July 21, 2011

Shameless Plug for New Bulletin Piece on Security Risks & Priorities

As we teed up on the blog, yesterday the UN Security Council debated the security implications of climate change. The reactions of friends, folks in my Twitterverse and traditional commentators seem to portray major disappointment that it did not lead to concrete action.

Heck, I'm just glad that climate change is rising to that level of debate, because there is otherwise little evidence that this topic is being taken seriously in the United States and with many of our developed-country allies.

On its permanent mission site, Germany, which currently heads the UNSC, lists climate change as one of its top priorities, ranked alongside Afghanistan, WMD proliferation and children in armed conflict. But if we're honest with ourselves, the resources being put into mitigating the risks involved with an erratically changing climate do not indicate that it's prioritized at this level.

To put some numbers behind this concern, I teamed up with two great climate change thinkers, Frank Femia and Caitlin Werrell, in a piece for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists yesterday. We compare resources dedicated to climate change to those put against WMD, the war on terror and the global economic crisis. Apples and oranges, you say? I say they have a strong common thread: These are all pressing transnational troubles requiring international coordination on solutions, all with varying levels of risk, impact, and certainty with regard to their probability. Top DOD leaders, intelligence chiefs and diplomats have noted the security challenges involved with all of these issues - including climate change. But while we've seen great progress on how the security community addresses climate change, the resources (including diplomatic energy expended on international treaties) pale in comparison to the others. 

I hope you all read the piece and find it useful to think through. We're in a time of budget cutting, and for my money all of the unconventional threats we ID in the piece top my list of national security concerns. But how we adjust putting resources against these challenges must start with a clear assessment of what risks are already high or low on our country's priority list.