Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, gave a striking answer when asked about the greatest threat the region faces: climate change.
Locklear spoke to the Boston Globe on the topic after spending two days in the Boston-area talking to scholars and foreign policy experts on the situation in the Pacific. As Locklear told the Globe, the changing climate “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
Among the issues that the Admiral cited as most concerning was the possibility that rising sea-levels result in the disappearance of whole countries, producing influxes of “climate refugees” in neighboring states. The certainty that climate change is a phenomenon to be dealt with has affected the way that the Navy interacts with the various countries in the Indo-Pacific region that will be affected by shifting weather patterns:
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue — even with China and India — the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’
The Navy has been at the forefront of attempting to shift U.S. policy on climate change through the influence wielded by the military. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in 2009 announced the development of a “Great Green Fleet,” a Carrier Strike Group fueled by energy sources other than oil, as part of a strategy to reduce the Navy’s dependence on foreign oil. While currently more expensive, the Navy’s buying power would be able to bring down biofuel prices as supply catches up with demand. Mabus’ program was nearly shut down by Congress, but was revived by the Senate in November.
Locklear’s belief doesn’t indicate a full shift away from handling conventional state-based threats — such as from North Korea and China — but instead takes a broader look at the intersection between security and climate. The Center for American Progress recently co-published a series of articles on the links between climate change and the Arab Spring, highlighting the ties between rising food prices and civil unrest.