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GOP Senator Attacks Retired Military Brass for Saying Climate Change Threatens Security

16 generals and admirals warn that “we no longer have the option to wait” and plead for a “bipartisan call to action.”

Photo Credit: Center for Strategic & International Studies


Republican Sen. James Inhofe is once again dismissing a report on climate change, attacking the integrity of the report's authors. While that's not news in itself, the targets of Inhofe's derision are 16 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals. Inhofe claims that retired military officers are just desperate for publicity, and don't understand the defense needs of the nation.

The generals and admirals wrote a federally funded report on climate change, assessing the threats of global weather events on national security. 

Other Republicans, however, have been notably quiet since the report's release. Typically, they form a chorus to shout down any climate-change report, claiming that man-made climate change is fraud perpetuated by the "liberal agenda.” This time, the authors of the report are not scientists and environmentalists, the typical targets of conservative derision. It would be political suicide for any Republican to categorize such a large group of career military officers as liberals, especially in an election year.

The authors of the climate change report focused solely on their area of expertise, national security. They serve as the military advisory board for the CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization in Alexandria, VA. They warned that climate change is not only a menace to the environment but presents the U.S. with several new security threats. The advisory board's report said that climate change has already led to conflicts over food and water because of droughts and extreme weather, and it anticipates that the incidence of these conflicts will increase exponentially. The report also predicted that the increase in catastrophic weather events would create more demand for U.S. military troops, and could cause damage to naval ports and military bases.

“Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States,” says the report, adding that conflicts will likely be felt “even in stable regions.”

The report says that climate events like flooding, prolonged drought and rising sea levels could result in population dislocation, waves of refugees and food insecurity. These would serve as “catalysts for instability and conflict,” in more vulnerable regions, aggravating existing stressors such as poverty, political instability and social tensions. Such conditions can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence, according to the report. 

The report concluded that the U.S. military should shift course, and adopt strategies to manage catastrophes and conflicts both domestically and internationally.

The report's forward was written by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. They warned that “we no longer have the option to wait and see” and pleaded for a “bipartisan call to action.”

Responding to the report, Secretary of State John Kerry told the New York Times that American foreign policy will need to adjust to respond to the climate events predicted. Kerry said, “The intelligence community takes it seriously, and it's translated into action.”

“Tribes are killing each other over water today. Think of what happens if you have massive dislocation, or the drying up of the waters of the Nile, of the major rivers in China and India,” Kerry said.

Pentagon officials also said they would use the report's findings to shape military policy; however, it is already moving in that direction. Last month, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosted 10 defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a meeting in Hawaii where they discussed how their militaries can work together to effectively tackle non-traditional security challenges, including climate change and natural disasters. And in March, the Department of Defense announced it had drawn a direct link between the effects of global warming and terrorism.

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