September 29, 2011

Hasta Luego

What a long, strange trip it’s been. I first began speaking
with Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy about going to work for them before this
thing called “The Center for a New American Security” officially existed. I’ve
been lucky to be here at CNAS since its very first day, through its start-up
phase, through its transition from the leadership of the co-founders to the
current executive team, and into the start of its current path. It’s been
amazing to take part in years of conversations assessing and reassessing and
reassessing what’s most important for American security, and what unique role a
hip young think tank can play in informing policy. It’s been fun, but I’m also
happy to report that it’s now coming to a close. Tomorrow is my last day here
at CNAS at the helm of the natural security program, and beginning next week I’ll
be moving into the oddly-shaped building across the river. 

This sub-field of examining how resources and environmental
trends affect U.S. national security interests has changed dramatically in my
time here. When CNAS first started up the dominant conversation in Washington
was whether or not energy policy needed to account for its climate change
impacts in considering the security implications of the country’s policy
choices. Today DOD is making historically large alternative fuel purchases to
diversify and strengthen its ability to operate globally, the Hill is calling
hearings on how minerals are entangling our foreign relations in Asia, and the
NIC is assessing the nexus of water, stability and conflict. This is great
news, as the issues we cover are largely solvable (before they result in major
conflict) with this kind of dedicated attention. And though it still happens on
occasion, it is far less frequent that I hear people call resource and
environmental issues “soft” security. As if we don’t write reports focusing on
military operations and logistics, defense supply chains, and tensions among the world’s remaining and
emerging powers

But there are also critical gaps that none of us have yet
filled. The coming wave of new countries moving into civilian nuclear energy
production for the first time is a game-changer for proliferation, but I fear
we’ve yet to fully break down what the world may look like as a result. And
then there’s mitigation of the climate change challenge, which is trailing the
efforts put forth on energy, minerals and water.

The most interesting change in this field, in my view, has
been that climate, environmental and resource pressures are affecting U.S. security
and foreign policy in ways no one expected. If you read the work being done on
this 5 or more years ago, analysts primarily expected these trends to
exacerbate migration, instability in fragile states, and low-intensity conflict.
Instead, the most daunting challenges arising involve strains among the world’s
great powers and traditional alliances. The South China Sea region shows the
most signs of tensions that could result, in the eyes of historians decades
hence, in the world’s next major resource wars. (We’ll have a paper out on this
later this year, once I’m gone. Consider it my homage to Tupac.) I also remain
critically concerned about the Arctic, and worry that the government’s ongoing
planning will still fall short of mitigating tensions there. So it turns out
that climate change is concerning the U.S. security community more over the
pressures it is generating between Russia and NATO allies than for its effects
in the Sahel or for creating governance conditions ripe for aiding terrorist or
transnational criminal groups. This is an exciting and unexpected shift.

On a broader note, as a gal who’s been working happily on
security issues for quite a few years now, I’ve found it heartening to see the
increasingly public discussion of women in this field – specifically, the
notably small number of us. Kathleen Parker’s piece in the Post last weekend describes how I feel on this front most of the
time, so I’ll leave this mostly
up to her
. It’s hard to complain much from my position. I’ve had amazing
mentors (male and female), opportunities beyond my wildest dreams, and great
support for my work. But there’s no way around the fact that there are
occasions where we must endure rude comments and lack of collegiality and
respect simply for being the female in the room. But it’s so much more complex.
I know plenty of guys in the security field who endure the same. And people
being disrespectful to my colleagues infuriates me even more than anyone being rude to me; this held as true when I
was CNAS’s sole female researcher as it did any other time. And it’s notable
for this dialogue that the list of who seems publicly, even outspokenly
supportive of women in security at times doesn’t align well with who is and isn’t
behind closed doors. All in all, it’s a great step to see the issue being
raised publicly (and vocally!) more and more these days by what appears to be an emerging next generation of lady security experts - some of them even real. Diversity in this
field is critical for coming up with sound policy solutions to the pressing
security challenges the country faces.

As for all my Tweeps out there: I locked my account a while
back to block out my students (sorry class!) while I’m their professor. I may
be a bit quiet for a while as I figure out DOD’s social media rules and see
what my op tempo will be. Clearly we have a lot of DOD folks we engage with
regularly, so I imagine I’ll be back to transmitting thoughts, links, Buckeye
spirit and TMZ gossip via Twitter again soon.

For this blog, you’ve been primarily in Will’s hands for
much of the past few months as my transition has been looming. He’s owning it,
and I can’t wait to be a casual reader of his daily pontifications. He really
gets science and technology (as related to natural resources and much more
broadly) as it applies to national security at a level that’s frighteningly rare
in Washington. And when he’s not infusing the office with smooth dance moves,
he’s the best partner in crime for serious research and project execution that
anyone could wish for. So keep following him here and on Twitter, and when he
rules the world you can say you read his blog way back in the day. Also keep an
eye out for the CNAS team to announce a newbie added to the natural security
team in the weeks ahead, and all that that entails.

That’s all from me for now, dear readers. You have my
eternal thanks for tuning into this little blog that we dreamed up a few years
back, for sharing your thoughts with us, and in general for your interest in all
things unconventional and transnational. It’s the future of security.