Severe drought. Record heat. Extreme storms. In the past year, the United States has experienced conditions that have already become commonplace in many of the most volatile parts of the world. But not until the day of his second Inauguration did President Barack Obama put climate change squarely back on the table, after a long presidential campaign from which the issue had been largely absent.
While the fact of climate change might be fodder for political debate, it is widely accepted across the national security community, which focuses keenly on reducing risk and preserving freedom. The CNA Military Advisory Board — a panel of our nation’s highest-ranking retired military leaders — has identified climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it can exacerbate political instability in the world’s most dangerous regions. Droughts, floods, food and water shortages and extreme weather can uproot communities, cause humanitarian crises and increase the chances of armed conflict. We believe these conditions make it more likely that U.S. troops will be sent into harm’s way — and the Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Intelligence Estimates and the National Security Strategy agree.
We saw the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy — families without water, power and shelter. Superimpose on that kind of situation an already fragile political state, and you have a recipe for failed states and civil war. This is what the U.S. military is bracing for. That is why we are already actively engaged in planning against it. Just as sensible people plan ahead to minimize the damage from weather disasters, our nation must take precautions to reduce the risks of climate change.