Last Tuesday, President Obama announced that the United States, the European Union and Japan filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China for its export restrictions on rare earth metals – materials used in a wide range of high-end technologies, including smart phones, clean energy technologies and even some weapons systems.
On Friday, President Obama followed up the announcement with an Executive Order (EO) on National Defense Resources Preparedness with the broad purpose of identifying the resources and services critical to U.S. national security. Production of non-Chinese rare earth metals is expected to increase over the next several years as mines in Australia, the United States, Malaysia and elsewhere come online. However, one of the greatest hurdles for U.S. defense planners and others in the U.S. government trying to address resource-related challenges is a lack of fidelity in the supply chains for defense systems, energy technologies and other products that undergird the national defense and economy.
President Obama’s EO is a first step in helping provide better clarity into supply chain issues. Specifically, the EO states that:
Executive departments and agencies (agencies) responsible for plans and programs relating to national defense (as defined in section 801(j) of this order), or for resources and services needed to support such plans and programs, shall:
(a) identify requirements for the full spectrum of emergencies, including essential military and civilian demand;
(b) assess on an ongoing basis the capability of the domestic industrial and technological base to satisfy requirements in peacetime and times of national emergency, specifically evaluating the availability of the most critical resource and production sources, including subcontractors and suppliers, materials, skilled labor, and professional and technical personnel;
While on a visit last week to the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked by a reporter about his thoughts on the national security implications of climate change. Several themes came up, including the need for the intelligence community to track climate trends so that the national security community can understand the consequences of environmental and climate change. What is more, Secretary Panetta pointed specifically to emerging challenges in the Arctic, such as increased activity by countries seeking access to natural resources. Here is an excerpt from the transcript that is worth sharing in full:
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you all for speaking to me. A 2008 Department of Defense report noted how climate change will impact current and future U.S. national security. The Department of Defense has been progressive in transitioning bases around the world -- solar panels, et cetera -- but the noted climate patterns in Somalia have led to some difficulties with Al Shabaab there. And so first, I was wondering if you could comment kind of on the unusual topic of climate change with regard to the future of the Department of Defense.
And then second, if you could help Senator Mitch McConnell accept that science and stop blocking that legislation. Thank you. (Applause.)
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I learned a long time ago, don’t mess around with people -- (laughs) -- you know, state what you think is right and hope that others will follow and be able to incorporate those thoughts in whatever they do. And I have tremendous respect for Mitch McConnell and I think that -- I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with him, not only this issue, but other issues as well.
On Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden provided an overview briefing on NASA's fiscal year 2013 budget. As I noted earlier this week, NASA’s budget request includes $1.8 billion for the Earth sciences program, which includes crucial satellite systems that measure environmental and climate change. “With this budget we continue to refine and demonstrate technologies that will increase our nation's capabilities,” Administrator Bolden said. The budget request supports more than 80 science missions, he added, including those “that cover the vital data we need to understand our own planet.”
As I highlighted in my post on Wednesday, NASA’s budget overview states that of the 11 operating missions under the Earth Systematic Missions program, 10 systems are beyond their design life. While NASA’s budget request ensures funding to extend many of these missions, policymakers need to be prepared to make investments in next generation Earth monitoring systems that will continue to provide the United States with the information needed to understand the pace and manifestation of long-term environmental and climate change.
Photo: Courtesy of Bill Ingalls and NASA.
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration has decided to withdraw its demand for countries pursuing nuclear energy development to relinquish their right to produce nuclear fuel domestically. This is a significant shift from a 2009 agreement between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that prohibits the UAE from enriching uranium domestically or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.
According to The Wall Street Journal report, administration officials cited concerns that U.S. nuclear plant developers could lose a share of the market with a stringent requirement attached to nuclear-cooperation agreements that bound countries from developing domestic sources of nuclear fuel. “U.S. companies once controlled at least 50% of the world market for building nuclear reactors,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “This share has dwindled to around 20%, U.S. officials say, with Russian, French and South Korean companies gaining dominance,” and officials have cautioned that “Washington risked losing business for American companies seeking to build nuclear reactors overseas” if the United States continued to push the nuclear-cooperation agreement requirement.
Moreover, U.S. officials cited concerns that losing nuclear plant development to non-U.S. developers could weaken U.S. efforts to encourage countries to promote stronger nonproliferation safeguards and policies. “To the extent we lose market share, we lose nonproliferation controls and hurt national security,” a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq today. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking in Baghdad, said that Iraq has shown remarkable progress in the past nine years. However, as with many countries transitioning to democracy, “Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Secretary Panetta said. Beyond the sectarian violence and a potentially aggressive Iran on its border, the Iraqi government will continue to face many of the perennial challenges it has been grappling with for the last nine years: reliable access to electricity, water and other basic services that the government is working to provide.
Despite U.S. and other government investments in Iraq since 2003, basic services are still largely unreliable. According to Al Jazeera, “Power cuts are routine, and millions of Iraqis lack regular access to clean water, proper hospitals, or basic infrastructure.” These challenges could hamstring Iraq’s economy, especially as the country looks to draw in foreign businesses to promote economic development. “Unemployment officially stands at around 16 per cent,” Al Jazeera reported. “Many Iraqis say the real number is nearly twice that high, especially among young Iraqis. The only reliable employer is the government, which provides jobs for nearly 40 per cent of the workforce.” Bloomberg reports that the government is trying to attract foreign business, including from U.S. hotel operators and developers. However, “A possible lack of fresh water, electricity and communications systems also can be obstacles to doing business in the country.”
