The Security Threat Requiring Rapid Response

Climate Change is Oppotunity for DOD Leadership

By now, there are only a handful of people who doubt that global warming is occurring, and most agree that it is happening at such a pace that adapting and managing it could outstrip our institutional skills and abilities. The most charitable description of the Bush Administration leadership on this issue is lackluster. Not only are citizens not prepared neither is the federal government.

Increasing concerns about the national security implications of climate change have been well documented with numerous studies, including the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) report led by 11 retired flag officers, and others by The U.S. Army War College, the Defense Science Board, and the Pentagon. The security threats include increased tensions over competition for resources like fresh water and food, as well as large-scale migration of refugees, and disease. It is the U.S. military that is often called upon to bring stability to regions in turmoil and conflict.

While instability is a major national security concern, the full scope of climate change impacts on national security could go beyond instability to include the loss or diminishment of U.S. military installations, and even the inability to deploy weapons because of dramatic changes in ocean temperatures and intensity of local climate conditions.

These senior flag officers of the CNA report have not gone daffy; they have looked at serious data and they are suggesting the deployment of the institutional planning associated with the complex system of the biggest and most sophisticated planning system in the United States government. They are suggesting that the Quadrennial Defense Review assess the capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to the almost certain events that will be caused by climate change. Thus, climate change will become a threat addressed in both the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy. The officers are asking the intelligence community to integrate the consequences of climate change into the National Intelligence Estimate.

The traditional tools of the military, like war games and scenario planning, are overdue in the matter of climate change and would certainly help the next Administration begin the institutional reforms needed to deal with this threat, if they were put into place.

Figure 1 Kwajalein Island, where a significant amount of money has been spent, particularly on the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Figure 2 The island of Guam, future home of U.S. Marines moving from Japan by 2014. Is this the wisest move considering the likelihood of sea level rise? Top image is QuickBird image of west side of Guam taken May 21, 2005. Credit: DigitalGlobe.

A particularly vulnerable aspect of the military structure that often is overlooked is the fact that installations are not often seen as the "tip of the spear." But climate change will bring major effects to defense installations, particularly the ones in low-lying areas near shorelines and in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Islands. See Figure 1.

The 2006 agreement between the United States and Japan to move 8,000 U.S. Marines from bases in Japan to the island of Guam by 2014 is clearly about more than just relocating Marines. Guam is about to become once again an important forward position in the U.S. Defense posture.

The FY 2007 National Defense Authorization Act includes a $193 million Military Construction authorization fund for Guam, a $31 million increase over 2006 funding. "Guam is likely to see between $400 million and $1 billion in military construction each year for a period of six to 10 years," (Guam's representative in Congress, Madeleine Z. Bordallo) said.

Consider having to repeat that major move because of the effects of rising sea level in Guam. As the "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change" report by the CNA points out, "Lack of planning for (critical defense installations) can compromise them or cause them to be inundated, compromising military readiness and capability." See Figure 2.

In fact, Pacific Island lawmakers who attended a three-day general assembly of the Pacific Island legislature on Guam in early May are very concerned for their own sustainability in light of global warming, and plan to meet again in November to discuss the effects of global warming on Pacific Islanders. General assembly delegate Alik J. Alik, vice speaker of the Marshall Islands' Nitijela (Parliament), said concerns about rising sea levels have prompted some people in the island republic to relocate, or to consider relocating.

The Army alone has more than 14 million acres and over 2000 Installations, 12,000 historical structures, a multi-billion dollar military construction program, and a base operations program. Not only should the Army be preparing for the effects of global climate change, but also it should examine how its institutional processes are creating greenhouse gases, what the installations can do to be a part of local, regional and national solutions, and how the Army is going to adapt the 21st century base structure to the new realities of climate change.

The defense authorization committees are well aware of the need to engage the military in the new realities of climate change, and they are hard at work with authorizing the services. However, the services themselves must embrace new ways of thinking about this issue and about tackling those reforms to change the way the bureaucracy works.

