I had an opportunity to speak with David Axe, a military correspondent with Wired Magazine’s Danger Room and a regular contributor to warisboring.com, to discuss a variety of natural security issues and the evolving role of the U.S. military in responding to climate-related disasters and relief. Axe is a contributing editor at World Politics Review, Warships International Fleet Review and Eurasia Critic, and a regular contributor to The Washington Times and C-SPAN. He has traveled extensively throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East, reporting from a number of war zones, including Afghanistan, Chad, East Timor, Gabon, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Somalia, where his experiences have informed his understanding of how violent conflicts are linked to poor environmental stewardship and natural resource scarcity.
The Sunday New York Times reported – front-page, above the fold – that climate change is a threat to U.S. national security. John Broder, writing for the Times, reported that “the changing global climate will pose profound 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.” The story elicited numerous responses this week from both proponents and skeptics of the notion that climate change is a threat to U.S. security.
After surfacing through three feet of ice, crew from the USS Annapolis traverse the barren Arctic frost during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009. ICEX 2009, which lasted two weeks, served to train submarine capabilities in the changing Arctic environment. As we discussed yesterday in depth, climate change is causing Arctic sea ice to retreat further and further. As sea ice shrinks, the possibility of the high north opening up as a viable sea route is becoming more likely and Arctic nations are beginning to take steps to increase their presence there. As competition between nations increases over resources in the Arctic, militaries are being tasked to evaluate and bolster their operating capabilities in the high north.
Photo: Courtesy of Petty Officer 1st Class Tiffini M. Jones, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense.
On Tuesday, CNAS Vice President for Natural Security Sharon Burke spoke with NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook where she discussed, among other issues, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) planning concerning climate change scenarios. One of the issues discussed was the notion that – at least short-term – climate change will not affect all nations equally. Initially there will be some winners and losers, Burke told Ashbrook. The losers are fairly easy to discern. Take for instance those countries that will be swallowed up by a rising sea – à la the Maldives or Tuvalu.
However, as the National Intelligence Council report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World states, Arctic nations in particular stand to make immediate gains as climate change continues to shrink the area covered by Arctic sea ice. As sea ice retreats, the possibility of the Arctic becoming a viable shipping route will become more likely. If the ice retreats enough to allow for near-year or yearlong transit, the melting Arctic may become a desirable alternative to the gamut of Panamax restrictions and piracy that shipping companies currently face, potentially generating windfall profits for Russian and Canadian ports servicing the route.
We’ve still been figuring out the science and what the science all means. And it’s pretty unequivocal now that this is happening and that human beings are making a contribution. But as to exactly what is going to happen – when, where, how – that is still very complicated. The climate is a very complicated system. So to know exactly what is going to happen is a real challenge.
Click here to listen to the full interview.
When I was a kid in the early 70s, one of my favorite Sesame Street features was a fun little musical game called “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others).” The objective was to choose from among four objects the one that didn’t fit with the others—like a bottle of Pierre-Jouet Fleur Rosé pictured alongside a Bud Light, a PBR, and a Billy Beer (personally, I would go with the PBR).
During my frequent forays into the national security community, I am often reminded of that little game while discussing the possibility that climate change might have legitimate links with national security. No matter how you slice it, most folks in the community can’t picture climate change as a mainstream security issue alongside nuclear proliferation, international terrorism, and weapons systems. But recently a fascinating change seems to be afoot. More and more, security and foreign policy wonks, practitioners, and commentators are including climate change in their lists of key security issues facing the United States. There are some striking examples coming from people and institutions that factor strongly into the national security discourse.
|One of These Things (IS Like the Others!)|
|U.S. Defense Budget|| Number of Combat Fatalities
|Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentration||Number of Nuclear Weapon Tests|
My Sesame Street analogy was shattered last week when a colleague alerted me to the Brookings Institution’s new publication, “How We're Doing: A Composite Index of Global and National Trends.” The purpose of the “How We’re Doing” index is to gauge the condition of the nation and the world with regard to “the American Constitution’s mandate that the government ‘provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.’” The index tracks various metrics for those three categories at the six-month mark in the last six presidencies, Carter through Obama.