Do you ever find yourself asking: how is environmental change affecting stability in the Horn of Africa? Or wondering just how many billions of dollars in damage sea level rise may cause in emerging economies like India, China and Brazil? Or looking for good projections of how many years we have until we see an ice-free summer in the Arctic?
If you’re like us, you bring these questions of environment and resources to your job analyzing security, stability and foreign policy every day. And if you’re like us, you are probably increasingly alarmed by the ongoing decline in American earth monitoring systems used in supplying data for the environmental projections and trend analysis we need to do this work.
Yesterday we released to the world a short policy brief called Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. Here’s how we summarize the problem:
Networks of satellites, ground-based sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles – the assets America uses to monitor and understand environmental change and its consequences – are going dark. 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. Meanwhile, efforts to prevent this capability gap have been plagued by budget cuts, launch failures, technical deficiencies, chronic delays and poor interagency coordination. Without the information that these assets provide, core U.S. foreign policy and national security interests will be at risk.
On Wednesday, I’ll be at the Wilson Center for a daylong symposium, Harnessing Natural Resources for Peacebuilding: Lessons From U.S. and Japanese Assistance, where I’ll join a panel of development and security practitioners for a morning discussion on the roles of natural resources in conflict and peacebuilding. The symposium will be the third in a series of symposia for a project I’m attached to that seeks to improve American and Japanese post-conflict security and diplomacy initiatives by helping policymakers understand the importance of integrating natural resource management and infrastructure redevelopment into peacebuilding efforts. Specifically, the Wilson Center’s Geoff Dabelko and I will be discussing the role of military-to-military engagement on the environment and natural disasters, emphasizing how the lessons from these activities can be integrated into post-conflict management.
Militaries have a rich history of engaging with each other on the environment and using these exchanges as opportunities to further security goals. The Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation, for example, was a military-to-military exchange between the United States, Norway and the Soviet Union that was aimed at improving military ties between the Cold War foes through joint exercises to reduce the environmental impact from their naval presence and early warning radar systems in the Arctic. In these kinds of exchanges, the environment generally serves as a means for militaries to engage and further their security goals by improving transparency, relations between officers and training which can help reduce tensions and suspicions between competitor states, or build good will between allies.
Christine recently spoke with Jennifer Sciubba, a professor at Rhodes College and author of The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security. Here’s what the two discussed:
Christine Parthemore (CP): In the book, you point out that countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had a 50/50 chance of becoming a liberal democracy before 2020, based on historical demographic and political correlations. If you were a betting scholar, what country or countries would be next in line?
Jennifer Sciubba (JS): The work by Richard Cincotta establishes a correlation between proportion of young adults in a population and chance of democracy, pointing out that once the population of young adults as a proportion of all adults reaches 40 percent or less, the country has about a 50/50 shot at becoming a democracy. But, the work still doesn’t tell us enough about the mechanisms through which these variables are linked. Based purely on age structure, we would look to the five former Soviet Republics in Central Asia to democratize next. But a few states across the recent arc of revolution have seen instability and calls for greater representation even though they are still years away from this benchmark. For example, Egypt’s age structure is still young—48% of the adult population is ages 15-29. One explanation that doesn’t undermine Cincotta’s thesis is that though these states are all experiencing instability, it is far too soon to term these democratic revolutions. It will be years before these states have consolidated liberal democracies, and perhaps that won’t happen until they reach the benchmark. But there is another explanation that interests me. I’m working on some research with a student here at Rhodes to look at the emergence of a political generation across the region—the youth are all experiencing similar exclusion in the political, social, and economic realms that are unique to their position in life and this may matter more than the age structure itself. It is notable, however, that the wave of revolution began in a country on the cusp of the “half-a-chance benchmark.”
While we are gearing up for our Fifth Annual Conference tomorrow, I thought this would be a great opportunity to point out the latest report from the National Academies of Science, America’s Climate Choices. The report does a great job making the case for how effective national leadership can guide current local, state and private-sector actors already at work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. “America’s climate choices will ultimately be made by elected officials, business leaders, individual households, and other decision makers across the nation; and these choices almost always involve tradeoffs, value judgments, and other issues that reach beyond science,” the report states. Yet, as the report suggests, national level climate policies can marshal the energy stemming from those efforts by putting in place coherent national goals and incentives that align with ongoing efforts.
