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The U.S. Congress Overrode Trump Veto on FY21 NDAA: Here are the Climate Security Highlights in the Bill

By John Conger

On January 1, the U.S. Senate voted to override Mr. Trump’s veto of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with an 81-13 vote.  A few days earlier, the House voted 322-87 to override the veto.  It is worth noting that the Statement of Administration Policy, which lists Mr. Trump’s objections to the bill, did not express opposition to any of its climate provisions.

This bill continues the trend we’ve seen in recent years of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees passing pragmatic climate security legislation without making it a political issue.  In this bill, for example, Congress directs the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a strategy to follow up on its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, essentially asking for a plan to climate proof the DoD.  Given the signals the incoming Biden Administration has sent, there is every reason to expect it to develop an ambitious plan in response.  It also continues the trend of expanding resilience authorities by granting broad authority to fund projects that improve the climate resilience of DoD installations – even when located on private land.  (For those readers unfamiliar with the nuances of DoD funding, this is a big deal… and it’s important because climate change doesn’t recognize fence lines and sometimes the actions you need to take are outside the base.)

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The Council on Strategic Risks Condemns Violence Against U.S. Democratic Institutions

This week, the American democratic system withstood a direct and violent attempt to prevent it from working. Despite this despicable attempt, the U.S. Congress proceeded to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. This Constitutional process, which started in the afternoon of January 6th but could not be completed until the early morning hours of January 7th, affirmed the votes cast and the electoral certification processes completed by every state in the nation.

The Council on Strategic Risks condemns this assault on the U.S. Capitol, Congress, and on our democratic institutions, and the political forces and actors who instigated it.

Americans have strongly-held, if often divergent, views. Nonviolent public expression of those sentiments and actions to drive change are fundamental elements of the nation’s democratic processes. However, the forced takeover of government facilities, the threats to the safety of elected officials and law enforcement personnel, the attempt to prevent a legitimate election certification process from occurring, and the violence that resulted in five deaths, are not.

Unfortunately, the strains and trends that led to these events were foreseeable and predicted. The Council on Strategic Risks has long expressed concern that the issues the United States has been facing could spur violence and the erosion of democratic governance.

More broadly, history is replete with lessons from situations around the world in which significant changes, strains, and destabilizing forces mounted to the point of overtaking the systems meant to reinforce democratic governance against rising violence, ethno-nationalism, and conflict.

Economic devastation, environmental degradation, technological evolution, rising oppression, the impacts of climate change, and other sweeping trends can combine to create conditions that pave the way for great disruption and change. This has been true in the last century and continues today, where anti-democratic forces have exploited changing conditions to the detriment of citizens worldwide. A major catalyst—such as a life-changing pandemic—can be a significant factor in a system failure, and that is even more likely when political leaders are unwilling or unable to prevent such failure.

Indeed, systemic risks to security never stand alone. They coincide, converge, are fueled by, and fuel, social and political changes and disruption, and at times, violence and conflict. This week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol and Congress was clearly fueled by President Trump and other political actors, and by the spreading of blatant falsehoods concerning the November elections through social media and other platforms. However, there is no single cause behind the threat to democracy that the United States has recently witnessed, nor are there singular solutions. But the launching point for advancing solutions is that America’s strong democratic institutions have stood up and prevailed in the face of threats we have not seen in modern times.

We hope January 6th marked the worst of the violence we will see in the United States, and the worst of threats to the U.S. democratic system.

We know there is a long road ahead to find solutions to the deeply-rooted challenges that have been growing in the United States and around the world for many years. The mission of the Council on Strategic Risks is to anticipate, analyze and address core systemic risks to security in the 21st century. We will continue to play a role in the community building that will be necessary to meet this mission, and hopefully in our work will contribute to acts and policies that strengthen our democracy.

The Center for Climate and Security is an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks

Vice Admiral McGinn on CNN: The President should acknowledge climate threat at NATO

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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, left, speaks with Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret) at the Navy Energy Forum 2009

In an article published today by CNN, the Center for Climate and Security’s Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (Ret), former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, has an important bit of advice for the U.S. President and other NATO leaders as they head to Brussels to participate in the NATO Summit: Take the advice of U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and acknowledge the security threat of a changing climate.

From the article:

US Defense Secretary James Mattis is one of this country’s greatest military leaders. A former four-star Marine General, he’s well read, thoughtful, pragmatic and highly intelligent. As our foremost national security strategist, in 2017, he described climate change as a threat facing the US.

“The effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation,” he wrote.

Since then, 15 other senior US defense leaders have reaffirmed that view.

Read the full article at the CNN website.

A Bipartisan Letter from Congress on Climate Change and National Security

U.s._capitolLed by Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Jim Langevin (D-RI), a bipartisan group of 106 lawmakers released an extraordinary letter last week urging the President of the United States to reconsider omission of climate change as a security threat in its National Security Strategy, citing the words of sitting Secretary of Defense James Mattis to underline the issue’s importance. (more…)

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