The Department of Defense’s pursuit of an Asia-Pacific rebalance provides an opportunity to better prepare the entire region for the effects of climate change. By integrating resiliency and disaster management training into multilateral exercises, education and regional institutions, the U.S. can help to stabilize this area that is so crucial to its international trade and military positioning interests. The U.S. relies on its partner nations to maintain stability in the region, thus it is mutually beneficial to support them in integrating disaster management into their climate change adaptation and resiliency programs.
Climate change is a growing transnational challenge that will affect a greater number of people through weather intensification and sea level rise. The DoD has already designated climate change as a significant threat to U.S. national security by including it in the 2015 National Security Strategy and releasing such publications as 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap and the National Security Implications of Climate-related Risks and a Changing Climate. The last document is especially important because it outlines the role of the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) in cooperating with partner nations on ‘adaptation practices, resilience, environmental considerations and risk reduction’.
Many Asia-Pacific countries do not have the resources or infrastructure to address climate change’s effects, to which they are extremely susceptible. This is evidenced by the natural disasters and climate events that have occurred recently in the region, such as Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and sea level rise’s rapid takeover of small island nations such as the Marshall Islands. The U.S. government is already involved in climate resilience. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has implemented a climate change adaptation program in many of these Asian-Pacific countries. This program focuses on building adaptation capabilities through projects such as information sharing among governments and agencies, capacity building programs and program management and coordination education. While these are important steps to resiliency, the programs lack disaster management strategies, which is a key component to effective resiliency programs.
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), a biennial joint naval exercises between 26 nations around the Pacific and Europe, is a wide-scope set of activities designed to ‘foster and sustain cooperative relationships’. While these relationships are made between larger military organizations, the exercises also function as a networking and trust-building activity between individuals. Stronger person-to-person relationships enable increased information-sharing abilities and an easier channel through which to ask for assistance and collaboration.
RIMPAC is held at U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), which is also home to the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM), a department that operates on three lines of effort (LOE): training and education, applied research and information-sharing, and regional civilian military coordination. CFE-DM partners with numerous regional and international organizations in order to carry out its LOEs and disseminate information to different populations, further preparing nations for climate-related issues and fostering resilience at all levels of society. Elements of CFE-DM’s trainings are included in RIMPAC, for example, this year the exercise involves managing the aftereffects of an earthquake. However, this does not address the vast variety of disasters that climate change will present to the region. More diverse disaster management exercises should be prioritized within RIMPAC in order to prepare for climate change’s worsening effects. CFE-DM’s relevant partner organizations should also be included in the exercises to ensure a more inclusive disaster management strategy.
Further, multilateral disaster management training cannot be confined to exercises held only every two years. The U.S’ other adaptation programs within the Asia-Pacific provide an avenue for smaller-scale and more tailored exercises that can be performed more often than RIMPAC. Implementing these smaller exercises will do more to improve individual countries’ overall resiliency.
Although the U.S. has taken important steps to help institute climate change resiliency programs within the Asia-Pacific, it still has considerable work to do. Utilizing its existing programs and multilateral exercises, the U.S. can ensure that disaster management and adaptation methods are both integrated into the resiliency programs. Doing this will maintain regional stability in the future, thus protecting U.S. interests and security.