April 08, 2010

Our Gift to You: New CNAS Climate Change & Security Working Paper

Yesterday we released the third installment of our Promoting the Dialogue series on how climate change may affect DOD missions, equipment and capabilities. We’ve focused the resulting writings on ground, air and maritime forces, COCOMs, and the QDR and strategic planning processes. The most recent piece covers the ground forces, which for the purpose of this paper (and regardless of precision) includes the Army, Marine Corps and National Guard.


I will admit that one of the driving themes in my mind as I wrote this paper was the increasing frequency with which commentators are putting forth this answer to the question of how climate change will affect the U.S. ground forces: it will drive an increase in terrorism.


Now, I’m no terrorism expert, but you can’t hang out at CNAS and not at least understand the basics, even if it’s just by osmosis. I think that the leap to stating that it will directly drive an increase in terrorism is a bit of a distraction (and note that this suggestion often specifies Islamic extremism-based terrorism, not the Midwestern kind that seems to have been taking place in my hometown lately). I’m not saying that I fully understand the dynamics of what this linkage could be, but I do know enough to know that it would be complex and take a great deal of study to determine. Meanwhile, there may be more direct linkages between climate change and security challenges that are more important to focus our research efforts toward.

Based on my analysis and long review of Army, Marine Corps and National Guard documents, I think there are two major research areas that: 1) should be the focus of analysis on this issue over the next two years; and 2) will be able to serve as pertinent, multidisciplinary examples of how climate change, natural resources, development, governance and security all wrap together.


Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given the large pres­ence of American ground forces in Afghanistan and their mission not just to secure but to stabilize that war-torn country, one important exercise would be to examine regional climate projections for Central Asia, focusing on how changing climate conditions may affect agriculture (and, related, water supplies) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition to U.S. military forces, USAID, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other civilian agencies are engaged in diversifying and improv­ing the region’s agricultural sector to promote economic growth and long-term stability. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other climate science projectors tend not to provide great detail on many countries in conflict such as Afghanistan, in part due to lack of consistent monitoring of environmental trends. Clearly identi­fying a need for the science community to develop better projections for Afghanistan and Pakistan (or for that broad region, should sufficient information on those two specific countries prove unavailable) could provide a focused, relevant topic around which security planners could build new relation­ships with the climate science community toward a specific security goal. This kind of analysis could also be useful in setting priorities for the water, energy and agricultural projects that are impor­tant to long-term prosperity in Afghanistan and avoiding what is becoming a proverbial warning -- building a hydroelectric power system on a river that is unlikely to exist in 15 years. Perhaps most important, this type of exercise could also showcase the importance of contributions of U.S. civilian agencies to meeting U.S. security needs.


Domestic Climate Change Effects. The Army and National Guard would benefit from deeper examination of how climate change will affect the continental United States. Analysis of the security consequences of climate change often focuses on those developing countries least capable of adapt­ing to change. American ground forces are unlikely to be called upon to engage in these locations unless other U.S. interests are directly at stake. However, they will continue to have domestic roles and responsibilities, and indeed the Army Corps of Engineers and National Guard will likely play unique roles in domestic efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change. Individuals within both organizations are beginning to engage with other federal, state and local agencies as needs arise – adapting to water shortages in the western United States (the type of issue likely to arise more with a changing climate), for example. The more that future demand can be quantified based on projected climate effects – and the less ad hoc this process is – the smoother will be the process of adjusting to changing domestic needs.


All the background is in the working paper if this teaser sparks your interest. Up next is Will Rogers on the U.S. air forces (yep, we’re including Navy in that category as well), followed by an assessment of climate change and the COCOMs, and this full volume around the end of this month. And there is a reason we’re calling these working papers. We welcome your feedback before they go final. Happy reading, folks!