Quadrennial Defense Review Should Spark Interagency Climate Conversation

The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review and the Annual Threat Assessment just given to the Senate by the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair highlighted climate change’s impact on military operations and security.  The Pentagon and the intelligence community are finally recognizing climate change’s threat to global security, as discussed in this repost by CAP’s Michael Werz and Kari Manlove.

At long last, the world’s top energy consumer is factoring climate change into its long-term strategies. The Department of Defense recently presented to Congress its Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR, a strategy document that lays out the Pentagon’s vision for its missions and force structure in the face of anticipated threats. The QDR identifies climate change as a destabilizing agent and discusses how military operations should respond to climate-induced disasters and how climate change will affect military operations. The QDR’s recognition of climate change’s threat should kickstart an interagency discussion among the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House on a comprehensive approach to climate change that factors in its ability to drive migration and destabilize regions.

For the first time, the Pentagon measures the cost of its own tremendous energy use not only in dollars but also as a strategic disadvantage. Only days after President Barack Obama announced an executive order requiring the entire federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, the QDR takes an introspective look at the military’s energy consumption, especially with regard to transportation on the battlefield.

It appropriately tags energy efficiency as a “force multiplier,” and for good reason: Reliable energy supplies are of the utmost importance on military missions, which explains why troops protect energy supply routes and why support convoys are often the target of attacks. Reduced reliance on oil through energy efficiency will safeguard American troops, cut down pollution, and free up federal dollars for other priorities””fuel costs account for about one-third of the annual cost of deploying a service member to Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s increased attention to efficiency wasn’t that surprising given its importance, but it also recognized that the U.S. military increasingly engages in disaster response, which broadens the military’s responsibilities beyond traditional operations. The Center for Naval Analysis convened a board of military officials in 2006 who concluded that climate change is a “threat multiplier” and increases political instability in regions that are important to the United States. The new QDR takes these arguments one step further by conceding the necessity of a comprehensive approach to energy security, climate stability, and even the strengthening of weakened governments in areas particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, because such an approach is in the United States’ national interest.

The QDR’s authors mention the “significant geopolitical impact” that climate change will have around the world, “contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments.” This acknowledgment is an important step in addressing the complex security and humanitarian challenges of coming decades. And it lays the ground for yet another step into the right direction: the notion that there isn’t a military answer to every security threat.

The intelligence community also seized the opportunity to weigh in on climate change last week with its Annual Threat Assessment, presented to the Senate by the director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair. The DNI’s assessment draws on expertise from various federal agencies that analyze the sources and effects of climate change. Blair wrote that, “As climate changes spur more humanitarian emergencies, the demand may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations.”

This assertion coincides with a similar point about emergencies made in the QDR that “climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.” But these themes are only mentioned in passing and the report doesn’t spell out the full range of potential humanitarian consequences. Climate scientists have developed many projections that predict intensifying storms, more severe hurricanes, and exacerbated drought and water scarcity. Each of these will affect worldwide agricultural capacity and output, access to food and water resources, and threaten the economic livelihood of millions. Experts estimate that 200 million people could become climate migrants by 2050 in extreme cases, and the entire globe from Bangladesh to Africa’s Sahel zone will be affected.

The DNI report estimates that climate impacts in the Caribbean and Central America could fuel migration into Mexico and the United States, and swelling migration in Southeast Asia “increase[s] friction between diverse social groups already under stress from climate change.” The Center for American Progress recently argued that Northwest Africa is a region to watch in regard to climate and its impact on security and policy, both for the United States and the European Union.

The outlook in the region is particularly worrisome according to Blair:

“The effects of climate change in North Africa are likely to exacerbate existing threats to the region’s water and food resources, economies, urban infrastructure, and sociopolitical systems. Cities probably will face deteriorating living conditions, high unemployment, and frequent civil unrest. Climatic stress coupled with socioeconomic crises and ineffective state responses could generate localized social or governmental collapses and humanitarian crises. Climate change will likely increase the already substantial migration of North Africans to Europe. The region also will serve as a route for transmigration if Sub-Saharan Africans flee severe climatic stress.”

A recent report by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies also concludes that transit migration through the Maghreb””Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania””to other locations contributes to the destabilization of Northern African societies. This instability in turn provides an operating environment for the rapidly growing regional branch of Al Qaeda, which operates in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger. “From their low point following 9/11, terrorist incidents in the Maghreb and Sahel have climbed to a staggering 204 in 2009, a new high level of intensity. This escalation represents a 558 percent increase in terrorist operations that have killed more than 1,500 people and wounded 6,000 others,” writes Yonah Alexander in the report.

