The debate over climate change has expanded, with some now arguing that it could be as dangerous to national security as the environment.
Yet national security concerns about human-caused climate change are overblown and intended to push domestic climate change legislation, according to a study by the Marshall Institute.
“In summary, the climate-security argument is dangerously overstated and designed to serve a domestic political purpose more than filling a void in strategic thinking,” writes Marshall Institute president Jeff Kueter, the author of the study.
Those who see a national security threat argue rising sea levels, droughts, hurricanes, famines, and floods — among other disasters resulting from higher global temperatures — will disrupt populations in flashpoint areas of the world, creating conflicts over refugees and competition for scarce resources.
Under this theory, climate change could empower extremist groups that commit terrorism and cause conflicts between nations.
“What that methodology ignores and overlooks is the slow and gradual change in which most environmental things unwind, and it totally ignores the empirical evidence on the causes and correlates of conflict,” Kueter said.
Kueter argues that studies show that environmental factors rarely incite conflict within or between countries. In fact, it’s more likely to inspire cooperation between groups.
“It makes sense that an environmental factor, by itself, is never going to precipitate a conflict if two societies are already amicably or peacefully aligned with one another,” Kueter told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“There has to be other factors at play that causes relationships to deteriorate in order to cause a conflict,” he continued.
Things like “repression, longstanding or simmering conflicts between two countries, [and] competition over other types of territory” have to be prevalent and have reached a boiling point in order for the environment to play a role in whether or not countries go to war, according to Kueter.
“It is often times more cost-effective for the nations that are involved to negotiate a solution rather than to fight over it because of just the sheer expense of going to war,” Kueter added.
“One of the reasons why this argument has been advanced, I believe, is to create a fissure inside of the national security community in order to advance a mitigation agenda domestically for cap and trade, for other kinds of carbon controls,” Kueter told TheDC News Foundation.
In 2007, the Center for Naval Analysis found that climate change was a “threat multiplier” for instability in the world’s most vulnerable regions and that climate change would increase tensions even in stable regions of the world.
The national security implications of climate change became a talking point for Senate Democrats in an effort to pass climate legislation in 2009, the New York Times reported. Democrat Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and main advocate for the 2009 climate legislation, said he hoped to sway Senate skeptics by pressing the national security angle.
Climate change has been included in the Obama administration’s national security strategy. It’s also mentioned in the 2012 Democratic Party platform.
“In the 21st Century, the reality is that there are environmental threats which constitute threats to our national security,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said at an Environmental Defense Fund reception in May.
“[T]he political calculation is that they will be able to bring new constituencies into supporting those policies tools, ones that wouldn’t have ever supported those kinds of actions before, either because they didn’t care about the issue or they were naturally suspicious of it,” Kueter said.
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