Climate Change: A Security Threat For US Military Bases

Climate Change: A Security Threat For US Military Bases


Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A new Pentagon report has been released by the US Department of Defence (DoD) demonstrating the effects of climate change on a number of American military bases (2019, Military Times). It was directed by the 2018 National Defence Authorisation Act in the objective to focus on mission assurance in order to find operational risks associated with climate change.

The study is based on the assessment of 79 installations. These installations include the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. According to the chart (see below) from 20 Army bases, there are currently 14 that are affected by flooding, 4 by drought, 4 by wildfires, 2 by desertification and 1 by thawing permafrost.

Table of current and potential effects of climate change on 79 US military installations: (2019, US Department of Defense)

The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations”, the report found (2019, US Politics).

However, a substantial amount of criticism has been raised. One such criticism is that the report does not highlight the legal specificities sufficiently such as the cost estimates for the base upgrades to combat the operational issues associated with climate change. In addition, there is no explanation for why the Marine Corps was not be taken into account. The study also did not rank the top 10 most vulnerable bases as it was required to do (2019, Ward). Another criticism is that the report does not mention the consequences of Hurricane Michael or Hurricane Florence that had led to a number of infrastructure damage such as in the case of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Lastly, the study only depicts climate change related threats for the next twenty years. This thus reduces the impact of the report in the eyes of climate change sceptics, such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe and US President Donald Trump.

The report concluded that 53 out of the 79 installations that were analysed are considered to be currently at risk. Although the report sends an alert to the political arena, it nevertheless seems to be insufficient. For instance, Rhode Island Democrat, Rep. Jim Langevin stated that “there were not a lot of ambiguities in what we required, and what the report produced didn’t come close at all” (2019, Kusnetz). He goes further by explaining the urgency of this issue and the necessity to discuss this issue in Congress. This would also allow for the government to establish preventative measures in order for it to be, in the long term, less costly for american taxpayers.  

The objective of the report was to address the challenges the US Department of Defence had to face concerning climate change. However, it seems it has fallen short in answering these issues and in proposing an adequate solutions. Thus making the Pentagon report incomplete. Although the US Defence Department declares it will install protective measures concerning the numerous threats caused by climate change (2019, Kusnetz). It still lacks a detailed action plan in order to face these looming threats.

For a number of years the EU has also addressed the issue of climate change and its effects on international security. Indeed, “climate change is likely to aggravate geostrategic threats”, thus highlighting the necessity for the EU to create a strategy that prepares and responds to these issues. Moreover “militaries will need to better understand how defense requirements are integrally connected to the effects of climate change” (2014, Youngs). Although there was a fear of overmilitarisation of climate issues, there seems to have been a shift towards a more conflict management response. The 2016 EU strategy for foreign policy “states that the effects of climate change and environmental degradation (desertification, soil degradation, food and water scarcity) increase the probability of conflict” (2017, Van Schaik and al.).

A number of individual States have already incorporated climate change in their defence policies especially the United Kingdom. Spain created a Military Emergency Unit in order to answer to climate disasters. Other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Czech Republic mention climate security inside their defence strategies (2014, Youngs). Thus showing that climate change is slowing establishing itself inside individual states.

To conclude, the EU continues to progress in the right direction, namely with “Military Green” by the European Defence Agency as well with a number of other projects. Despite the number of critiques made concerning the recently released Pentagon report, it does nevertheless demonstrate the willingness of the US to move forward and address the climate change threats that are emerging.

Written by Charlotte Lowe, on behalf of the Finabel Permanent Secretariat

References:

(2019), COPP, Tara, “Climate change threatens a majority of mission-critical military bases , Pentagon report says”, Military Times, (Accessed 24 January 2019)   https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/01/18/dod-majority-of-mission-critical-bases-face-climate-change-threats/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ebb%2022.01.19&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

(2019), KUSNETZ, Nicolas, “US Military report warns climate change threatens key bases”, Inside Climate News, (Accessed 25 January 2019) https://insideclimatenews.org/news/18012019/military-bases-climate-change-risks-wildfires-flooding-defense-department-report-congress

(2019), “Majority of mission-critical bases face climate change threats”, US Politics, (Accessed 25 January 2019) https://uspolitics.10ztalk.com/2019/01/18/majority-of-mission-critical-bases-face-climate-change-threats/

(2019), US Department of Defence, “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense,” (Accessed on 24 January 2019) https://partner-mco-archive.s3.amazonaws.com/client_files/1547826612.pdf  

(2017), VAN SCHAIK, Louise., REECE, Maite., KUNEMAN, Ernst, “Climate Change”, Clingendael Institute, (Accessed 30 January 2019) https://www.clingendael.org/pub/2017/monitor2017/climate_change/

(2019), WARD, Alex, “The Pentagon calls climate change a national security threat,” Vox, (Accessed 25 January 2019) https://www.vox.com/2019/1/18/18188153/pentagon-climate-change-military-trump-inhofe

(2014), YOUNGS, Richard, “Climate Change and EU Security Policy: An Unmet Challenge”, Carnegie Europe, (Accessed 30 January 2019) https://carnegieendowment.org/files/climate_change_eu_security.pdf

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