Indian Border Security Force personnel peer through the barb wire fence that separates India and Bangladesh during a security patrol in June 2013. By late 2013, about 1,700 of the fence's planned 2,116 miles had been built. When complete, nearly all of Bangladesh will be encircled by a militarized border. Photo: STRDEL / AFP  Getty Images

By Terrell Johnson
18 February 2014

( – When he was asked last March to name the nation's biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region, U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III gave a response many people didn't expect: climate change.

“People are surprised sometimes,” he said in an interview with the Boston Globe, adding that the disruption caused by rising seas and storms in a slowly but steadily warming world "is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen … that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

That's exactly the message now being taken across the country by a group called the American Security Project – made up of past high-level members of the military, former U.S. Senators, businesspeople and others – in an effort to urge their fellow citizens to look at the full scope of how climate change will impact the world, beyond the environment, including:

  • The rapidly thawing Arctic, and how it will change political and security relationships among nations;
  • Climate-affected conflict in places like Africa and the Middle East;
  • Refugee crises stemming from sea level rise in densely populated coastal areas;
  • The need to protect (or move) critically important installations around the world.

“We’re here to say, don’t let this issue die," the group's CEO Stephen A. Cheney, who retired as a brigadier general after 32 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, told a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh last week.

"There are a myriad of solutions, there really are," he added. "We’re pumping carbon dioxide into the air – how do we stop that, and how do we get it out? That’s the bottom line here." […]

"What do you do when entire islands go away? Right now, the world dials 911-NAVY – that's U.S. Navy – to come and respond to these events," notes Andrew Holland, ASP's senior policy fellow for energy and climate.

"When entire countries start to go away, that’s real national security problems," he adds. "When you’re no longer able to grow the food in entire African countries that they need to survive, what do you do and how are you going to deal with that?" […]

No one would point to climate change as the sole reason behind the coup d'état that overthrew Mali's democratically elected president in 2012, or say it's the only cause of the civil war that has raged in Syria for the past three years.

But there's a growing consensus among many observers that climate change-related circumstances, like the drought that devastated thousands of Syria's rural farmers between 2006 and 2010, have played a key role in conflicts like these around the world.

In intelligence and military circles, climate change is often called a "threat multiplier" or an "accelerant of instability," says Holland, adding that droughts can have especially long-lasting impacts on stability.

“It’s one of these things that it’s another problem to add to an already existing litany of problems," he said. "These coastal megacities in increasingly ungoverned areas, it could be one of these things that breaks the back [and leads to conflict]."

Searing, years-long drought left people in rural areas with no way to grow crops in both Syria and Mali, forcing them to migrate to cities. But in places like Damascus, which already had large numbers of Iraqi refugees, an influx of thousands of desperate new people can't be easily absorbed into the population, and instead makes already-existing tensions worse.

“There's a long chain of events between climate change to conflict to war," Holland adds. "But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist." [more]

Climate Change Looming As Threat to U.S. National Security



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