All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change.
Updated: Jan 14
Michael T. Klare. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 20019
--- A Review by Harry Strharsky
During these modern times in public life when up is down and our political discourse is fraught with misrepresentation, lies and deception, the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior and Energy Departments, among others, have acceded to reverse environmental protections and not to refer to “climate change” or “global warming” in their policy discussions; Michael T. Klare makes a strong argument that the U.S. Department of Defense deserves credit as an exemplar in acknowledging climate change as an increasing threat to our national security.
The “all hell breaking loose” is an end game scenario where our armed forces need to confront various global warming related crises overseas while at the same time hampered by severe climate effects to its many bases and facilities at home. Faced with the need for multiple, concurrent deployment decisions the military could be stretched beyond its capacity and suffer institutional collapse, thus making climate change an existential threat to the Pentagon itself.
This scenario, of course, will not be arrived at imminently. It is the end result of what Klare details through several chapters identifying increased dangers of complex emergencies and disruption what he has termed “the climate ladder of escalation.”
The DoD’s realization that climate change is a distinct threat to national security was not arrived at overnight. It comes after more than a decade of research and analysis by members of the military and intelligence agencies. “The military’s altered perspective can be traced back to the 2007 publication of ‘National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,’ the first major study to view global warming as a security concern.” It continues through hundreds of Pentagon and intelligence agency reports, studies, directives and statements to two Department of Defense Climate Change Adaption Roadmaps to the most recently adopted U.S. DoD Reports on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense, January, 2019.
“The climate ladder of escalation” begins with distributed humanitarian emergencies around the globe where our various Military Task Force Commands have been called out to perform multiple Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions. Operation Damayan led by the Pacific Command in Hawaii was deployed to assist with the Super Typhoon Haiyan damage to the Philippines in 2013. Southern Command was activated to provide disaster relief in the Caribbean after Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria struck in 2017. Africa Command’s rapid-response was tested when Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were devastated by Cyclone Idai in March, 2019. Missions like these are most likely to be even more necessary in the years ahead as ocean waters warm and more extreme storms happen more frequently.
Resource scarcity, ethnic strife and “failed-state” government collapse are the next step on the climate ladder of escalation. U.S. military intervening in crisis situations where assorted armed groups are fighting over access to food, energy and other commodities and where American troops may be called to combat local militias or other armed groups while protecting the delivery of emergency assistance for a longer period of time is much more hazardous and complex than normal humanitarian aid activities in delivering supplies and emergency services for a short time after an extreme storm. Such a mission is detailed in the history of conflict in Mali, following the Arab Spring uprisings in Northern Africa in 2012. Klare notes, “For American military planners, the conclusion is inescapable. As global temperatures rise and more states confront the perils of instability and dissolution, the United States will be called upon ever more frequently to help preserve the order.”
Next rung up the ladder of climate change escalation includes food shortages, energy crises, pandemics and mass migrations “To make matters worse severe climate events occur more frequently in ‘clusters,’ magnifying the shock to the system—much as when the 2010 heat wave in Russia coincided with severe flooding in Pakistan and drought in China.” Food insecurity as a result of flooding, drought and severe storms will provide an environment for conflict, social disruptions and massive political instability.
An even more fearsome rung up the ladder is the prospect of great power clashes following the melting of the Arctic and conflict over fossil fuel reserves, precious and rare earth minerals, as well as shipping lanes. The United States, Russia and China are all gearing up for staking claims to enormous resources even before the ice melts. Likewise major conflicts to dwindling water resources in the Himalayan watershed are forecast among nuclear powers China, India and Pakistan.
All of the above consequences following increasing climate change throughout the world and the growing threat to U.S. national security is only exacerbated by severe droughts, western wildfires, extreme inland flooding, sea-rise and the punishing impacts to our ports and military installations at home.
The key question for our military leaders becomes, as Klare puts it: “At what point will defending the homeland from severe climate impacts erode the armed forces’ ability to address conventional military threats arising overseas?” As the world becomes more violent, our military leaders will face tough choices to deploy limited resources between homeland defense and foreign battles.
With Trump in the White House and most Republicans in Congress seeing no danger from climate change, “senior military officials continue to perceive multiple threats to the U.S. national security and an urgent need to prepare for its effects.”
Although the Pentagon has been studying and analyzing the effects of climate change as a threat to our national security and planning how to deal with its perils for more than a decade now, it has been slow to embrace climate change mitigation. In recent years, however, the Navy has taken leadership in forming a “Great Green Fleet” to demonstrate their efforts to shift from fossil fuels to renewable fuel sources and reduced carbon emissions. Other alternative energy initiatives have also been taken by the Department of Defense to lessen energy dependence on increased disruptions to the electrical power grid that supplies its bases in the U.S. If any of these alternative energy programs will survive the Trump era remains to be seen.
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