Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, likely surprised many when he said that the biggest long-term security challenge in the Pacific is climate change.
Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reported the statements on Saturday. Here is an excerpt from his article:
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
Locklear said his Hawaii-based headquarters — which is assigned more than 400,00 military and civilian personnel and is responsible for operations from California to India, is working with Asian nations to stockpile supplies in strategic locations and planning a major exercise for May with nearly two dozen countries to practice the “what-ifs.”
[W]hen it comes to pragmatic military planning, Locklear said he is increasingly focused on another highly destabilizing force.
“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”
The US military, he said, is beginning to reach out to other armed forces in the region about the issue.
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’
For those studying climate and security issues, the comments were welcomed but perhaps not so surprising. The Navy has long been the most forward leaning of the military services when it comes to understanding the challenges that are likely to manifest as a result of climate change. After all, the maritime domain is already experiencing the consequences of climate change, from changes in salinity that are forcing fish stocks to migrate elsewhere to rising seas that threaten coastal communities, including Naval facilities.
The more frequent and severe weather is also already apparent in the Pacific, where, as ADM Locklear explained, typhoons and other weather phenomena have displaced and destroyed communities. Often the Navy, which is capable of providing the heavy lift and support capability necessary for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, is called into to respond to these consequences. It makes sense, then, why PACOM is examining how climate change will affect its future mission. It is also encouraging to hear the U.S. military working by, with and through its partners to help them develop the capacity to respond to climate change, which will make them more resilient and improve long-term regional security.