Sometimes, national security is not just a matter of having a larger army, or superior weapons, or better intelligence. It also means preserving political stability around the world, and spreading economic prosperity as widely as possible.
Instability encourages ideological extremism, and poverty provides a steady supply of terrorist recruits, which can directly affect U.S. security. From Afghanistan to Somalia, we’ve seen how weak states and economic hardship can lay the foundation for political crisis and war.
Many military leaders say global warming poses a grave threat to our security, precisely because it will promote economic instability and political unrest around the world. Former Republican Sen. John Warner, a staunch and highly respected supporter of the U.S. military, strongly supports action on climate change, in part for national security reasons. Read Senator Warner’s recent testimony supporting U.S. leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. [PDF]
Climate change is what military analysts call a “threat multiplier,” meaning it will intensify problems that already threaten us. Here is what a world with an unstable climate might look like:
- We’ll see more crop failures and drought, famine, and disease, leading to mass migrations of people across borders
- Scarcity will cause more frequent wars over natural resources, such as water.
- A sea level rise of three feet – near the low end of predictions for 2100 – would create 100 million environmental refugees around the world.
To make matters worse, much of this will happen in volatile regions already on the brink.
Don’t take our word for it. Here’s what military leaders and experts say:
- In a recent report, eleven retired U.S. admirals and generals cited that growing instability from climate change is leading to greater U.S. military operations abroad. Among them were Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and former Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni. According to Sullivan, “We have to act now [on global climate change] if we are to avoid the worst effects.”
- Likewise, the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has issued a report on the national security impacts of climate change [PDF] predicting that global warming will produce “heightened internal and cross-border tensions caused by large-scale migrations; conflict sparked by resource scarcity, particularly in the weak and failing states of Africa; increased disease proliferation, which will have economic consequences; and some geopolitical reordering as nations adjust to shifts in resources and prevalence of disease.” Among the authors was James Woolsey, former director of the CIA. The board of CSIS includes former National Security Advisors Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft.
- Finally, the National Intelligence Council completed the first-ever National Intelligence Assessment of climate change last year. Although the report is classified, the chairman of the Council summarized key findings before a Congressional committee: “We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years.” [PDF]
The climate bill now before Congress will help avert widespread and dangerous environmental changes that would lead to global instability, by cutting greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent by 2050. Another benefit will be reducing our reliance on imported oil. The U.S. has five percent of the world’s oil reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil. Much of the world’s oil comes from the Mideast, a focal point of political instability and extremism, making reduced dependence on imported oil a national security imperative. By moving the U.S. toward cleaner energy sources like wind and solar, the climate bill will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels like oil.
Many of the nation’s top military leaders and foreign policy experts are calling global warming a national security threat, as well as a critical environmental threat. Congress needs to avert this coming crisis by passing the climate bill.