Is argument about climate change related to the national security debate?

There are many discussion connecting national security and climate change and countries are usually responsive to arguments that describe security threats. So how important (or maybe unimportant?) could be the national security argument for countries, even for sceptical countries, to do something about climate change? Read few comments.


Michael KraftEmeritus Professor, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

The national security argument about climate change has been around for years but generally is not widely seen or discussed in the U.S., or for that matter, in other countries. Lots of arguments are advanced about impacts on the economy, public health, infrastructure, and the environment, but rarely do we see elected officials or journalists focusing on national security impacts of climate change. The chief exceptions are occasional reports from the CIA, NSA, or other intelligence or national security agencies that focus on what climate change might mean for the U.S. if we see massive droughts and food security around the world that lead to high levels of migration and thus political and economic instability. And that is surely coming before too long.

I think the argument focuses a bit too much on uncertain and long-term conditions to gain recognition by officials who are more interested in short-term effects to which they might be able to respond and gain public support, such as increasing use of renewable energy or promoting energy conservation and efficiency. There isn’t much the U.S. can do to lower the national security risks of climate change other than to back global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help other nations respond to changing climatic conditions. And obviously the Trump administration has little interest in doing that given its firm support for the fossil fuel industry.

What would it take to change this perspective? I think we’ll need to see large-scale crop failures and anticipated mass starvation in Africa and elsewhere to motivate policymakers here, and even then there is an increasing tendency in the Trump administration to dismiss any such developments around the world as not something that is a U.S. problem. In a different administration, perhaps starting in January of 2021 if the Trump administration is replaced, the U.S. once again will pay more attention to global developments of this kind and work with the UN and other bodies to try to alleviate the problems. But not right now.

Leah Stokes, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California Santa Barbara

There has been some effort to connect climate change to security threats. For example the US military has talked about this issue in the past. But overall most countries underestimate how transformative climate change will be, disrupting many societies and leading to mass human migration.

Joshua Busby, Associate Professor of Public Affairs, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin

The links to climate change and security on their own won’t convince climate skeptics to change their minds. We can witness the Trump administration in the United States which is ideologically opposed to action on climate change, even though the links between climate change and security have been recognized by members of his own administration including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Concerns about climate change and security however are changing minds of people who are more responsive to information, including the U.S. military which recognizes that military bases and missions are affected by climate change. One of the lessons of efforts to reframe climate change as a security problem is that the relabeling the issue may bring in some new supporters from the foreign policy establishment, but it will also demand a discrete set of policies independent of concerns about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This may not be what people had in mind when they thought about using the security label but comes with the territory.

Thomas Birkland,  Associate Dean for Research and Engagement, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, North Carolina State University

The degree to which climate change is an important national security concern will vary from country to country. Small island states, such as those in the south Pacific ocean, are very vulnerable to sea level rise and climate change, so adaptation to climate change may be a paramount concern. Other, larger states, such as the United States or EU member states, may be somewhat threatened by climate change, but the immediate effects may not be well known to everyone. Even within the EU, some states, such as the Netherlands, have to become more aware of the threats that climate change poses to their territorial integrity.

In the United States, we do know that climate change is having some implications for national security. The Navy, in particular, is concerned about the effect of sea-level rise on their coastal facilities, such as naval stations, airfields in coastal areas, and the like. And larger powers like the United States need to be concerned with the potential for international security problems posed by climate change, including climate-induced mass migration, interstate natural resource competition (over things like water), and the potential for these things to be regionally destabilizing.

Christian Webersik, Professor, Deputy Director, Centre for Integrated Emergency Management (CIEM), Department of Global Development and Planning, University of Agder

I have been working a lot on migration and climate change, which can be seen as as national security issue. However, there is little evidence that climate change impacts by their own will lead to migration. Migration is multifaceted, and not driven by a single cause.

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