I offer the following six suggestions only as a starting point:

Fund the New Energy Technologies The Logistics Management Institute said in their review of "Winning the Oil Endgame" that "Aggressively developing and applying energy-saving technologies to military applications would potentially do more to solve the most pressing long-term challenges facing the Department of Defense (DOD) and our national security than any other single investment area. Recently, the Secretary of Defense called upon the services to be more innovative as they look at the technology, and many have said the services have fallen woefully behind in innovation. Yet, their very engagement can improve the entire marketplace for technology. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 sets a standard for cutting greenhouse gases, and both DOD and the private sector have stated that the technology is available to meet these greenhouse gas requirements." Specialized programs in each of the military services have shown impressive results that need to be more broadly implemented throughout DOD.

Fix the Installation Organization Structure While the Department of Defense is in the process of developing a comprehensive energy strategy, there remains a lack of integration of environmental and energy policy. Currently, the Army Installations and Environment organization separates environmental policy and practice from the energy organization into two stovepipe organizations. While both of them are under the same Assistant Secretary, they have almost no lines of communication, and the energy organization sees their mission as getting the best price of electricity for the installations. If that price is dependent on coal, so be it. If it is delivered on a vulnerable antiquated grid, that is the problem of the energy provider.

The environmental and energy team must see their mission as a national security mission, and it must be integrated. Ongoing information and training programs like those started at the National Defense University need to be expanded to all service academies and offered throughout the training infrastructure in the services.

Deploy more versatile fuels During my tenure with the Army, there was great resistance to looking at renewable energy or distributed systems. While the installations planners have developed a program called Enhanced Leases to better utilize land capacity, still the idea of leasing for solar or wind was resisted because of the long-term power agreements the Army entered into. Perhaps this is inherent in the process of change.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended that the services enter into multiyear contracts, for a period of up to 10 years, for the purchase of alternative or synthetic fuels. The services ought to be buying at least 25 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal or other renewable energy sources by 2025. No place is better suited for plug-and-drive vehicles than military installations. As military facilities expand and are upgraded and realigned, greater use of high performance buildings, on-site distributed generation, and the most advanced energy-saving technologies need to be aggressively deployed.

Assess the Vulnerability of Installations Insurance companies have already performed risk assessments on coastal housing and may have decided to pull out of that market. The military too should assess the risks and begin planning for the next round of base closures and begin to build a base structure that takes into account a warming planet and a rising sea level.

Fresh water will become scarcer in more places due to warming. Just recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee, concerned with vulnerability of the grid, found that, "despite numerous vulnerability studies, the extent of technical and operational risks to specific critical missions is not adequately assessed, or plans for its mitigation programmed." This incomplete assessment, coupled with the trend over the last several years to place more defense installations onto the commercial power grid, suggests that department infrastructure energy plans may not be synchronized with an up-to-date technical and operational risk evaluation. Efforts by DOD to back up critical base functions with on-site renewable generation need to be expanded.

Change the way the services do business at the installation The department should require a full accounting of the cost of energy at the installations. This should include the cost to the environment from exploration to transportation to clean up of the residue. There should be a department-wide energy efficiency target and authorization for the installations to modify existing contracts to take account of the full cost of energy to the installation and to create energy independence at the installation level.

Work with local communities, including tribes, to develop a smart grid The military installations should move aggressively toward a web-enabled, digitally controlled power delivery system that efficiently distributes electricity and protects from blackouts and excess energy consumption.

No group of Americans has a larger stake in managing the effects of climate change, and perhaps no government body has a more significant responsibility, than DOD. The department also has the structure, the discipline, and the resources to play one of the most valuable leadership roles in one of the greatest challenges facing the next three generations. The incoming Administration will have an opportunity to appoint a defense leadership who understands the national security implications of climate change and should ask each potential appointee what he or she would do to ensure that the DOD trains, equips and deploys the department to lead on this national security issue.

Editor's Note: The relevance of climate change to national security was also the subject of our April eNewsletter.

By Ray Clark, Senior Partner at The Clark Group, a Washington D.C. environmental and energy consulting firm. In 1999, he was appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army and served as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Installations and Environment during the transition between administrations. From 1992 to 1999, he was the Associate Director in the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He has a Masters Degree from Duke University where he continues to serve as adjunct faculty. Recently, he formed the Conservationists for National Security to provide a forum to address the impacts of climate change on national security. He is editor of two books on environmental policy.

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