Nowadays, climate change is not only displacing people and impacting ecosystems, but it is also becoming a growing national security threat.
As far back as 1990, the U.S. military worried about the threat posed by global climate change. That year, the Naval War College produced a report, which flagged the impacts on naval operations.
Naval bases are located, of course, on coastlines. Rising sea levels and the warming of the oceans and atmosphere have the potential to significantly impact the infrastructure and operations of these bases.
In the decades that have followed the Naval War College report, military leaders have continued to recognize climate change as a threat.
Climate Change is a Threat That Detracts From the DoD’s Ability to Optimize National Security
In 2007, several retired admirals and generals noted that climate change could contribute to repeated natural and humanitarian disasters. This would cause political instability as governments face demands that are beyond their ability to respond.
Climate change acts as a “threat multiplier.” Meaning that climate change amplifies instability in volatile spots around the world. The U.S. military has cause to be concerned because it could be drawn into these hot spots.
Seven years later, in its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Department of Defense affirmed the view that climate change exacerbates political instability, burdens economies, increases resource competition, and stretches government capacity to respond.
This, in turn, creates conditions that are ripe for terrorist activity and other violent conflicts.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis acknowledged the national security threat of climate change after his confirmation hearing in 2017.
And, a 2017 House-passed defense authorization bill declared, “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”
Climate Change is Melting Arctic Ice and Compromising National Security by Opening Possibilities of Conflict
All these worries are already a reality in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming two times faster than anywhere else on the planet. The retreat of ice will open shipping lanes between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
And, it will allow for oil and natural gas exploration in a region that contains 25% of the world’s undiscovered fossil fuel reserves. This could lead to conflicts over control among nations including Russia, the U.S., and China.
Russia has been expanding its military presence in the Arctic, building new airfields and deep-water ports. It has a fleet of icebreakers — ships designed to break through ice. Notably, its fleet is larger than all the other fleets in the world combined.
It also has a 40-to-2 advantage over the U.S. in icebreakers, and it plans to build at least eleven more. Russia’s military expansion could create a conflict with the United States. That’s because the two states will eventually vie for control of the newly accessible region.
Coupled with the threat that sea level rise poses to U.S. naval bases, this could present a very real national security threat in the near future.
The Need for a New Arctic Strategy
In April 2018, Navy officials told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee the Navy would release a new Arctic strategy. That strategy would reflect a future where transit through the Arctic will increase.
Specifically, this strategy needs to consider the national security threats the U.S. will face in a world where Russia may not back down from gaining influence and power in the Arctic region.
The Pentagon crystalized the issue in a January report to Congress. The report discussed the effects of climate change on installations and operations. According to the military, of 79 military installations it examined, 53 faced a threat of recurrent flooding. At the same time, 43 faced drought and 36 faced wildfires.
“The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense (DoD or the Department) missions, operational plans, and installations,” the report said.
This is uncharted territory, that can hopefully be navigated peacefully.
Keeping The Peace
Addressing the causes of climate change and working toward solutions is key to preserving national and international security. If we strive for a more peaceful world, then tackling climate change has to be part of the effort.
This article was originally published by the Outrider Post. It is republished at theRising with permission and has been edited lightly to fit our publication’s editorial guidelines.
The Outrider Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on advancing science-based literacy on global risks that affect the well-being of the planet. Content posted on this column has been syndicated from the Outrider Post as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.