The Boston Globe reports that Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the United States’ top military officer, revealed in a recent interview that climate change as a national security threat “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen ... that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.” This is due to a wide range of negative impacts climate change is projected to have.
The World Health Organization expects to see a correlation between rising temperatures and infectious disease, particularly in regards to Malaria. Changes in weather patterns are also causing international concern about future access to food. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated “Climate change will affect all four dimensions of food security: food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food systems stability. It will have an impact on human health, livelihood assets, food production and distribution channels, as well as changing purchasing power and market flows.”
Yet the political destabilizing force that Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III emphasized most was the melting of the Arctic. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
While climate change will impact us all, the sad fact of the matter is that the most rapid and severe impacts will be felt by nations who contributed to it the least. This fact has not been lost on developing countries. The United States’ continued refusal to sign legally binding documents to limit carbon emissions has provoked international ire. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how the social instability resulting from climate change, coupled with the knowledge of the United States’ major role in it, could pose a national security threat.
Luckily, Locklear announced an important step the Navy is taking to help nations that will be severely affected by sea level rise, as well as ourselves. His Hawaiian base is assisting Asian nations in strategically stockpiling supplies and conducting exercises for a wide variety of scenarios.
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue — even with China and India — the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” Locklear said.
“If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.”