“Decision makers at these levels [local, state and private sector] often lack the resources necessary to perform [climate adaptation] work effectively or lack experience in accessing and using information that may be available to inform their decisions,” the report found. “Dealing with vulnerabilities that cross geographic, sectoral, or other boundaries are particularly challenging. Although early adaptation planning is beginning to emerge from the bottom up in the United States, it is hampered by a lack of both knowledge and resources.” Indeed, providing the knowledge and resources should be a key role for the federal government, the report states.
But the federal government’s role should not be limited to what federal agencies can do. Instead, the federal government should lead a national adaptation strategy “that engages a broad range of decision makers and stakeholders” at each level. The authors note that the federal government can play a role in identifying “key vulnerabilities to plausible climate changes, which will vary substantially from place to place and among parties within each place,” “[providing] key resources (e.g., scenarios, visualization tools, methods, data) to support vulnerability analyses,” and “ensuring that federal programs, activities, and planning take climate change into account and, in particular, that maladaptive policies and practices be identified and reformed.”
America’s critical civilian infrastructure – including its power, oil, and gas systems – is vulnerable. Today’s threat environment is vastly different from nearly a century ago when some of the existing infrastructure was being put in place, and yet the necessary improvements to meet the changing times have by and large been lacking. As a consequence, according to one industry expert who spoke with CNAS during an off-the-record meeting, the electric sector today is where the IT sector was in the 1980s. So perhaps it is not surprising that our brittle power grid and related systems are exploitable and ill-prepared for cyberattacks. But many power companies are doubling down on that vulnerability with smart grid technology, according to a recent report from CSIS and McAfee. Power utilities “are implementing ‘smart grid’ technologies that give their IT systems more control over the delivery of power to individual consumers – or even to individual appliances in customers’ homes.”
Investment in smart grid technology has been, in part, an investment in our energy security future. Indeed, the promise that smart grid technology can help us better manage electrical loads so that energy production and consumption are managed more efficiently (e.g., by ensuring that if a community’s energy demand at one time is 20 Gigawatts (GW), the local power utility is only producing 20 GW so that excess electricity is not lost), and allow power generated from alternative energy sources such as biomass, wind and solar to be put into the grid with power from conventional sources (i.e., fossil fuels) are just some of the many areas ripe for better managing the nation’s energy resources.
We’re making this smart grid cyber security week on the blog – a topic we’ve been dabbling in for the past year or so. Our own exploration has primarily taken the form of research and discussions with DOD officials, though the need to scope our work has prevented us from doing an entire project focused on this topic to date.
Part of the reason we’ve never made this a subject of a full-fledged research effort is that we could never really get our arms around what was happening. What’s the status of deploying a tolerably secure smart grid? Does the government (and in particular DOD) need a major course correction? Is there a need for think tank-style policy analysis? We couldn’t really answer these questions clearly enough to develop a full project.
A few factors drove this difficulty. For years, DOD-focused discussion could be characterized as many heads of hair on fire. We saw tons of arm-waving, sky-is-falling near-hysteria within different parts of the Department of Defense on the cyber vulnerabilities of smart grid technology. We’ve spoken to a range of people at bases and Combatant Commands about this issue, and received a very broad range of different perspectives on the nature of the threat. Perhaps most important, we consistently spoke to DOD folks who were working energy security issues who had little to no contact with those working this issue in other federal agencies.
The U.S. and NATO military mission in Libya offers an important lesson for the Department of Defense as the U.S. military continues its development, testing, evaluation and implementation of alternative energy fuels: DOD needs to engage U.S. allies on setting fuel standards that guarantee interoperability.
Last week, Sweden’s English news outlet The Local reported that Swedish JAS Gripen aircraft were grounded in Sicily and unable to participate in the U.N. No-Fly mission in Libya because the aircraft did not have access to the necessary fuel. According to the report, “The eight fighter jets are located in the US part of the Sigonella airbase on Sicily and the only fuel available it that which [sic] is used for US navy aircraft.”