But the Maghreb is not the only place where migration at least partly caused by environmental change happens in volatile and unstable regions where substantial movement of people can give rise to conflict. Therefore, it is essential to factor these more subtle effects of climate change, such as migration, into the national security equation and acknowledge the fact that many of its consequences can only be addressed with innovative approaches that follow a sustainable security strategy that combines national security, human security, and collective security.

Adaptation strategies, such as handling climate-induced migration, should be integrated into all levels of development and foreign assistance in the future. And the interface between diplomacy, aid, and military operations must be redefined””because missions addressing the consequences of climate change and political destabilization will often be carried out in insecure environments. These policies need to be based upon principles of civilian leadership as well as durable and transparent legal frameworks. Disaster assistance, already difficult enough, may prove to be the easy part.

Climate change and its global security impact can’t be addressed by the Department of State, the Pentagon, or the U.S. Agency for International Development separately. This is why the Department of State’s forthcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR, should pick up this conversation. Being the first such report, it could become a landmark in foreign policy by incorporating climate migration and other anticipated humanitarian impacts, and it could help start a debate about forward-looking strategic moves to shape the State Department and USAID’s institutional vision of the 21st century.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning at the State Department,, is a co-chair of the QDDR, which is expected to be made public late this September. During a recent U.N. Development Program event on the publication of this year’s Human Development Report, she reiterated that human rights, development, and diplomacy are three separate goals that need to be brought together. The Department of State should take the Pentagon up on its promise in the QDR that it will work closely with other departments and agencies as well as “both traditional allies and new partners.” This partnership must also extend to the White House, where the president should integrate the challenge of climate change into his first national security strategy. While this is no small order, addressing climate migration requires thinking about new mechanisms and interagency solutions that incorporate diplomacy, development, and defense””the cornerstones of sustainable security.

The Pentagon’s analysis of climate change in the QDR was a significant first step and one that the State Department and the White House should take further. Following that, the federal government should make every effort to combine the efforts of the Pentagon, State Department, USAID, and others to build comprehensive interagency efforts under civilian leadership. This is necessary to tackle the challenges of the future and overcome institutional logjams that date back to the Cold War and hinder the necessary modernization of U.S. foreign policy in many of its facets.

Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at American Progress, and Kari Manlove is a Research Associate for the Energy Opportunity team at American Progress.

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21 Responses to Quadrennial Defense Review Should Spark Interagency Climate Conversation

  1. prokaryote says:

    Climate change will lead to war, vets warn Coalition:

    They argue for green energy Rolling on to the state Capitol Campus in a 45-foot bus, several veterans of the Iraq war joined with state legislators who are military veterans to make the link between fighting climate change and boosting national security through clean energy. The debate over global warming has moved beyond melting ice caps that threaten polar bears and other environmental threats to a bipartisan issue with links to national security, said state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, a former infantry officer.

    Climate change is a national security threat that destabilizes governments and attracts terrorist organizations, Hobbs said. We re sending truckloads of money out of the country every hour to buy oil, said state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, a former Navy warship captain. We need an energy-independent economy.

  2. mike roddy says:

    Nice and forthright report. I suppose it would have been too much to ask for them to have noted that our troops are in the Middle East in the first place because we didn’t start to wean ourselves from oil 30 years ago, when it was clear that domestic supplies were running out.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    One Thing to Keep in Mind

    In all this, it’s important to grasp one thing and keep it in mind:

    We won’t be able to “securitize” our way out of, or away from, a destabilizing, tense, acrimonious, and turbulent world brought about by climate change and related factors. Period. The way to avoid problems is to face and address them responsibly up front.

    The population in the U.S. is tiny compared to the world’s total population — less than 5%.

    And, for every new person coming into the U.S. — via birth or immigration — the world’s population increases by roughly THIRTY people, i.e., 29 of them outside the U.S.

    So, we’d better learn — fast — how to get along, how to help facilitate happiness around the world, how to achieve sustainability together, and how to think well.

    There is no “security solution” to these problems if we don’t address them and if they grow, which they will if we don’t face and address them.

    People who expect that tanks, fast jets, recruits, and defense budgets will get us out of problems are thinking in very unwise and short-sighted ways.

