Climate and US National Security: A Series of Conversations


Climate – One of the first areas President Biden focused on after taking office on Wednesday was climate, as he restored the commitment the United States would make Re-join Paris Climate Agreement.

The Biden administration has also pledged to review more than 100 other countries Regulations related to climate or the environment The president appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry to lead his administration’s efforts Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, A cabinet-level position that includes a seat on the National Security Council.

Kristen Wood, co-editor of Cipher Brief for our Climate Series, spoke about why climate is rising to the level of national security and its impact on military preparedness with Admiral James Stavridis (retired) in Cipher Brief, who recently wrote in Bloomberg That the new administration’s focus on climate, “… will be welcomed by environmentalists, of course, and by the Department of Defense, which may come as a surprise to observers who believe that the Pentagon is a huge force, a gas-consuming, anti-environment entity.”

Admiral James Stavridis (retired), The former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, NATO

Admiral James Stavridis (retired) is a brief expert on the Cipher program and served as the supreme commander of the 16th NATO Allies and the twelfth dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he obtained his PhD in international affairs.

Christine WoodFellow, Intelligence Project, Harvard

Kristen Wood is co-editor of the climate series The Cipher Brief and a nonresident fellow on the Intelligence Project at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a 20-year CIA veteran and Cipher expert.

Wood: It’s clear from our epic year of climate disasters – some 22 events totaling $ 95 billion – that climate change is a profound issue for the United States domestically. Why is it also a national security concern?

Stavridis: Every disaster the Department of Defense is required to respond to, quite appropriately, takes resources that can be used to deter our opponents and train our forces. These unplanned deployments are very expensive in both training time and money, and the opportunity cost of a response is high. This reduces our overall national security.

Additionally, damage to DoD facilities and the costs of repairing and refurbishing them can also be significant. On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael caused massive damage to Tindall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, with 95 percent of its buildings severely damaged or destroyed. At the time, Tindall was the main base for nearly a third of the Air Force’s fleet of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters. Seventeen planes were crammed into the hangar before the devastation – just because parts of the hangar roof collapsed overhead. The bill for repairing the base is said to be $ 5 billion. We also have damage to sidewalks, driveways, equipment, and training ranges.

Wood: The US military is often called upon to assist in humanitarian crises around the world. How have climate change and extreme weather affected the frequency and intensity of such situations already, and how do you see this happening in the future if global temperatures continue to rise?

Stavridis: Obviously, turbulent weather patterns will cause major disruptions, but the long-term damage from climate change could be worse. Indeed, there are major conflicts fueled by high temperatures that contribute to water shortages and crop failure in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The wars in Syria, Iraq, Mali, and Afghanistan are all examples of this.

Wood: The Pentagon is said to be the largest single institutional producer of greenhouse gases on the planet, producing an estimated 766 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions between 2001 and 2017. It generates more annual pollution than many small countries. What is the Department of Defense doing or what should it do about its carbon footprint?

Stavridis: Looking back at the Obama administration, there are many examples of the department working to eliminate its emissions. Most spectacular was the so-called Great Green Fleet, which sought to use hybrid and cleaner fuels to power the aircraft carrier strike group and its aircraft. While the results were mixed, the intention was good, and it could serve as an example of what might happen in the Biden administration. Additionally, the Ministry of Defense is a huge owner with bases, neighborhoods, buildings, hospitals, and structures all over the world. Efforts to make these facilities carbon-neutral as quickly as possible would be another good place to start.

Wood: Today, we are witnessing a remarkable rise in temperatures in the Arctic, and Russia, in recent years, has significantly boosted its activity by establishing new military installations in an apparent attempt to establish a strong position in this energy-rich cause. Why is the warming of the Arctic so important geopolitically?

Stavridis: Because it opens trade routes across the top of the world and creates competition for hydrocarbons as the ice melts. As a result, the five countries (the United States, Canada, Norway, Greenland, and Iceland) are facing large and growing Russian activity. This geopolitical competition may increase in the coming years.

Wood: How does the US military protect the allegations of the United States in the region? Russia has over 40 icebreakers required to pass through the seas that are often full of ice, and the United States has 2. Since they require about 10 years to build and get $ 1 billion each, how should the United States navigate – pun intended – the gap ?

Stavridis: We need to build more icebreakers as quickly as possible and use alternative technologies (submarines, unmanned vehicles of all types, long-range radar systems) to improve our surveillance. Flying and sailing under the ice should complement our weak efforts on the water. We should also collaborate with NATO allies, and perhaps collectively build and sail icebreakers in the region – a “high north” version of the standing naval forces esteemed in the Mediterranean, a NATO naval force in the south.

Wood: What are your concerns about how climate change and severe weather could be an advantage to the enemies of the United States? How do you see Russia, China, Iran and North Korea affected?

Stavridis: Russia and China are especially happy to see the ice melting in the Far North, as it opens up real opportunities for them as discussed above.

Wood: What do you think will be required of the Biden administration, but also the Department of Defense and the International Committee, to manage the current and future climate and challenges related to severe weather?

Stavridis: We need to reconsider the idea of ​​the “Arctic Caesar,” which was present in the Obama administration with the retired Coast Guard. Commander Bob Bab. Our efforts should be directed through existing international organizations like NATO and the United Nations, but in particular, through Arctic Council. Above all, we need to build icebreakers, create infrastructure in cooperation with Canada along our common border in the Arctic, and take the region very seriously.

Search credit: Mary Mahone

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