Picture a scenario where rising sea levels swallow coastal cities, leaving millions displaced and triggering a cascade of socio-political unrest. Envision the devastating consequences of extreme weather events, intensifying conflicts over dwindling resources, and the mounting pressures on already fragile nations. This is not a distant vision of a dystopian future; it is a chilling present-day reality that challenges the very foundations of our national security.
The vulnerable island nations of the Pacific, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, grappling with rising sea levels that threaten their very existence. For a couple of decades from now when a large fraction of them will be underwater, these nations now face the daunting task of planning for mass displacement and managing potential conflicts over limited land resources.
The melting Arctic ice, in the already tense zone of northern and northeastern Europe, has opened up new shipping routes and access to vast reserves of oil and gas. As countries vie for control and exploitation of these resources, geopolitical rivalries intensify, heightening the risks of conflict and military posturing.
In a world teetering on the edge of crisis, there exists a precarious intersection where climate change and national security collide. This convergence has birthed a pressing dilemma that demands our unwavering focus and contemplation.
In the complex landscape of global affairs, the entwined relationship between climate change and national security has become an increasingly urgent concern. The impacts of climate change have transcended environmental boundaries, presenting profound implications for the stability and security of nations worldwide.
Direct threats to military readiness:
Numerous military facilities of many countries are located in coastal areas, where they are more at risk from storm surges and sea level rise. As per the US National Intelligence Council, more than 30 American installations have been identified as already being at increased risk from rising sea levels.
With the potential for virtually daily flooding by the middle of the century, Virginia’s Military Station Norfolk, the largest military installation in the world, is even now, regularly inundated by the tides. Numerous military facilities may experience costly and disruptive effects from flooding and storms as sea levels rise.
With military bases inundated due to extreme weather events or rise in sea levels, it could prove catastrophic for the nation to be mission ready without a base.
Extreme weather conditions made worse by climate change are making it more difficult for military troops to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies. For instance, the Indian Ministry of Defence deploys thousands of personnel each year for emergency response, disaster relief, and reconstruction activities after natural disasters.
When anthropogenic climate change induces more extreme weather events, the burden on the military will be more. Military emergency response activities already come at a significant cost and may affect overall readiness. As a result of climate change, these expenses are anticipated to rise.
Climate change is affecting the access of millions of people worldwide to necessities like food and clean water. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, fires, and more are already taking a toll on agricultural and livestock production.
As a result, there is an alarming risk of water and food scarcity, which can have profound consequences for countless lives. This scarcity may exacerbate conflicts over resources, potentially leading to increased tensions and even the dangerous prospect of the “weaponization of water.”
Noted novelist, Clive Cussler had noted in his book ‘Blue Gold’, “In this century wars will not be fought over oil, as in the past, but over water.” Water supply disruption during battle is a long-used military strategy. In cities under siege, the water supply is either cut off or purposefully contaminated to deplete the strength of the enemy populace.
Climate change can amplify existing tensions and disagreements between countries sharing transboundary water sources. Disputes over river basins or shared aquifers may arise as water availability becomes more uncertain, potentially escalating into conflicts if not managed through effective cooperation and diplomacy.
Moreover, due to resource constraints, numerous governments will face significant challenges in meeting even the most fundamental needs of their citizens, potentially heightening the likelihood of violence both between nations and within societies.
Massive population displacement is inevitable as a result of the effects of climate change and rising sea levels and extreme weather events induced by it, which also include restricted access to fresh water, decreased food production, and land loss from flooding. Extreme near-term hazards from sea level rise and storm flooding are faced by low-lying countries like Bangladesh and entire island nations.
India and Pakistan have already fought a war in 1971 over a refugee crisis hitting the former because of a political crisis in East Pakistan, resulting in its separation and creation of Bangladesh. The tensions because of middle-eastern, Afghanistan, and Rohingya refugee crises are evident. So, it is not unlikely that when such massive and inevitable displacements happen on account of climate change, a war might not be that far off.
The possibility of displacement will rise significantly because roughly two thirds of the world’s population reside close to coastlines. Currently, climate migrants are not accorded the same rights and legal protections as war refugees under international refugee law. And unlike refugees from conflict, many climate migrants will be evicted from their homes permanently as a result of drought and sea-level rise.
These few scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg, highlighting the pressing need to delve deeper into the intricate relationship between climate change and national security. By understanding the tangible consequences of environmental degradation on human societies and geopolitical dynamics, we can grasp the urgency of addressing this formidable challenge head-on.
Security risks associated with climate change have been consistently noted by U.S. military and intelligence agencies. The 2014 Quadrennial Defence Review published by the U.S. Defence Department identifies the impacts of climate change as “threat multipliers that 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.”
Even though climate change alone does not lead to conflict, it can exacerbate instability in areas of the world that are already under stress from the issues mentioned by
As a result, military leaders have referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier.”