drivers of insecurity in the Asia-Pacific, and what that means for U.S. foreign and national security policy in the context of the Asia-Pacific rebalance. For more, see our multi-author volume “The U.S. Asia-Pacific Rebalance, National Security and Climate Change,” the release event for that publication, and our briefer: “A Marshall Plan to Combat Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific: The Missing Piece of the New U.S. Security Strategy.”
The deployment of advanced technologies, new and tested, will be critical for assessing, preparing for and responding to the security risks of climate change. Space-based technologies such as satellites, in concert with technologies closer to the ground such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), will help us monitor and assess climate-related vulnerabilities in key regions of the world. New and potentially disruptive technologies, such as additive manufacturing (aka “3D printing”) could change the face of how we adapt to climate risks. And strategies for addressing technology-based risks to infrastructure, such as those employed for cyber-security, contain lessons for climate change adaptation. This program of research will explore the opportunities and risks associated with technological advancements, and what that means for climate-security. For more, see our briefer “The 3D Printing Revolution, Climate Change and National Security: An Opportunity for U.S. Leadership,” and an interview with CCS Co-Founder Caitlin Werrell at Climate Desk.
The Climate-Nuclear-Security Nexus
Today, new nations are pursuing civilian but dual-use nuclear capabilities, the threat of non-state actors seeking nuclear materials may be growing, and countries continue to debate proper ways to enhance nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation systems to keep up with the pace of change. At the same time, governments worldwide are having difficulty managing the effects of a rapidly changing climate, such as more damaging natural disasters and resource stress. The relationships among nuclear, climate, and security risks are growing more complex and interconnected, and these issues are likely to begin converging in new ways. This program of research fills a critical, largely unexplored gap, taking a fresh look at the ways in which these issues are likely to connect and potentially collide in the years ahead, and foster deeper dialogue on what should be done about it. For more, see our briefer: “The Climate-Nuclear-Security-Nexus: A Collision Course or a Road to New Opportunities?” and the full Climate-Nuclear-Security Nexus program page.
National security establishments understand that climate change is a security threat, and that waiting for 100% certainty before acting to mitigate and adapt to its effects is not an option. But not only do these institutions understand it, they plan for it – considering its implications in strategic documents like the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review, setting up a Navy Task Force Climate Change, or conducting regional intelligence assessments on the security risks of climate change. This program of research focuses on assessing the security community’s rationale for addressing climate change risks, and highlighting opportunities for the way ahead. For more, see our Climate Security 101 website, and the following briefers: “Climate and Security 101: Why the U.S. National Security Establishment Takes Climate Change Seriously,” “The inadequate U.S. response to a major security threat: Climate change,” and “Climate-security a reality, not a narrative.”