National Security and Climate Change

A great article in the New York Times on Sunday outlines the intersection of global climate change and national security. According to the story,

The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

Climate change legislation has been stalled in the United States Senate, as Senators from coal producing states have resisted efforts to create meaningful legislation. Despite movement on the policy front, however, the article points out that the U.S. military is already preparing for the challenges arising from climate change, gaming scenarios resulting from climate change and studying ways to protect U.S. military installations from extreme climate events.

The National Intelligence Council has already produced a number of reports on the challenges, including reports on China, India, and Russia, in addition to testimony by the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council Thomas Fingar to the U.S. Congress, in which he asserts that

We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the next 20 years. Although the United States will be less affected and is better equipped than most nations to deal with climate change, and may even see a benefit owing to increases in agriculture productivity, infrastructure repair and replacement will be costly. We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests. We assess that climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030, but the impacts will worsen existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions. Climate change could threaten domestic stability in some states, potentially contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources. We judge that economic migrants will perceive additional reasons to migrate because of harsh climates, both within nations and from disadvantaged to richer countries.

A new impetus to address the challenges of global climate change? Perhaps. But will national security be able to overcome the interests of coal producers and climate change deniers? The outcome of that battle remains to be seen.

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