The Age of Climate Warfare Is Here and the Military Industrial Complex Is Gearing Up For It
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During his speech at West Point Military Academy earlier this week, President Barack Obama described climate change as a "creeping national security crisis" that will require the armed forces to "respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food."
The speech emphasised that US foreign policy in the 21st century is increasingly being honed in recognition of heightened risks of social, political and economic upheaval around the world due the impacts of global warming.
A more detailed insight into US military planning could be seen in the report published a couple of weeks earlier by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) Military Advisory Board, written and endorsed by a dozen or so senior retired US generals. Describing climate change as a not just a "threat multiplier," but now - even worse - a "catalyst for conflict", the study concluded that environmental impacts from climate change in coming decades:
".... will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions - conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."
To be sure, the link between climate change and the risk of violence is supported by many independent studies. No wonder, reports NBC Newsciting various former and active US officials, the Pentagon has long been mapping out strategies "to protect US interests in the aftermath of massive floods, water shortages and famines that are expected to hit and decimate unstable nations."
But the era of climate warfare is not laying in wait, in some far-flung distant future. It has already begun, and it is accelerating - faster than most predicted. Pentagon officials and the CNA's new study point to the Arab Spring upheavals across the Middle East and North Africa as a prime example.
As I've argued previously, violence and unrest in Syria and Egypt can be linked not just to the regional impacts of climate change in terms of water scarcity and food production, but also their complex interconnections with domestic oil and gas scarcity, neoliberal austerity, rampant inequality, endemic corruption, and massive political repression.
Such cases show that climate change in itself does not drive conflict - but the way in which climate change interacts with multiple related factors like declining oil production, food prices, and overlapping political, cultural and economic processes is already generating wild cards that repressive states are ill-equipped to deal with. In that context, such states resort to the thing they do best in an increasingly uncertain world: more repression.
As the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned in its latest climate impacts assessment, though, more repression just makes things even worse, triggering a vicious cycle of increasing vulnerabilty to climate destabilisation.
A new study accepted for publication in the July issue of the American Meteorological Society's journal Weather, Climate, and Society, underscores the role of climate change and drought in Syria's ongoing civil war, which by some accounts has taken the lives of over 150,000 people.
The research paper by Dr Peter Gleick demonstrates clearly that the Syrian conflict is not just a climate war, or a resource war, but a water war. Between 2006 and 2011, the country suffered the worst long-term drought and the most severe set of crop failures in recorded history.
This was compounded by water mismanagement and economic deterioration which, in turn, led to further agricultural failures, population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. The resulting combination of urban unemployment, inequality and food insecurity, affecting over a million people, heightened sectarian tensions, and helped spark the social unrest that exploded into conflict.