September 18, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Changing Environments, Missions

This week, several Natural Security news items explored the operational and strategic challenges that the U.S. military will face as climate change progresses. Much attention was given to the High North as The New York Times discussed concerns over a warming Arctic, which will change the future operating and strategic environments by opening new sea lanes and allowing access to untapped natural resources. The Times reported on the first of many commercial voyages being made through the new, ice-free northern passage. Two German ships are also traveling from South Korea to Rotterdam, traversing the arctic and shaving off thousands of miles from their usual trade route through the Suez Canal.

In other news, Inside Defense reported that the U.S. military is also preparing for the impacts of climate change on force readiness by studying the implications of climate change on military training ranges (subscription required). In Washington, a debate is taking place over the wisdom of allowing the U.S. military to conduct large-scale humanitarian aid operations. Aid organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, are concerned that warfighters are also being used to dispense aid and work on reconstruction projects. Stars and Stripes noted that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has another view: when asked in April about service members doing reconstruction work, he responded positively, saying “one of the messages that I had for the Marines when I had the opportunity to talk to a group of them is the importance of making sure that the Afghan people know that we are there as their friends and their allies.”

NGOs have questions about how well a fighting force can adapt itself to feed the hungry and dig wells, and seek to keep a sharp distinction between those fighting the war and those helping the locals. But as Stars and Stripes reported, even well-intentioned NGOs can execute poor decisions, as some have with managing water projects in Afghanistan.