Climate Security Index: Global climate disruption seen as a US national security problem


Climate Security Index, a new report by the American Security Project, links global climate change impacts and energy insecurity to US national security, concluding that these interrelated problems constitute a “clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.” The report says global climate change is projected to produce “insufficient water supplies, shifting rainfall patterns, disruptions to agriculture, human migrations, more failing states, increased extremism, and even resource wars,” all of which pose an urgent threat that must be addressed in national security policy. And, we would ask, what are the human security issues that must be addressed in the larger international policy context?

Post by Rick Piltz and Alexa Jay

The American Security Project is a non-profit, bipartisan public policy and research initiative to educate the American public about the changing nature of national security in the 21st century.

Their board of directors is composed of high-ranking retired military officers, public servants including current and former US Senators, and former government officials.  Current board members include, among others, Senator John Kerry, former Senator Chuck Hagel, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, USA, and General Lester L. Lyles, USAF. 

Their Secure American Future Program, dedicated to raising public awareness of the threat posed by climate change and creating a movement for action, recently released Climate Security Index (5.3 MB download), a report that looks at the impacts of global climate disruption as a U.S. national security problem.

Although a handful of similar studies have been conducted in recent years, the national security perspective on the case for action on climate change is only just starting to be articulated and acted upon. In his first speech addressing climate change, on September 22, President Obama said before the UN Climate Summit that “the security and stability of each nation and all peoples—our prosperity, our health, our safety—are in jeopardy.” CSW commented on President Obama’s language on impacts here and here

CSW also previously commented on a 2007 report released by the CNA Corporation, a nonprofit independent research organization that brought together eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals to provide advice, expertise, and perspective on the impact of climate change on US national security. Their study concluded that as a “threat multiplier,” climate change itself poses a serious threat to US national security, and presented specific recommendations for US action to confront it.

[In a to-our-knowledge unprecedented move, the CIA recently announced that it is opening a new center to analyze the national security risks of climate change. CSW will address the implications of military and intelligence usage of cutting-edge technologies to track climate change in a forthcoming post.] 
Climate Security Index represents a renewed effort to sound the alarm based on current, authoritative knowledge. The projected global impacts of climate change spell out a clear and present danger for the United States, says the report:

Climate change refugees will increasingly cross our own borders.  The stress of changes in the environment will further weaken marginal states.  Failing states will incubate extremism.  In South Asia, the melting of Himalayan glaciers jeopardizes fresh water supplies for more than one billion human beings.  In North America, agriculture could be disrupted by increases in temperature and shifting weather patterns that limit rainfall.  Globally, major urban centers could be threatened by rising sea levels.  Malaria and other tropical diseases are moving into new areas, and outbreaks are increasing in frequency as the planet warms and weather patterns change.

For the United States, the report contends that this could mean compromised border security, a rise in extremism in hostile nations, and could increase pressure for new and broader military interventions.  The American Security Project argues that US national security policy has not adapted sufficiently to deal with emerging threats, among which climate change is paramount. 

Climate Security Index holds that climate change will change the nature of US foreign aid and humanitarian relief, anticipation of natural and manmade disasters, and military operations, placing a new importance on developing more effective and adaptive foreign assistance programs and increasing the flexibility of US armed forces.
Given the lengthy time frames used for military planning, the report says:

a basing structure secure from threats posed by climate change as well as more traditional foes is a real national security consideration…We must anticipate new and revised missions for our military forces and factor those into our calculations of the consequences of climate change for America’s national security.

The report paints a broad picture of region-specific consequences in relation to US national security, but focuses primarily on the nexus between energy, climate change, and national security.  The United States’ heavy reliance on imported petroleum both contributes to climate change and makes the country “strikingly vulnerable to potential oil supply shocks rising from domestic disturbances or broader regional conflicts.” Climate change impacts have the potential to exacerbate regional tensions in these already high-risk oil production centers.

Simply put, Climate Security Index argues that the United States can increase its national security by reducing carbon emissions and pushing for other nations to do the same:

If we ignore the warnings of scientists and national security leaders, we will only deepen our addiction to imported oil, hamstring our economy, and weaken our country. But if we heed those warnings, the United States will lead the world in a new wave of profitable, green technology, reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies, and reduce our contribution to global warming. Our economic strength and our national security will grow in tandem.

We think it is very significant that US national security experts have begun to recognize global climate disruption as a problem of security and preparedness.  US policymakers should pay heed. Perhaps a national security perspective will serve to counteract some of the denialism and disinformation that remains all-too-prevalent in congressional and public debate on climate change and response strategies.

It is essential for the US national security policy community to diagnose the potential consequences of global climate change. But, looking at the problem from a global perspective, rather than one that is strictly from a US geostrategic perspective, we also must ask, whose security should we be discussing? What kind of security?  And what kind of preparedness?  There is much more to be said about this.   

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