    This is also true, and especially so, because if we don’t address problems — climate change, energy, problems of injustice, healthcare, etc. — then there will be just as many tensions and problems coming from within, or at least nearly as many, as there are threats coming from the outside. In other words, larger and larger chunks of population from “within” will be more and more upset, and rattled. Tanks and big fences won’t work for long when it comes to those sorts of tensions, especially if the tensions are justified.

    Let’s wake up.

    Cheers for now,


  4. prokaryote says:

    Algae to solve the Pentagon’s jet fuel problem

    US scientists believe they will soon be able to use algae to produce biofuel for the same cost as fossil fuels

  5. fj2 says:

    Just curious how far the “Interagency Climate Conversation” must to go before it is realized that “We Have A Real Emergency” (Mikhail Gorbachev of unprecedented proportions sufficient to proceed with wartime speed and powers mitigation and adaptation?

  6. Leif says:

    Jeff, #3: Well said. The military will have a very hard time keeping starving masses from our boarders. Do you want your sons and daughters conscripted to shoot climate displaced masses? Especially when it becomes obvious to all, (note: F&B FOX), that the Unites States not only produces ~25% of world misery, but a large portion of it’s citizens actively promoted policies of denial and disinformation to the direct benefits of the wealthy and privileged few and expense of the masses.

    On the other hand, Lester Brown, in Plan B 4.0, estimates a cost of less than $200 billion dollars a year for a long list of “Good Earth” stuff. That is less than a third of the U.S. military budget. About one seventh of the world military budget.

    I would suggest one “security solution” to the above dilemmas. The U.S. Defense Department allocate that $200 billion for a all out GREEN WAR to the benefit of our Nation, but of the World as well! Such a move would weed thru red tape speeding implication and the military even helping deployment! I content that such a move would so disorient the “world hate groups” and citizen’s support there of, that after the first year hostility savings alone would compensate. Thus making it a self sustaining Military Endeavor. What is not to like? We could Draft the youth to serve in the Green Angles and get them off the streets and into society for the benefit of humanity. Give them health care, good food skills, Green job training,… Think of the medical savings to the next generation alone?

    So, do you want your children to be Green Beret or Green Angles? Looks like now is a good time to pick.

  7. fj2 says:

    #7 Leif, Great idea!

    Declaration of Green War would do it. But maybe, Blue Warriors like those of Avatar’s Pandora. $200 billion to start would do a lot but, much more would be the right way like the extreme ramp-up during World War II. No more muddling through crisis like the financial meltdown.

    With successes, cost-of-living could start to drop with decreases of costs of food, energy, transportation, education, housing, communications; all for and from the effort.

    With American industry and people high-skilled, innovation driven, and energized there would be no time to waste to restore the world’s blue skys and seas.

  8. sasparilla says:

    prokaryote, that article was really surprising about the algea based biodiesel and if it was anyone but DARPA making the cost claims they were currently getting, I’d say they weren’t telling the truth.

    But if they come through on what they’re saying it would be a game changer, seriously wow.

  9. slanted tom says:

    Climate change will also involve endless bad weather, including extreme weather events, which can only hinder any military operation. All of their planning needs to include bad weather contingencies.

  10. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Not only will there be international migration, we will have to deal with significant internal migration and associated stresses.

  11. Leif says:

    Rabid D, #11: Most folks think that if massive agriculture failure happens, it will be some where else. There is no reason to make that assumption in my view. One of these new generation of super large storm systems could just as easily happen over the bread basket of the country just before harvest time with dire effects here at home and around the world as well.

    Without even taking the food supply directly into the equation, just imagine one more snow storm on the backs of the last two. Power out for 3 weeks. People not able to get to the stores, or stores not able to connect to distributers. Elderly unable to heat their homes. I fear that the NATION IS IN FACT VERY VULNERABLE.

  12. James Newberry says:

    We need a revolutionary transition from federal policy supporting an economy designed on war economics, with its massive public financial support for uranium, coal, and petroleum dependencies, to sustainable and ecological economics. This transition from 20th century war economics, which are poisoning ourselves and the ecosphere and bankrupting the treasury, will require some type of constitutional convention to counter the centralized power of finance, fission and “fuels” corporatism.

    The design of the American war economy is based on the physical power of “fuels,” both atomic (nuclear) and fossil. These are sold using the propaganda of cheap, clean, safe “energy” and “jobs.” Spreading poisons and other contaminants based on war for oil and other material resources is not sustainable. It is institutionalized insanity that is leading to collapse of ecosystems and nation states. Now, even our own Defense Department is indicating this reality.

