We are entering “an emerging security environment” where “what constitutes a ‘threat’ and what constitutes a ‘challenge’” requires a broader understanding of security than has often been the norm, according to Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. Burke was joined by the UK’s Climate and Energy Security Envoy Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti and ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko on a new installment of Dialogue TV. They debated what climate change and energy security mean for the world’s militaries.
“We do have to be ready for a very broad range of missions in a very broad range of places,” Burke said. “We are spending a lot of effort looking at capabilities that we need to have.” A focus on energy, for example, can help both non-traditional and traditional missions. “What we’re developing that helps a forward operating base in Afghanistan operate independently will be very useful in a humanitarian disaster,” she said.
Although “climate change in itself is unlikely to be a direct cause of conflict,” when “people have lost their land or their livelihood, they’re pressed into action that may or may not be legitimate [and that] may put pressure on their governments – then there’s a risk of conflict,” said Rear Admiral Morisetti.
“What we’ve got to do is to work to try and reduce those risks,” Morisetti said, “to build capacity, resilience…through a combination of national and international aid, diplomacy…[and] some small part for security forces.” These measures are crucial to strengthening countries that may otherwise struggle to meet the security challenges of an uncertain climate.
Bringing the discussion together, Dabelko highlighted an assortment of academic – and policy – focused resources about the linkages between these challenging topics. He noted that views on how the military should prepare and approach climate change have truly expanded beyond the Atlantic sphere. Indeed, many national governments (for example small island states that face existential threats from climate change) and some bodies in the UN system are actively pursuing the broader security challenges of climate change.
Debates remain active and contested. What institutions are most appropriate for dealing with these issues? The UN Security Council, for example, has not been able to come to agreement on whether they should take up climate change as an international security threat despite making climate change the focus of a second UN Security Council session. Despite the ongoing disagreements, “What is interesting and innovative and positive” about Morisetti’s and Burke’s experiences, said Dabelko, is they move beyond “our almost singular focus on…multilateral environmental agreements…which have, frankly, had real challenges getting to a global bargain.”