International Order & Conflict

Climate Change and National Security

November 13, 2009 — Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (Ret.), Nigel Purvis, and Matthew Rojansky joined us for a discussion that examines the links between climate change and national security. Vice Admiral McGinn is former Commander of the U.S. Third Fleet in the Pacific Ocean and a current member of CNA’s Military Advisory Board. Mr. Purvis is Founder and President of Climate Advisers and a nonresident scholar at the Brookings Institution. He is former Deputy Head of the U.S. climate change negotiating team and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science.  Mr. Rojansky is Executive Director of Partnership for a Secure America, a group of senior Democrats and Republicans founded by Lee Hamilton and Warren Rudman that aims to rebuild the bipartisan center in U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Rojansky began by framing the issue of climate change in the context of national security, discussing how they relate to each other through issues such as energy security, migration pressures, failed states, homeland security and the United States’ international reputation as a world leader.

Admiral McGinn then turned the discussion to some of the military implications of climate change. Specifically, he described climate change as a threat multiplier, adding pressure and stress to international situations and countries with which the United States is already or may soon become militarily involved with. One such region includes South Asia, where additional pressure from climate change may contribute to the weakening, or even failure, of key states. He also described the potential for new state-on-state conflicts over critical resources, most notably water and energy.

Mr. Purvis concluded the discussion on some of the more environmental manifestations of climate change and how they might pose a threat to national security, focusing primarily on deforestation and food security in the face of climate change’s threat to agricultural production. He also delved into some of the diplomatic issues, describing how many countries, including China, are reluctant to commit to emissions targets until the United States follows through and makes a commitment of its own. Many countries in the developing world are particularly reticent given that their view is most of the ongoing effects of climate change are largely due to the United States’ emissions over the past century. This will be a particular issue at Copenhagen given that it is unlikely the United States will have passed relevant legislation by then.

Security for a New Century is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].

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