Mil­i­tary Sharp­ens Fo­cus on Cli­mate Change

A De­cline in Re­sources Is Pro­jected to Cause In­creas­ing In­sta­bil­ity Over­seas

The Washington Post Sunday - - National News - By Juliet Eilperin

The U.S. mil­i­tary is in­creas­ingly fo­cused on a po­ten­tial na­tional se­cu­rity threat: cli­mate change.

Just last month the U.S. Army War Col­lege funded a two-day con­fer­ence at the Tri­an­gle In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies ti­tled “The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Im­pli­ca­tions of Global Cli­mate Change.” And to­mor­row, a group of 11 re­tired se­nior gen­er­als will re­lease a re­port say­ing that global warm­ing “presents sig­nif­i­cant na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges to the United States,” which it must ad­dress or face se­ri­ous con­se­quences.

The 63-page re­port — which is be­ing re­leased a day be­fore the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil holds its first-ever brief­ing on cli­mate change — lays out a de­tailed case for how global warm­ing could desta­bi­lize vul­ner­a­ble states in Africa and Asia and drive a flood of mi­grants to richer coun­tries. It fo­cuses on how cli­mate change “can act as a threat mul­ti­plier for in­sta­bil­ity in some of the most volatile re­gions of the world,” in part by caus­ing wa­ter short­ages and dam­ag­ing food pro­duc­tion.

The study’s au­thors, along with sev­eral other na­tional se­cu­rity ex­perts, con­firmed last week that the mil­i­tary has be­gun study­ing pos­si­ble fu­ture im­pacts of global warm­ing with new in­ten­sity.

“It’s only in the last six months that cli­mate change it­self has sur­faced as a term that’s com­monly rec- og­nized as hav­ing se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions,” said Kent H. Butts, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal mil­i­tary strat­egy at the War Col­lege’s Cen­ter for Strate­gic Lead­er­ship. Butts added that when he meets with mil­i­tary lead­ers to dis­cuss how to tackle ter­ror­ism and re­gional in­sta­bil­ity, “Each time they’re say­ing, ‘This is get­ting worse be­cause of changes in the cli­mate.’ ”

Com­mis­sioned by the Cen­ter for Naval Analy­ses, a gov­ern­ment-funded think tank, the re­port boasts a list of con­trib­u­tors that in­cludes eight re­tired four-star gen­er­als and three three-stars. Many have sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­tise, and some, such as Ad­mi­ral T. Joseph Lopez, are close to Vice Pres­i­dent Cheney. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Gen. An­thony C. Zinni, have crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Bush in re­cent years.

The Army’s for­mer chief of staff, Gen. Gor­don R. Sul­li­van, who is one of the au­thors, noted he had been “a lit­tle bit of a skep­tic” when the study group be­gan meet­ing in Septem­ber. But, af­ter be­ing briefed by top cli­mate sci­en­tists and ob­serv­ing changes in his na­tive New Eng­land, Sul­li­van said he was now con­vinced that global warm­ing presents a grave chal­lenge to the coun­try’s mil­i­tary pre­pared­ness.

“The trends are not good, and if I just sat around in my for­mer life as a sol­dier, if I just waited around for some­one to walk in and say, ‘This is with a hun­dred per­cent cer­tainty,’ I’d be wait­ing for­ever,” he said.

Part of the sense of ur­gency, the gen­er­als said in in­ter­views last week, stems from the fact that chang­ing cli­matic con­di­tions will make it harder for weak na­tion­states to ad­dress their cit­i­zens’ ba­sic needs. The re­port notes, for ex­am­ple, that 40 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion gets at least half its drink­ing wa­ter from the sum­mer melt of moun­tain glaciers that are rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing.

“Many de­vel­op­ing na­tions do not have the gov­ern­ment and so­cial in­fra­struc­tures in place to cope with the type of stres­sors that could be brought about by global cli­mate change,” the re­port states. “When a gov­ern­ment can no longer de­liver ser­vices to its peo­ple, en­sure do­mes­tic or­der, and pro­tect the na­tion’s borders from in­va­sion, con­di­tions are ripe for tur­moil, ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism to fill the vac­uum.”

The study states that con­flicts in re­gions such as Dar­fur and So­ma­lia stemmed ini­tially from a lack of re­sources, some­thing that will only worsen with global warm­ing.

Cli­mate change is dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional mil­i­tary threats, ac­cord­ing to re­port au­thor Vice Adm. Richard H. Truly, be­cause it’s not like “some hot spot we’re try­ing to han­dle.”

“It’s go­ing to hap­pen to ev­ery coun­try and ev­ery per­son in the whole world at the same time,” Truly said.

The re­port also notes that some mil­i­tary bases prob­a­bly will be com­pro­mised by cli­mate change. Diego Gar­cia, an atoll in the south­ern In­dian Ocean that U.S. and Bri­tish forces use as a lo­gis­tic hub for their Mid­dle East op­er­a­tions, lies just a few feet above sea level. “Al­though the con­se­quences to mil­i­tary readi­ness are not in­sur­mount­able, the loss of some for­ward bases would re­quire longer range lift and strike ca­pa­bil­i­ties and would in­crease the mil­i­tary’s en­ergy needs,” the study says.

The mil­i­tary has con­tem­plated the im­pli­ca­tions of cli­mate change be­fore: In 2004 it re­leased a study of pos­si­ble cat­a­strophic global warm­ing that was com­mis­sioned by Andrew Mar­shall, who di­rects the Pen­tagon’s Of­fice of Net As­sess­ment; four years ear­lier the De­fense De­part­ment is­sued a re­port ti­tled “Cli­mate Change, En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency and Ozone Pro­tec­tion.”

Pen­tagon and Army of­fi­cials de­clined re­peated re­quests for in­ter­views last week. But sev­eral for­mer of­fi­cers in­volved in the study who main­tain con­tacts inside the De­fense De­part­ment said sev­eral branches of the mil­i­tary are ex­am­in­ing how to cope with cli­mate change.

Sul­li­van said he plans to talk to mil­i­tary of­fi­cials about his group’s re­port, and he ex­pects they’ll be sym­pa­thetic to his mes­sage. “I don’t think this is a hard sell,” he said. Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks and staff re­searcher Karl Evanzz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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