In 2015, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) submitted a report to the United States Congress on a set of security risks facing the United States and her allies. The report was not centered around terror or cybersecurity threats, but instead discussed climate change.
As stated in the report, DoD’s strategy “emphasizes three pillars: protect the homeland, build security globally, and project power and win decisively”. DoD views climate change as a threat to its global security mission – a changing global climate serves as a threat multiplier by exacerbating pre-existing threats to stability, such as low economic opportunity and failing institutions. DoD perceives Climate-Related Security Risks in four primary areas1: First, recurring weather events such as droughts, high temperatures, and flooding can reduce the productivity of local economies and create a strain on public health systems. Second, as these events become more extreme and frequent, DoD must commit more and more resources in support of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Third, rising sea levels will damage ports, decrease the safety of navigation, and require military installations to be preventatively fortified, at cost. Fourth, the melting of Arctic ice will create increased human activity in the Arctic, leading to a higher possibility of maritime disasters, to which DoD must respond. All four axes of Climate-Related Security Risks impact DoD’s supply chain by increasing the unpredictability of demand (process variability) of DoD readiness, with no possible buffers capable of absorbing these variations. This in turn increases the cost and complexity of supporting global DoD operations.
In response, DoD has taken mitigating actions in pursuit of three goals2: The first goal is to “Identify and assess the effects of climate change on the department”. To this end, a tool was deployed in 2014 to assess the vulnerability of each DoD installation to climate change risks. The first wave of results from this assessment has been used to identify installations where a deeper evaluation of risk is needed. The second goal is to “Integrate climate change considerations across [DoD] and manage associated risks”. In pursuit of this, DoD has sought to refine it’s existing processes and reduce it’s supply chain’s exposure to climate risk by increasing its strategic reserve (inventory) of critical components, modifying the maintenance plans of its weapons systems, and modifying transportation modes and routes. The third goal is to “Collaborate with Internal and External Stakeholders on Climate Change Challenges”. In addition to internal stakeholders such as the Coast Guard and other agencies, this also includes collaborating with Arctic Nations to ensure that the Arctic Circle remains peaceful as natural resources are made accessible by melting Arctic Ice, collaborating with foreign militaries to improve DoD’s ability to adapt to climate threats, cooperating with our allies and global partners to enhance planning in the face of global climate threats, and collaborating with US State and local officials to integrate DoD’s assets more effectively into responses to domestic extreme weather events.
In addition to the steps already taken, DoD should work to persuade members of both major US political parties, both inside and outside of Congress, of the relevance of a changing climate as a national security issue. The Current political dialogue around climate is so polarized among party lines that cooperation on issues of climate, even when National Security is concerned, becomes all but impossible. By creating a critical mass of thought leaders outside of Congress, DoD can leverage public opinion to apply pressure to Congress. This pressure can be combined with DoD’s clear credibility on National Security issues to bring both parties to the table and foster a dialogue that will lead to the allocation of substantive Congressional funding. This funding can be used not only to mitigate the effects of climate change on DoD, but also to reduce DoD’s contributions to a changing climate. This two-pronged approach will serve to increase strategic readiness in the short term, and proactively decrease the threat-multiplying effect of climate change in the long term.
DoD must answer key questions on this issue going forward: Will the mitigating actions taken be enough to prevent a changing global climate from crippling DoD’s ability to respond to armed conflicts and international crises? What second and third order geopolitical effects of DoD’s mitigation actions ought the United States and her Allies consider as the international footing around the issue of climate evolves? These and other key questions must be addressed by DoD in order to protect the strategic security concerns of the United States into the 21st century.
- United States Department of Defense, “NATIONAL SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF CLIMATE-RELATED RISKS AND A CHANGING CLIMATE”, http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/150724-congressional-report-on-national-implications-of-climate-change.pdf?source=govdelivery, accessed November 14, 2017.
- United States Department of Defense, “2014 CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION ROADMAP”, http://ppec.asme.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CCARprint.pdf, accessed November 14, 2017.