Educating the Next Generation of Military Leaders on Food Security

Educating the Next Generation of Military Leaders on Food Security

By Johanna Mendelson Forman

Editor’s note: This analysis is part of Impact — an ongoing Stimson Center series examining the innovative approaches being used to help solve the world’s major global challenges. Contributions to this series are from leading experts at the nonpartisan Stimson Center. Click here to read the full series.  

THE CHALLENGE: When the 2015 Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Food Security stated that “the overall risk of food insecurity in many countries of strategic importance to the United States will increase during the next 10 years because of production, transport and market disruptions to local food availability” the Stimson Center’s Managing Across Boundaries program knew it was time to help educate our military about what this meant in practical terms. We knew that the military understood about the role of food security in terms of humanitarian assistance, but it was unclear how much was known about the relevance of food security to achieving U.S. security objectives. Dr. Nancy Stetson, Special Representative for Global Food Security at the State Department also wanted an answer to this question so that new programs could be developed to educate the armed forces about the nexus of food security and internal conflicts.

This was the challenge Dr. Stetson gave to the Stimson Center last year: find out what training our military currently receives about food security — and find the best mechanisms to make this national security issue a part of the larger training curriculum across all services. Through Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries Program, and its food security work, we were able to support the creation of a Separate Area of Emphasis (SAE) for Food Security and Climate Change that will become part of the allowable new material introduced to the military classroom in 2017. 

With the help of the Stimson Center’s Managing Across Boundaries’ Food Security program, and the assistance of our military fellows, we worked with the Special Representative to help ensure that military training on food security could be added to the areas of study offered our service academies, and throughout the military training school system.


STIMSON’S APPROACH: Working closely with the Office of the Special Representative, we established a team effort between Stimson’s military fellow, Air Force Colonel David Franklin, Senior Advisor Johanna Mendelson Forman, and Research Assistant Emma Myer, we identified a way forward to introduce new topics into the military training curriculum. We all recognized how global stability was intimately linked to access to food, to management of water, and agriculture support. We all understood how food had been identified as a central driver of conflict in so many countries currently experiencing civil wars or recovering from them. We all realized that managing food insecurity and identifying risks before fighting started would be a powerful way to prevent civilian deaths.

To introduce this type of understanding to men and women in the armed forces would require a mandate for food security to be a topic of high importance to the military’s leadership. U.S. forces at all levels lacked a basic understanding of why there was so much concern about the future of food on a planet that was growing hotter, and where natural disasters, armed conflicts and fragile states had created food deficits that could destabilize countries emerging from war, or exacerbate conditions that that would create greater flows of refugees and internally displaced persons. They also needed to understand the respective roles of other civilian parts of the U.S. government, the United Nations system, and non-governmental organizations operating around the world.

With the help of the Stimson Center’s Managing Across Boundaries’ Food Security program, and the assistance of our military fellows, we worked with the Special Representative to help ensure that military training on food security could be added to the areas of study offered our service academies, and throughout the military training school system. We helped to draft the submissions to the military board overseeing the introduction of new curriculum topics, Special Areas of Emphasis (SAEs). Alongside our colleagues at the State Department and working with officials at the National Defense University and the Pentagon, we drafted a request to create a “special area of emphasis” on food security. Dr. Nancy Stetson made presentation last June to a roomful of skeptical officers.

STIMSON’S IMPACT: In January of 2017, we received notice that the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that both food security and climate change were high priority topics that our military needed to know to understand global threats. Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General Dunford, created the “Special Area of Emphasis.” Needless to say, we were pleased to have contributed to this decision, part of a team that saw the value of bringing to our military an important training area that could multiply their effectiveness when deployed on the ground in so many places, or when supporting humanitarian operations around the globe. Our role as in researching and supporting this effort along with the State Department’s Office of Global Food Security is an example of Stimson’s effectiveness in advancing an important issue and seeking practical ways to implement policy about national security threats.

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Johanna Mendelson Forman is Director of the Food Security program at the Stimson Center

Photo credit: ADB and U.S. Army via Flickr