On Monday, Oct. 5, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change released its most recent draft of a global climate change agreement ahead of the 2015 Paris World Climate Summit to “support the global response to the urgent threat of climate change by further addressing its causes and by further increasing resilience and the ability to adapt to its adverse impacts.”
President Obama has pushed for greater action on climate change throughout his time in office and has enlisted the help of senior military and public officials to address what the Obama administration calls “a present and future threat to the security of the United States.” In 2014, former Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a statement saying that climate change “will have real impacts on the military and the way it executes its mission.”
However, according to The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Military Strength, the recent expansion of national security priorities to include climate change may simply represent “a rebranding of domestic agendas to shift resources away from the Pentagon.”
A recent study conducted by the George C. Marshall Institute supports this, stating, the “climate-security argument is dangerously overstated and designed to serve a domestic political purpose more than filling a void in strategic thinking.” Climate change, by nature, is a social issue, not a national security issue.
In response to those within the administration who point to climate change as the main catalyst for conflict, Dr. Kim Holmes of The Heritage Foundation argues that while water shortages and resource scarcity could inflame international tensions, “the root causes of those conflicts are not environmental; they are political and military. Environmental issues are tangential and, at best, merely contributing factors.”
Dr. Holmes also states that “[w]ater shortages exist, but the problem begins when rival nations or groups start manipulating that scarcity for political purposes. Tensions with Russia over Arctic routes are rooted in Russia’s geopolitical ambitions, not in purported concerns about the ozone layer.”
Rebranding climate change as a national security threat is misleading and fails to address the ideological factors driving conflict.
Climate change is not a national security issue and any attempt to rebrand it as such, according to Dr. Holmes, “will only lead to confusion, waste, distractions, and possibly even military failures as the U.S. government is asked to do things that are either beyond its capacity or worse, tangential to the real mission of protecting the country from harm.”