Environmental Security Part IV: The Pentagon Is My Friend

In the previous post we have looked at the increased interest in the relationship of climate change to conflict by several recently formed groups that have involved mostly retired senior military officers as well as some high-visibility former and current politicians. At least one of these latter has been known as a climate change skeptic, who now supports at least investigating the possibility of climate change driving conflict although the depth of his support is still questionable.

The final document up for discussion is the Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) . This is one of their most important strategic documents which can set not only basic doctrine but also force structure, threat identification and procurement for years to come. It has, for the first time, identified climate change as a major concern. It states:

Climate change and energy will play significant roles in the future security environment. The Department is developing policies and plans to manage the effects of climate change on its operating environment, missions, and facilities. The Department already performs environmental stewardship at hundreds of DoD installations throughout the United States, working to meet resource efficiency and sustainability goals. We must continue incorporating geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and acquisition processes. [1]

While steeped in military jargon, the actual meaning of the QDR is still plain enough for the average person to comprehend and that climate change is beginning to take on a new importance as a strategic driver of events and not “merely” as an environmental issue, which it has been marginalized as in the past. This document puts it is well beyond that when characterized as a potential trigger point for international instability. Climate change’s  inclusion in this particular document raises not only its visibility but its importance to the one area that has consistently rated high in every public opinion poll taken, namely national security. While in the past climate change as a reason for war might have been ignored, the language in the report provides enough clarity to possibly convince some who have been skeptics that this is a potential threat which must be further investigated and addressed if action is warranted.  A sample of some language from the QDR states:

Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment.

Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.

The actions that the Department takes now can prepare us to respond effectively to these challenges in the near term and in the future.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters.

Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows.

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments.

Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.

Abroad, the Department will increase its investment in the Defense Environmental International Cooperation Program… and will also speed innovative energy and conservation technologies from laboratories to military end users.

Finally, the Department is improving small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at military installations through our Energy Conservation Investment Program.[2]

Yes, this is our Pentagon speaking and while it may appear to be a bastion of what passes for conservatism, it is in a business that cannot afford to miss seeing what may conceivably could be one of the more dangerous emerging threats.  To ignore it and then have the nation suffer due to negligence is a gamble they cannot afford.  It is all about credibility and the caution of some inside the establishment that still remind each other that they always prepare for the last war. A truism that has in the past cost both blood and treasure.

In our next exciting episode (and I do sort of mean that) we will explore in more detail how climate change can contribute to causing instability within or between nations at the least and how, combined with other factors may result in outright conflict.  In some cases it may even play not just a pivotal role but become a primary driver. The ways in which it achieves this are widely varied but may work alone or in combination to spark or perpetuate conflicts.

Environmental Security Part I:  The Basics

Environmental Security Part II: Enter the Pentagon

Environmental Security Part III: Old Soldier Never Die, But They Can Change

Environmental Security Part V: Climate of Conflict 1

[1] Quadrennial Defense Review 2010. p.xv

[2] Op. Cit.  pp. 84-87

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