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Swifter Combat Against Climate Change Required Per Former U.S Military Leaders

The U.S. has not done enough to prepare for the national security challenges of global warming
U.S. Marines
U.S. Marines


U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade assist personnel displaced by Typhoon Haiyan.
Credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr

Seven years ago a group of senior retired generals broke new ground when they warned climate change poses a serious security threat. Now, those top military leaders say the U.S. and others have not done enough to prepare for the challenge.

Writing in a major new report out today, the 16-man military team—including retired four-star Adm. Frank Lee "Skip" Bowman, former director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program; retired Gen. Charles "Chuck" Wald, former deputy commander of the United States European Command; and retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, the 32nd chief of staff of the Army—concludes that its early fears about climate change were well-founded. The threats are worsening and the political discourse is discouraging, the report says.

"We are dismayed that discussions of climate change have become so polarizing and have receded from the arena of informed public discourse and debate. Political posturing and budgetary woes cannot be allowed to inhibit discussion and debate over what so many believe to be a salient national security concern for our nation," they wrote. "Time and tide wait for no one."

The report comes on the heels of the White House releasing its National Climate Assessment, which like the United Nations' recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that climate change is happening now and the damage associated with it is widespread, affecting everything from farming to military bases.

While several Republicans lawmakers dismissed the 1,100-page scientific assessment, the Pentagon noted it now takes climate change into consideration as a matter of course, incorporating it into two Quadrennial Defense Reviews.

Arctic becomes an area of concern
Speaking in Chicago recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned of "frequent and destructive natural disasters" posing new and unpredictable security threats to the U.S., and pointed specifically to the Arctic as an area of concern.

"The melting of gigantic ice caps presents possibilities for the opening of new sea lanes and the exploration for natural resources, energy and commerce. The Defense Department is bolstering its engagement in the Arctic and looking at what capabilities we need to operate there in the future," he said.

The Arctic also gets special attention in CNA Corp.'s Military Advisory Board report. Leaders warned that as accelerated melting of "old ice" in the Arctic makes the region more accessible to shipping, extraction, fisheries and other activity, conflicts will rise for which the United States and international community remain unprepared.

"Nations, corporations, and even individuals will be anxious to exploit the opening Arctic region, even if they have to accept higher levels of risk than in other areas of the world. While the United States and the international community prepare for more Arctic activities in the future, the increased activity today brings high levels of risk to that fragile area," the report notes.

"The U.S. military's current construct of dividing the Arctic area of responsibility between two Combatant Commands under DOD's Unified Command Plan likely will slow the Defense Department's ability to generate requirements and respond," the report adds.

"Although the United States is a member of the Arctic Council—an intergovernmental consultative group—its refusal to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will make U.S. participation in the resolution of international disputes in the Arctic more challenging."

Adaptation becomes the order of the day
Sherri Goodman, executive director of the CNA Military Advisory Board who served in the DOD as a deputy undersecretary from 1993 to 2001, called the report a "clarion call." She applauded the fact that addressing climate change has become a mainstream topic within defense and national security circles and said she expected as much.

"In two decades working with the military, I'm not surprised. Because when the military identifies a risk ... it really begins to work on it. They get it," Goodman said. But in the political sphere, she said, much more needs to get done.

"What we're seeing now is that we live in a globally interconnected world," she said, something that wasn't as much the case even seven years ago when the board issued its first report. She pointed to the 2011 unrest in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring—which in turn was fed by drought in Russia and China that led to global wheat shortages and price spikes.

"How many security experts would have connected drought in Russia with the fall of [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak?" she asked.

The report calls for the U.S. to take a "global leadership role" in preparing for the impacts of climate change and accelerate efforts to prepare for increased access and military operations in the Arctic.

It also calls on the military's combatant commanders to factor in the impacts of projected climate change into their planning and operations, and it says DOD should "develop, fund and implement" plans to adapt its facilities and infrastructure to a climate-changed world.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

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