  13. Wit's End says:

    from Ted Glick”s latest newsletter (sign up for delivery at

    “An article by Stephan Faris in the April, 2007 issue of The Atlantic, “The Real Roots of Darfur,” explained the connection between climate change and the war in Darfur :

    “The fighting in Darfur is usually described as racially motivated, pitting mounted Arabs against black rebels and civilians. But the fault lines have their origins in another distinction, between settled farmers and nomadic herders fighting over failing lands. . . Until the rains began to fail, the (nomadic herders) lived amicably with the settled farmers. The nomads were welcome passers-through, grazing their camels on the rocky hillsides that separated the fertile plots. The farmers would share their wells, and the herders would feed their stock on the leavings from the harvest. But with the drought, the farmers began to fence off their land—even fallow land—for fear it would be ruined by passing herds. . .In the late 1980s, landless and increasingly desperate Arabs began banding together to wrest their own (tribal lands) from the black farmers. . .

    “Why did Darfur ’s lands fail? For much of the 1980s and ‘90s, environmental degradation in Darfur and other parts of the Sahel was blamed on the inhabitants. But by the time of the Darfur conflict four years ago, scientists had identified another cause. Climate scientists fed historical sea-surface temperatures into a variety of computer models of atmospheric change. Given the particular pattern of ocean-temperature changes worldwide, the models strongly predicted a disruption in African monsoons. ‘This was not caused by people cutting trees or overgrazing,’ says Columbia University ’s Alessandra Giannini, who led one of the analyses. The roots of the drying of Darfur , she and her colleagues had found, lay in changes to the global climate.

    “Some see Darfur as a canary in the coal mine, a foretaste of climate-driven political chaos.”

    Indeed, the U.S. military, for at least six years, has identified climate change as a national security threat, not in the far-off future but during this decade.”

  14. Wit's End says:

    Leif and Rabid, we already are having massive crop failures, but the USDA lies about it:

    And that’s just the latest, freeze in Florida.

    There is so much more to do with wheat, corn, soy, and other produce lost this past year.

  15. fj2 says:

    4. prokaryote,
    9. sasparilla,

    Yes, if true and works out, the algae biofuel would be a real game changer since it is described as being essentially carbon neutral. Algae removes carbon when it is grown and the biofuel returns it when it is burned.

    Not really clear how it would turn out. Does this mean that fossil fuels can be replaced by algae biofuel that is close to being carbon neutral?

    Would vast ponds on this stuff be part of a process capable of reclaiming deserts while sequestering carbon?

  16. Wit's End says:

    fl2, NO and NO and NO.

    CO2 is not the only problem!

    The “other” greenhouse gases (nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxides among others) do two things:

    1. trap heat
    2. kill everything: ozone = cancer, emphysema, and asthma + destroys vegetation.

    Biofuels are NOT the answer!

  17. fj2 says:

    17. Wit’s End, Yes, burning stuff to produce energy seems to be the problem along with relentless devastation of the environment but . . . , as usual, the devil’s in the details.

  18. prokaryote says:

    We need to stop pumping more energy into the atmosphere and we need to begin with removing energ from the atmosphere.

    And we need to take action against the skeptic industrie. It is organized crime which leads to terror. The future of mankind depends on it.

  19. fj2 says:

    Scope of litigious exposure for liar denier oil special interest (and other industries) is potentially larger than that for tobacco and asbestos.

  20. Military leaders and defense analysts have been speaking out about the national security threats arising from climate destabilization and migratory conflicts for a number of years. They tend to primarily emphasize the first of two scenario perspectives: HARD POWER, where business-as-usual leads to worst case scenarios triggering military conflicts, hence a call for military preparedness and budgeting; and SOFT POWER, taking proactive, preventive steps, and seizing available opportunities to avert looming threats and actualize far more preferable outcomes. The latter soft power approach is obviously far preferable; akin to outcomes described in the 1981 report, Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security, funded by the Civil Defense Preparedness Agency and written by Lovins and Lovins, and the more recent Pentagon-funded 2004 study done by Lovins et al, Winning the Oil Endgame: American Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security.

    I think it was noted in climate progress a while ago, but worth repeating, that analysis of high-resolution paleo-climatic data, paired with historical data on warfare from 1400 through 1900, found substantial correlation between temperature change and war frequency. Zhang DD, Brecke P, Lee HF, He Y-Q, Zhang J. 2007.Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 19214–19219,