Yesterday, U.S. and Chinese officials met in Beijing for their annual military review, known as the Defense Consultative Talks. The meeting between the countries’ senior defense officials comes on the heels of President Obama’s trip to the Asia-Pacific where he emphasized a greater U.S. military presence (including in Australia), and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that the United States will pivot from the Middle East to Asia as it draws down from its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the talks, Chinese General Ma Xiaotian urged the United States and China “to enhance communication, to expand common ground, to promote mutual understanding.” Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy said she hoped the two militaries could “agree on issues and interests that the two sides share.”
As policymakers look for opportunities to strengthen military ties, they should consider environmental cooperation, in particular humanitarian and disaster response and climate adaptation, which may facilitate better cooperation between the two countries, serving as a means for confidence building and increasing transparency that could help defuse tensions over the expanding U.S. and Chinese naval presence in the Western Pacific, including the South China Sea.
In January, CNAS will release its study on the South China Sea, including a chapter on how natural resources affect the behavior of states in the region. There has been a lot of attention paid to natural resources and whether or not competition over access to oil, natural gas, fisheries and minerals could lead to conflict in the region. Too often the issues are over-simplified though, and there is either an implicit or explicit assumption that it’s competition over natural resources that could lead to overt conflict. But natural resources have a more nuanced role in international relations, particularly in the South China Sea, and understanding this role can actually enable states to manage their resource issues and avoid instability and conflict.
Competition over natural resources is rarely, if ever, the sole precipitator of conflict. [There is a vast literature on this topic, and though I won’t develop a literature review here, there are some notable sources worth exploring, including the work by our friends at Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and their New Security Beat blog.] Instead, tensions related to competition over natural resources have the potential to exacerbate existing diplomatic or political grievances between states, which can contribute to instability or conflict. But there are ways to relieve tensions over natural resources. Indeed, where competition over natural resources appears to lead to instability or conflict, it is more often than not a proxy for other challenges states are facing, particularly with governance or other related trends.
Last Monday, Businessweek published an excerpt from a new book by David Fairhall, Cold Front: Conflict Ahead in Arctic Waters. Besides the provocative title (which, by focusing on conflict does not help further our understanding about the challenges and opportunities that lie in the Arctic), the book looks rather interesting.
In the excerpt from Businessweek, Fairhall describes in brief the history of polar icebreakers, including their evolution to nuclear propulsion in Russia. “Today, a dozen countries operate icebreakers. Canada needs them in large numbers to cope with winter, not only in the Arctic but also in the St. Lawrence River and Hudson Bay. Scandinavians use them to keep Baltic ports clear,” Fairhall writes. “The U.S. has strategic and scientific interests in both the Arctic and Antarctica, for which it has three polar-class vessels.”
Yet where it gets interesting – at least from a national security perspective – is the gap between U.S. and Russian icebreaking capabilities. As Fairhall explains, “Still, no one disputes the predominance that Russia achieved by adapting nuclear propulsion to icebreaking. These vessels need a great deal of power and the ability sometimes to remain at sea for long periods without refueling -- both things that a nuclear reactor can deliver.”
The Defense Science Board’s new report, Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security, is getting some good traction. As I promised in my lengthy post on Tuesday, I’m continuing to mine the report to pull out the most interesting findings and recommendations.
What is interesting (and certainly a welcomed message) is the report’s recommendation to bolster U.S. civilian satellite programs that generate environmental and climate data. According to the authors, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should, “Work with the National Aeronautical and Space Administration [NASA] to conduct a renewed study of options for increasing the availability of low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicles for civil science satellites critical for climate observations.”
The recommendation comes at a time when America’s declining earth monitoring satellite capability is raising concerns that the United States is quickly approaching a capability gap that could hamper our ability to understand near- and long-term changes to the environment, including their implications for U.S. national security. In August, Christine Parthemore and I wrote in Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security that “By 2016, only seven of NASA’s current 13 earth monitoring satellites are expected to be operational, leaving a crucial information gap that will hinder national security planning,” and that losing satellite-based earth monitoring capabilities will affect U.S. national security, given that DOD, USAID, the State Department and others rely on the information generated by those satellites for crucial planning purposes.
Last Thursday, the Defense Science Board (DSB) released its report on climate change and security, Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security. The report stems from an April 2010 memo from Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics Dr. Ashton Carter (now the Deputy Secretary of Defense) who charged the DSB to create a taskforce to explore current and emerging environmental and climate change trends and their implications for U.S. national security, and to recommend how the Department of Defense should coordinate with other U.S. government agencies to dampen the consequences of climate impacts.
The report focuses largely on climate implications in Africa “due to the vulnerability of African nations with high potential to intersect with United States national interests.” It is worth pointing out as well that there is more data available on the sociopolitical and environmental implications of climate change in Africa than most other regions of the world, most notably because of the work from the University of Texas, Austin’s Climate Change Political Stability Program (CCAPS), which received DOD support through the Minerva initiative – a program that allows DOD to invest in academic institutions to “develop the intellectual capital necessary to meet the challenges of operating in a changing and complex environment.” I point this out because Minerva is one of the programs that congressional appropriators are reviewing, and CCAPS and other research programs supported by Minerva have demonstrated that the initiative does actually provide that intellectual capital that DOD officials are looking for in order to better understand the future security environment.