The White House has released a new report entitled “The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate,” essentially a summary of the administration’s view that climate change is a primary threat to the nation’s security.
President Obama made the issue a central feature of his commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security,” he stated. “And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act—and we need to act now.”
The president went on to tell the graduating cadets that failure to address the threat of climate change and its implications would constitute “negligence” and would be “a dereliction of duty,” and that “denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security” and would undermine “the readiness of our forces.”
Essentially, the president has made the case that climate change is not only indisputable but such a grave threat to the security of the United States and the world that the U.S. must take immediate action to counter it, mitigate its effects and be prepared to respond to their implications.
This would include increased conflict and humanitarian crises, destruction of critical national infrastructure, and disruption of the global economy … all of which will place increased demands on the military forces of the U.S. to support civil authorities, intervene to resolve foreign conflicts and respond to more and larger humanitarian disasters brought about by a more turbulent and destructive global environmental condition.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the fears of the president and his fellow climate change worriers are valid (a questionable leap but let’s run with it).
If so, then we should be planning for the dramatic expansion of the military services to include doubling or perhaps tripling the number of people and assets most useful to respond to these types of crises. The military will need more helicopters, cargo aircraft, amphibious ships and all sorts of critical skills to include engineers, communicators, transportation specialists, medical, and supply personnel (and their associated units).
And our conventional combat/security forces should rightly expand if increased conflict is expected too. Of course, a U.S. military two to three times its current size would require a proportional increase in its annual base budget, perhaps upwards to a level of $1.5 trillion dollars.
It takes time to grow and equip such a force able to operate globally in multiple places, responding to not only the flooded coastal zones of the U.S. and the general environmentally-caused mayhem inland (more numerous and several tornadoes, catastrophic storms and civil disorder caused by drought-parched farmlands in the midwest, etc.) but also to more conflicts in other countries brought about by competitions over water, farmland and the mass migration of millions of people driven from their submerged cities currently located on the world’s coastal plains.
Yes, if the prognostications of global warming theorists are to be taken as accurate, then the only responsible thing to do is start making the necessary investments.
But of course all of this is nonsense as is characterizing climate change as “an urgent and growing threat to our national security.”
It is misguided and even harmful in the confusion it creates and the opportunity cost it imposes on national security, muddles thinking about what national security really is, and establishes a flawed context for allocating resources.
Unaddressed in such policy pronouncements is any reality-based discussion of what can actually be accomplished relative to the magnitude of the problem (presuming there is one), the time needed to achieve desired results, the level of effort required (in scope and scale) and ultimately the monetary cost to do what advocates think must be done.
If the implication of climate change truly is one of the most important national security threats facing the country—on par with nuclear-armed competitors, terrorism, and the conventional military challenge posed by major states—then one should expect a correspondingly dramatic shift in prioritization of planning for such within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Perhaps the real issue is not understanding what “national security” actually is. To solve that problem, one need look no further than Dr. Kim Holmes’ essay on the topic found in The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength. In “What is National Security?”, Holmes explains not only what it is but also what it is not.
Holmes states that “national security should be guided not only by a sensible understanding of what is truly vital to a nation’s security, but also by what the nation can practically expect the government to do and not to do.” Further, “An ‘all of the above’ definition [that would include environmental security] … which primarily suits political constituencies, will only lead to confusion, waste, distractions, and possibly even military failures as the U.S. government is asked to do things that are either beyond its capacity or, worse, tangential to the real mission of protecting the country from harm.”
It is clear that policymakers need a sharper focus as to what is and is not national security. It cannot be all things to all people; if it were, it would be meaningless. The definition of national security must be limited … This is especially true because of budget restraints. While it is proper to task the U.S. government with protecting a spectrum of national security interests—from the financial and economic system to access to natural resources—the lion’s share of the government’s interest and thus budgetary resources should be dedicated to safeguarding the country and its interests from foreign aggression.
The White House designation of climate change as a national security threat violates every common sense principle related to national security. It confuses the entire notion of national security and wastefully misdirects limited national security and defense resources to solve purported problems that are far beyond the capacity or even the responsibility of the federal government.
It would be far more useful to the United States and the American public for the White House to focus its attentions and the nation’s resources on actual security threats, of which there are plenty. Just read the news.