The fuel used by U.S. Navy aircraft – Jet Propellant 5 (JP5) – has different technical specifications from the Jet A1 fuel that the Swedish Gripen requires. “Certain additives and some equipment are needed to change JP5 to Jet A1 in a controlled manner,” Lieutenant Colonel Mats Brindsjö, head of the Swedish Air Operation Center, told The Local. “This equipment is not as yet in place down there and in the time being we are trying to buy the fuel from a place off the base.”
The Landsat program is a set of moderate resolution satellites that have been collecting images of the Earth for nearly 39 years, the longest continuous mission of its kind. It has many applications for natural security topics. Currently it is operating two satellites - Landsat-5, launched in 1984, and Landsat-7 launched in 1999 – although their continued operation remains in doubt. As a 2007 report by the Office of Science and Technology Policy concluded, “The currently functioning U.S. moderate resolution satellites (Landsat 5 and 7) are operating beyond their design lifetimes in degraded status and are subject to failure at any time.” To maintain the uninterrupted flow of moderate resolution data, the United States must ensure that the successor program, Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), gets up and running quickly.
Influenced by the Apollo mission, the director of U.S. Geographical Survey first proposed the idea of a remote sensing project, which became Landsat in 1965. After overcoming intense opposition from some within government, Landsat-1 was launched on July 23, 1972. At the time it was the first Earth observation satellite in orbit with the explicit purpose of studying and monitoring the planet. Originally only planned for a one year mission, the satellite operated until January 1978, providing approximately 300,000 images of the Earth. Although originally only conceived of as a five satellite program, six satellites in addition to Landsat-1 have been designed, however Landsat-6 failed during the launch and, consequently, never reached orbit.
Maintaining congressional support has remained a challenge throughout Landsat’s history. Soon after the launch of Landsat-5, Congress passed the Land Remote-Sensing Commercialization Act of 1984, which privatized the program. Under the instruction of this legislation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which had responsibility for the Landsat program, sold the rights to Landsat data to Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT), a private company. The program faltered under privatization however, because there were not enough consumers of the data to provide continuous imaging. By 1989, NOAA instructed the EOSAT to turn the satellites off for good. The program was returned to government control under the first Bush administration when Congress passed the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, repealing the 1984 law and ordering the construction of the Landsat-7 satellite.
If there is one thing we should be able to agree on this week, it’s that tsunami early warning systems are a good investment. A few weeks back we began examining how the pending federal belt-tightening may affect how the government addresses natural security concerns.
We’ve discussed earth observation satellites a number of times on this blog in the past few weeks. Much of our focus thus far has been on the utility of these satellites in helping us understand and monitor environmental and climate change. But another one of their many uses is helping countries track and respond to natural disasters. In fact, earth observation satellites have been used in a number of capacities in responding to the recent crises in Japan.
First, a little background is in order. Immediately after the earthquake the Japanese government invoked the international charter “Space and Natural Disasters.” This charter was originally created in a joint effort by the European Space Agency and the French space agency, CNES, after the UNISPACEIII Conference in Vienna in July 1999. It became fully operational on November 1, 2000. Its purpose is to coordinate the world’s satellite capabilities from the different space agencies and the private sector in the wake of natural disasters.
Once the government in Tokyo activated the charter, numerous satellites sprung into action. To be exact, 63 different observations were made within the first 48 hours. These were used to assess the damage, identify areas in desperate need, locate survivors and coordinate the resources for the recovery. Later satellite images were also used to monitor and respond to the nuclear crisis.
The satellites collecting data came from both countries and the private sector. Among the countries that deployed their satellites to aid in the effort were Germany, France, the United States and even some satellites from China. Particularly remarkable was the substantial role that the private sector took on in responding to the disaster. The assistance from Geo-eye, a company headquartered out of Dulles, Virginia, was particularly remarkable. Using the Geo-eye 1 satellite, the highest-resolution commercial earth observation satellite in the world, the company captured stunning images of the damage the natural disasters had created around the Northeastern coast of Japan and the nuclear reactors. In conjunction with Google, Geo-eye used software that allowed consumers to compare pre- and post-quake images of the same area side by side. A number of news services including the New York Times and the BBC have put this service up on their websites. Other private companies that responded to the effort were Rapideye and DigitalGlobe.