January 02, 2012

Third Annual Natural Security Wish List: Our Policy Hopes for 2012

It’s time again to reflect on our Natural Security policy
hopes for the New Year. Some items on this list are more realistic than
others, of course – especially considering that it’s a presidential election
year and politics will get in the way of some of these goals. But this is
always a fun exercise, and we see surprising results each year. For example, on
our 2011 wish
we hoped that the Department of Defense would designate a
single Combatant Command as lead for the Arctic, and last April the Unified
Command Plan shifted major
responsibilities for the Arctic to U.S. Northern Command
. Will the
Natural Security team fare better this year for our policy goals for 2012? Here
are 10 items I’d personally like to see this year, in no particular

1. With increasing attention to geoengineering,
the U.S. government should do scenario planning to better understand the
security implications of engineering the global climate, including the
potential security dilemmas that could manifest from states trying to make
themselves more “climate secure” (e.g., in the Indian subcontinent). 

2. Building on last year’s wish list…a smart approach to “green
alliances” from the Obama administration. Incorporating resources and
environmental issues into our international partnerships and formal alliance
relationships is necessary and a positive step for a modern U.S. approach to
security, and may
serve as the cornerstone to lasting partnerships in regions like East Asia
where the administration has recently refocused attention.

3. Continued and improved awareness among civil servants and
political appointees about natural security issues, both at home and at our
missions abroad, especially in Iraq
and Afghanistan,
where resource challenges will contribute to those countries’ long-term security
and stability.

4. A robust strategy for the Arctic that clearly states U.S.
priorities and backs those priorities with the appropriate and necessary resources.
In particular, U.S.
policymakers need to invest in U.S. Coast Guard Arctic capabilities
including more icebreakers and other assets that allow the Coast Guard to accomplish
its statutory missions in the High North.  

5. A more thorough examination of natural security issues by
the geographic Combatant Commands (COCOMs) in their theatre campaign plans. In
particular the COCOMs should conduct regional and local impact assessments that
prepare them to confront the impacts of climate change, manage the effects of
energy, food, water and other resource-related competition, and enhance local
countries’ capacities to respond to climate- or environment-related events.  

6. Despite the risk of sounding like a broken record, the
U.S. Senate needs to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as
soon as possible. U.S. reluctance to sign onto UNCLOS is standing in the way of
the U.S. government protecting U.S. interests everywhere, including in the
South China Sea, Strait of Hormuz and the Arctic. States are increasingly
challenging the international norms protected under the treaty, such as freedom
of access and navigation of the seas and international straits, and the United
States cannot be a credible voice in rebuffing those challenges unless it signs
UNCLOS and becomes a participant in the Law of the Sea Tribunal. 

7. As always…a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
over 2011 levels.

8. Special attention from the national security community to
Russia and its energy geopolitics in 2012. Moscow made some interesting moves
in the energy sector in 2011: Russia’s
state-owned oil company Rosneft signed a major agreement with Exxon Mobile
may set Russia up to acquire coveted oil drilling technology that could help it
exploit the Arctic; Russia was
pursuing an energy deal with North Korea in part I suspect to generate revenue
that it could invest in its Far East
 to offset China’s growing
influence in the region; and Russia’s
state-owned Gazprom took full control of Belarus’s Yamal-Europe Pipeline
consolidating its influence in Eastern Europe. All of this points to
potentially significant developments in Russia’s geopolitical power in 2012
that policymakers need to be attuned to, just as Vladimir Putin is expected to
retake the presidency. 

9. A U.S.-supported international effort to accurately
measure the hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea. Some have dubbed the
South China Sea as potentially “the new
Persian Gulf
,” but there is a lot of uncertainty about how much oil and
natural gas actually exists beneath the seabed, with estimates ranging from a
conservative and more likely 15 billion barrels to a more significant size of
213 billion barrels. The
discrepancies among these estimates have exacerbated the competition for fossil
fuel resources in the region. Developing internationally accepted estimates of
fossil fuel resources in the South China Sea to reduce the tensions associated
with individual states’ assessments could assist in diffusing tensions and
alter the cost/benefit calculations of plans to tap the region’s contested

10. Last
but certainly not least…a broader effort in the U.S. public and private sectors
to support the development of commercially available green biofuel. In 2011,
the U.S. Navy continued to push its alternative energy program with biofuel
demonstrations in its aviation and ship fleets, and the commercial aviation
industry made notable investments in biofuel with tests and purchases by United
and Alaska Airlines. But these efforts need to be sustained and expanded in
2012 in order to continue to send a consistent demand signal to generate the
capital investments necessary to develop the still fledgling biofuel market and
help move the nation away from its dependence on petroleum.

Thoughts on this year’s wish list? Additions you’d like to
see? We want to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.