Climate change affects global and national security. An environmental threat is a long-term type of internal insecurity that blurs the traditional notion of national security and cannot be defined in purely military terms. The military force of a government, while critical to national security, may be more limited in its ability to confront the effects of climate change.
For example, the Russian wildfires of 2010 are estimated to have caused over 55,736 deaths, more than $15 million in damage, destroyed approximately 2.5 million acres of forests and sent food price shocks around the world. 24 The Russian wildfires also put Russian military assets at risk; artillery rockets housed at a base 45 miles from Moscow had to be moved to safer ground and a nuclear base which houses Russia’s sophisticated nuclear laboratories came close to being destroyed by fire.
Developing nations have even less capacity to prepare for and adapt to climate change. A large-scale disruption such as a flood or wildfire is more likely to cause government instability and unrest in those states. Unfortunately, the near-term impacts of climate change are likely to have a disproportionate effect on poor countries with weak governance structures, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Risk-reduction and preparedness policies including adaptation and mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) will increase resiliency. However, the traditional tools of security may need to be deployed in response to a large disruption.
As threats become more diverse, state security interests are no longer independent, but shared. As former Senator Gary Hart notes: “Traditional national security is giving way to international security.” We must move towards
incorporating broader collective security issues (like climate change and food security) into our national security paradigm. These security threats may precipitate large-scale disruption that local public health, law enforcement and emergency response teams cannot contain.
These disruptions might take the form of domestic emergencies that will require the diversion of military resources from abroad as well as significant financial resources to cover damages.
Climate change is a risk to global security because it increases vulnerability in infrastructure, agriculture, energy and other economic sectors.
In an age of great change, combining the traditional notions of security with aspects of collective security will allow the U.S. and other countries at risk of the effects of climate change to limit vulnerability and remain flexible for the wide range of climate contingencies that lie ahead.
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