Natural resource and environmental issues have gained more attention from the national security and foreign policy communities in recent years– from concerns related to the U.S. rare earth supply chain to opportunities that might accrue from America’s growing abundance of natural gas. Which ones might get pressing attention in 2013? Here’s a list of the top U.S. policy trends I’ll be watching in 2013, in no particular order.
But I suspect that water security will continue to gain attention from the administration, even as Secretary Clinton steps down from the State Department. The National Intelligence Council’s recent Global Trends 2030 report specifically pointed to water scarcity as a part of a broader megatrend referred to as the “food, water and energy nexus” that will impact U.S. security interests – a good indicator that the intelligence community is examining the issue closely. And if he’s confirmed as Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry would likely bring a fresh perspective on water security, which has received some attention from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under his leadership as chairman.
The next logical step is for the intelligence, security and foreign policy communities to give greater attention to understanding the regional and state level impact of water scarcity and the potential consequences for U.S. interests. Hydrological modeling remains difficult, however, and that will necessitate greater collaboration between the intelligence, security, foreign policy and scientific communities – including the U.S. national labs. This will be something to watch in 2013.
State and local governments would be wise to learn lessons from other efforts to assess the impacts of climate change at the municipal level. A good model could be the risk management report published by the New York City Panel of Climate Change in 2010 - one informed by regional- and local-level climate models. The study could provide a useful framework to inform city planners’ thinking about ways to adapt to the changing climate.
The U.S.-Australian agreement illustrates an important opportunity for the U.S. military to use cooperation around biofuels as a way to broaden and deepen its relationship with ministries of defense, particularly in the Asia Pacific. Such cooperation would enhance the military’s energy security by helping develop more reliable sources of energy abroad. Indeed, even as the United States is poised to reap domestic benefits from increased energy production at home, the U.S. Navy and other services operating abroad will still rely on foreign sources of energy given that they acquire fuel in theater. This is particularly true in the Asia Pacific, which receives most of its energy from the Middle East and North Africa. Working with partners in the Asia Pacific to develop indigenous sources of biofuel could serve mutual interests by helping our partners and military hedge against potential supply disruptions from the Persian Gulf and Africa.
The president’s EO paved the way for providing more clarity in an area of the defense and industrial supply chains that U.S. acquisitions experts have struggled with: subcontracts. Indeed, in our work on the defense industrial base, evaluating material issues for some defense systems has been a challenge because subcontractors do not always provide information about their supply chain issues, in part because of proprietary concerns. The EO states that the "Each Secretary shall authorize the heads of other agencies, as appropriate, to place priority ratings on contracts and orders for materials, services, and facilities needed in support of programs approved under section 202 of this order," which may encourage subcontractors to disclose their supply chain issues within the acquisitions process.
Given the importance of subcontractors to the entire acquisitions process, including them in a review of material issues will provide the U.S. government with greater fidelity of the broad range of supply chain challenges that could manifest, including those related to rare earths, which are critical to some defense technologies. Watch for continued progress on this front throughout 2013.
At the same time, the U.S. government is facing questions about whether or not it is adequately resourced to respond to challenges that could arise in the Arctic Circle. For example, will the Coast Guard need to ramp up its physical presence in the Arctic Circle to provide reliable search and rescue response to a growing community of Arctic adventurers - from ecotourists and energy explorers? After all, the Coast Guard today has a temporary base in Barrow, Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, but most of its personnel and helicopters are 1,000 miles south in Kodiak.
To answer this and other important questions, the U.S. government is going to have to engage in a better assessment of commercial activity in the Arctic in order to determine what resources it should be prepared to provide. I hope we’ll see increased government attention on this point in 2013. It is long overdue.
LNG export policy will likely become an important part of U.S. energy discussion in 2013. The Department of Energy is already reviewing export licenses that could enable U.S. producers to export natural gas abroad. And I suspect we’ll see firmer policy on the future of U.S. natural gas exports this year.
These are just some of the U.S. policy issues related to natural resources and the environment that I will be tracking in 2013. Others abound. For example, the administration may continue to push for Law of the Sea Ratification this year.
What other policy issues should we be following? Provide your comments below!