Climate Change is a Top Threat to National Security, Says New Head of US Intelligence

climate change national security photo

Photo via PBS

As Obama gets ready to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, the new head of US intelligence warns that another severe threat to national security is on the rise. And it's a threat that could potentially be more dangerous even than terrorism—one that could cause mass migrations, incite civil wars, and endanger the lives of hundreds of millions around the world. And the new enemy in the US military's cross hairs?

Climate change.The Climate Change Threat
Dennis Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, issued a warning that many poorer, more weakly governed nations will also be subject to the worst impacts of climate change: extreme flooding and hazardous dry spells.

According to Terra Daily,

"The impacts (of climate change) will worsen existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions," Blair told senators last week.

And this leads to an increased potential of unrest, extremist governments, and violence.

Such predictions are nothing new—two years ago one such report, aptly titled "National Security and the Threat of Global Climate Change," was issued by the Center for Naval Analyses. The head of the British armed forces made a similar warning based on that report when it was released.

But the threat of climate change is now even more severe since the CAN's report two years ago, as its effects have become better understood:

The risks have increased in the last two years," CNA General Counsel Sherri Goodman said. "The indicators of climate change have increased, from melting in the arctic to the increases in droughts and flooding to the wildfires in Australia and Greece.


Photo via the Guardian
Where Climate Change Could Cause Unrest
These are the areas cited in the report where climate change stands to the most severe damage:

-"In Ethiopia, some experts say changing weather linked to rising global temperatures has exacerbated the cholera epidemic, plunging the already poverty-stricken nation further into turmoil."

-"64 million people in China and the Philippines alone inhabit areas at risk for flooding if sea levels rise as predicted"

-" The list of areas predicted to be dramatically affected by climate change isn't small, either; it includes almost all of Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East"

And all this evidently spells bad news for the US: "'All these factors combine to pose serious national security risks for the United States,' said Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former Army chief of staff," according to Terra Daily.

From Climate Change to Terrorism
And here's why climate change may be even more dangerous than terrorism: it could potentially create terrorists and extremists. This is how, according to Kent Butts, the director of the National Security Issues Group at the U.S Army War College:

These resulting disasters would follow a long chain of events. First, climate-induced disasters, like droughts, could create resource shortages or force people from their homes. Lack of food, water and/or shelter would likely create social unrest, leading to potential political upheaval, making room for extremist movements to take over the government.

This can happen anytime a government can't satisfy the basic needs of its citizens, Butts said, pointing to the 2006 political victory of Hamas, an extremist organization that won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliamentary election that year.

However, climate change could make political turnovers much more common by making it more difficult for governments to maintain economic and social normalcy, Butts said.

Climate Change: A Real Threat to US National Security?
Now, we've been hearing these doomsday scenarios for some time now—some even grimmer predictions suggest that global warming could even cause the next world war--but hearing them issued from some of the top minds in our military is still startling.

However, it seems that framing the catastrophic effects of climate change on poor, poorly governed nations as threat to national security isn't the most useful way of engaging the global warming issue. It may be premature, and it's certainly a brazenly selfish consideration—especially since rich, developed nations have emitted 70% or so of the greenhouse gases responsible for these nations growing plights. Perhaps instead of readying preeminent military theory, we should be making motions towards providing aide?

But, as yet another motive for politicians and the public to get on board with the fight against climate change—the fact that it might eventually cause global unrest is as compelling as any.

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