Climate Change Climbs the Ranks in the Pentagon and CIA

Current and former military and intelligence officials see climate change as a real and growing threat to national and global security and climate change is now a component in the planning processes of both the Department of Defense and the CIA. 

The US Military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are increasingly concerned that climate change raises the prospects for military intervention to deal with the effects of severe weather, rising seas, drought, mass migration, spread of disease, and increased competition for resources. 


In Pentagon, CIA Eye New Threat: Climate Change, National Public Radio reports today (December 14 2009) that “for the first time, climate change will feature as one of the key threats under assessment in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The report, conducted every four years and to be delivered to Congress in February, must determine the implications of climate change for the Defense Department's "roles, missions and installations”.

Military officials, watching for long-term signals and trends that might provoke instability, are recognizing climate change as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world. Likewise, the CIA announced in September that it was creating a Center on Climate Change and National Security to look at how climate impacts could affect the nation’s military and economic priorities.

A senior intelligence official, quoted in the NPR story said:

"I always look at the worst case. Whether it's global warming or the chance of Country A invading Country B, I just assume the most likely outcome is the worst one."

Recent war games and intelligence studies have found that sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia will likely be the most vulnerable regions, facing food shortages, water crises and severe flooding that could require an American humanitarian relief or military response.

Of particular concern is the melting of the massive glaciers in the Himalayas. As glacier-fed rivers first flood and then dry up when the glaciers are gone, a billion+ people in India, China and SE Asia who depend on Himalayan-fed rivers could be at risk, potentially triggering mass-migration and conflict.

Furthermore, the arctic ice cap is shrinking faster than expected, provoking skirmishes over newly exposed resources and a new shipping channel is emerging that will require defense.  

“The American people expect the military to plan for the worst. It's that sort of mindset, I think, that has convinced, in my view, the vast majority of military leaders that climate change is a real threat and that the military plays an important role in confronting it.”
--- Lee Gunn, Vice Admiral

A delegation of US military veterans, part of a coalition of veterans and national security organizations called “Operation Free,” are planning to travel to Copenhagen in the second week of the global United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference to highlight the threats to national and global security posed by climate change and America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy. They will emphasize that the only way to prevent the nightmare scenarios anticipated by military and intelligence officials is through global action and that the time is ripe for America to lead in the effort to avert climate change and diversify our sources of energy.

© Department of Fish and Game

© Department of Fish and Game

As General Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine and the former head of the Central Command, put it, “We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms, and that will involve human lives.”



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