In the annual threat assessment
he presented last week to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, new Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair named the global economic crisis—not terrorism—the primary near-term threat to U.S. national security, prompting accusations of partisanship from the Washington Times
. Yet as the U.S. Naval War College’s Derek Reveron
notes, “the economic turmoil of the early 20th century fueled global instability and war,” and today’s economic collapse could strengthen extremists and deprive U.S. allies of the funds they need to deploy troops or increase foreign assistance to vulnerable regions.
Further down the list of potential catastrophes—after terrorism, cybersecurity, and the “arc of instability” that stretches from the Middle East to South Asia—the assessment tackles environmental security threats. The four-page section, which likely draws on sections of the recent National Intelligence Council report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, summarizes the interrelated natural-resource and population challenges—including energy, food, water, demography, climate change, and global health—the U.S. intelligence community is tracking.
The world will face mounting resource scarcity, warns Blair. “Access to relatively secure and clean energy sources and management of chronic food and water shortages will assume increasing importance for a growing number of countries. Adding well over a billion people to the world’s population by 2025 will itself put pressure on these vital resources,” he writes.
Drawing on the conclusions of the 2008 National Intelligence Assessment on the impacts of global climate change to 2030, Blair portrays climate change as a variable that could place additional strain on already-stressed agricultural, energy, and water systems: “We assess climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030, but the impacts will worsen existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions.” Direct impacts to the United States include “warming temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and possible increases in the severity of storms in the Gulf, increased demand for energy resources, disruptions in US and Arctic infrastructure, and increases in immigration from resource-scarce regions of the world,” writes Blair.
Africa, as usual, is the last of the world’s regions to be analyzed in the assessment. Blair notes that “a shortage of skilled medical personnel, deteriorating health systems, and inadequate budgets to deal with diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis” is threatening stability in sub-Saharan Africa, and explains that agriculture, which he rightly calls “the foundation of most African economies,” is not yet self-sufficient, although some countries have made significant improvements in infrastructure and technology. He highlights ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Sudan, and Somalia as the most serious security challenges in Africa. He fails to note, however, that all four have environmental/natural resource dimensions (see above links for details).