Since its inception, the American military has never wavered in the face of a clear threat to our security. They have acted when the world needed them, responding to challenges both immediate and elusive. This charge now extends far from the battlefield. Senior military officials are taking a stand on an issue still seen as contentious among policy makers. They have recognized climate change as a “threat multiplier” which will forever alter the national security landscape. Our service members don’t have the luxury of denying the effects of rising global temperatures. They will come into contact with the consequences throughout the coming decades.
At an event hosted by Florida Southern College and co-sponsored by the American Security Project, Lt. Gen. Don Kerrick (retired) and Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy (retired) spoke of the national security implications of climate change. Global peace and stability will be unattainable in a world beset by large refugee populations, rapid spread of disease (to include the expanded reach of tropical diseases), rising sea levels, decreased availability of fresh water and unreliable harvests due to drought and inclement weather.
These conditions are having dramatic effects already. A recent report conducted by Columbia University, discovered that the Syrian civil war has been exacerbated by a substantial population of displaced farmers packed into urban slums. These farmers left their land after four years of historic drought (2006-2010). Spending years in poverty and squalor, this group had little reason to desire peace and every possible motivation for violence and war. When the Arab Spring erupted, the fire quickly engulfed this desperate population which had already been amassed like kindling waiting for a spark. This conflict has displaced millions, many of whom now live in isolated camps with little comfort, in nations that don’t know what to do with them.
These migrations, which end in overcrowded slums and refugee camps, create ideal environments for disease, extremism and conflict. To believe that these conditions will abate at our borders is to condemn our nation to willful and ignorant destruction.
“This country is not safe in a vacuum” states Lt. Gen. Kennedy (retired). “We are only safe when our world is safe.”
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier”. He has stressed the need to plan for the military requirements resulting from climate change which would include increased American military operations for the distribution of humanitarian aid, disaster relief and to intervene in civil unrest. Even on our soil, the National Guard must be prepared to respond in the event of ever more severe weather patterns.
As the effects of rising temperatures aggravate existing conditions, our troops are tasked with carrying out static missions under increasingly dynamic conditions. Failure to recognize climate change as the colossal threat that it is, will ensure that we are unable to supply adequate support to our men and women on the frontlines. This crisis requires American leadership. It is an emergency which is real and has already begun.
Image Credit: Fort Wainwright Public Affairs Office