Global climate change is extremely complex, and the potential responses to it are equally complicated, involving efforts to both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. These efforts will require domestic, regional, and global leadership—and, most certainly, U.S. leadership. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest producer of greenhouse gases within the U.S. federal government and will therefore need to be heavily involved in any U.S. response to climate change. Typically, the DoD explores future U.S. national security interests and strategy in congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense
s). However, the current QDR
(2007) does not address climate change, so I have taken the liberty of crafting an article, “Climate Change, National Security, and the Quadrennial Defense Review: Avoiding the Perfect Storm
,” that addresses climate change in a QDR
-like manner. If you want the DoD’s attention, you must speak their language.The 2007 QDR groups potential international security challenges into four broad categories: traditional, irregular, disruptive, and catastrophic. Traditional challenges to U.S. interests require employing military forces in conventional activities to prevent military competition and conflict. Irregular challenges to U.S. national security can come from state and non-state actors employing asymmetric tactics (such as terrorism or insurgency) to counter U.S. strengths. Disruptive challenges include situations where competitors employ revolutionary technologies or methods that might counter or negate current U.S. military advantages. Finally, as defined by the March 2005 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, catastrophic challenges encompass terrorists or rogue states employing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or other methods producing WMD-like effects against U.S. interests. In my article, I classify several climate change-driven security threats into the four categories employed by the QDR. If several of these threats happened concurrently, they could create a “perfect storm” with cataclysmic results.
The DoD can help avert this perfect storm, but to do so, it must act quickly, decisively, and comprehensively to achieve what I call “sustainable security.” This involves integrating the democratic peace theory with the core principles of sustainability. Let me briefly explain these two ideas. The democratic peace theory is based on the presumption that democracies do not fight with each other because they share certain pacifying characteristics (e.g., democratic governments, membership in international organizations, economic interdependence) that encourage them to resolve conflicts peacefully. The core principles of sustainability have been described as the 3 Es: equity, economics, and environment. However, I have modified them for my argument; my modified 3 Es are: social/ecological equity, ecological economics, and environmental security. (Additional detail on how the DoD can work toward sustainable security is provided in my article.)
U.S.—including DoD—efforts to achieve sustainable security will enhance “freedom, justice, and human dignity” around the world, “grow the community of democracies,” increase global stability, prosperity, and security, and make it possible for the international community to “avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable” consequences of climate change. Some may consider my proposal a pipe dream. But in solving the biggest security threat of them all, dreaming big is not a luxury—it is a necessity.
John T. Ackerman is an assistant professor of national security studies at the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and the research course director for the ACSC Department of Distance Learning. The opinions expressed in this article are solely his own and do not reflect the positions of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, or ACSC.