Task Pentagon with Combating Existential Climate Threat

July 15th, 2022 - by Elizabeth G. Boulton / Defense One & Michael T. Klare / The Daily Beast

Over the next six months, the defense community should champion and help plan a whole-of-society “hyper-response.”

Climate Change Isn’t a Threat Multiplier.
It Is the Main Threat

Elizabeth G. Boulton / Defense One

(July 2, 2022) — Why hasn’t humanity responded to climate change — currently on track to produce global catastrophe — with the same intensity in which we respond to military threats? And is there a way to reorient the defense sector to enable and support a whole-of-society effort to protect our planet’s ability to support life as we know it?

One barrier is the way we think. Research finds that humanity’s “deep frames” — worldviews wired into our neural circuity over a lifetime, and which influence perception and decision-making at the sub-conscious level — hinder our capacity to understand new kinds of threats. These frames, often reinforced by those they benefit, influence security posture and institutional design.

This helps explain why the climate crisis is generally approached as a scientific, economic, and governance issue. IPCC reports employ social scientists, not security practitioners, to tease out climate-security issues. Legitimate concerns about securitization help ensure that climate response remains a strictly civil matter.

In the security sector itself, thinking about climate change is dominated by Sherri Goodman’s original framing of global warming as a “threat multiplier” introduced in a 2007 CNA report.

For example, John Conger, a former Pentagon comptroller who now leads the Center for Climate and Security, writes that global warming is one ingredient of many risk factors; it “amplifies” other threats but is not the threat. Likewise, NATO’s brand-new 2022 Strategic Concept describes climate as both a “challenge” and a “threat multiplier,” last in a list of 14 security concerns.

Consequently, defense forces the world over are ambling toward lower-emission technologies, preparing for more natural disasters, and debating the near-term consequences of a degrading global-security environment. These debates miss the main point: that we are moving toward “a shift to a climate inhospitable for most forms of life” that will bring ecological collapse, violence, hardship, and death on nearly unimaginable scales.

Is there another way? What if the security sector could be persuaded to think of climate change as the central threat? Could it help chart a pathway to a safe planet?

A new approach called PLAN E frames climate and environmental issues not as an influence upon the threat environment, but as the main threat — indeed, a new kind dubbed the hyperthreat — subjected to a military-style analysis and response-planning process.

The rationale for this approach and the methods used are outlined in the Spring 2022 issue of the Journal of Advanced Military Studies. To prompt broader imagining of what a new threat posture could look like, Marine Corps University has published a notional PLAN E grand strategy.

To be precise, PLAN E is the conceptualization and planning phase of a six-phase “hyper-response”: a civilian-led, whole-of-society mobilization (note: not militarization). The overall mission is to reach “Destination Safe Earth” by 2100: a habitable planet “safe” for all people and all species.

The strategy was informed by analysis of the hyperthreat’s center of gravity (the key characteristic that provides its power) which was assessed as being its freedom of action, enabled by its unknowability and human hesitancy to respond.

The human activity that fuels the hyperthreat is overwhelmingly legal, has social license, and is understood as legitimate business or security activity, though it also includes covert hidden actions. Responsibility for and contributions to subsequent “slow violence” are obscured.

The hyper-response strategy envisions three lines of effort: making the hyperthreat visible and knowable; reducing its freedom of action; and achieving mass and speed of response. Some of its specific proposals include a climate emergency peace treaty which would allow all nations to prepare to counter and survive the hyperthreat; a “Point Force” to address economic and legal dimensions; and a planetary security task force to lead a globe-spanning clean-up effort to save “Ally One” (nature) through ecological restoration.

The hyper-response could be described as a predominantly bottom-up solution; it operates from homes, communities, and workplaces, and up to the geopolitical level. It shifts resources and decision-making capacity to key locations and local governments while also working to restore nation-state agency and fostering eco-multilateralism and regional solutions.

This is not just a way to account for the fears and risks associated with securitization of the climate response; it is in fact crucial to success. The enormous amount of work needed in a short time can only be done by harnessing Earth’s large human population; call it a “humans-as-ants” strategy. Yet traditional military forces will also have key roles: creating the stable conditions that allow the civil hyper-response to work, while contributing capability to support it.

If the defense sector can help bring about the hyper-response, it will re-align with its fundamental raison d’être — protecting its people and territories — in the most important battle humanity has even known. But scientific realities mean the clock is ticking. Policy makers should immediately fund PLAN E — the planning phase — so that we can begin to execute the hyper-response early next year.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Pentagon:
A Surprising Ally in Fighting Global Warming

To plan for future conflicts, the Pentagon says
climate change must be considered as a factor.
Anything less is irresponsible

Michael T. Klare / The Daily Beast (Excerpt)

(September 21, 2019) — Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2017, Donald Trump rescinded Executive Order 13653, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change,” a measure that had been signed by President Barack Obama in late 2013. The Obama order, steeped in the science of climate change, instructed all federal agencies to identify global warming’s likely impacts on their future operations and to take such action as deemed necessary to “enhance climate preparedness and resilience.”

In rescinding that order, Trump asserted that economic competitiveness — involving, among other things, the unbridled exploitation of America’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves — outweighed environmental protection as a national priority.

All federal agencies were instructed to abandon their efforts to enhance climate preparedness and to abolish any rules or regulations adopted in accordance with Executive Order 13653. Most government agencies, now headed by Trump appointees, heeded the president’s ruling. One major organization, however, carried on largely as before: the US Department of Defense.

In accordance with the 2013 Obama directive, the Department of Defense (DoD) had taken significant steps to mitigate its contributions to global warming, such as installing solar panels on military installations and acquiring electric vehicles for its noncombat transport fleet.

More important, the Pentagon leadership, in a January 2016 directive, had called on the military services to assess “the effects of climate change on the DoD mission” and act where necessary to overcome “any risks that develop as a result of climate change.”

All those endeavors, presumably, were to be suspended following President Trump’s 2017 decree. But while discussion of climate change has indeed largely disappeared from the Pentagon’s public statements, its internal efforts to address the effects of global warming have not stopped. Instead, a close look at Pentagon reports and initiatives reveals that many senior officers are convinced that climate change is real, is accelerating, and has direct and deleterious implications for American national security

In responding to this peril, the military leadership has not sought to position itself as a significant actor in the national debate over climate change. Well aware of the partisan nature of that debate and reluctant to become embroiled in domestic politics, senior officials have said relatively little about the causes of warming or other controversial issues. But for many officers, neither the dangers posed by global warming nor the imperative of addressing those threats have disappeared because a climate change skeptic had entered the White House.

From their own experience, they know that many US allies are experiencing severe drought and other harsh consequences of warming, exacerbating internal divisions and triggering violent conflict. They have watched as the military services have been called upon again and again to assist local US authorities in coping with the aftereffects of exceptionally ferocious hurricanes, often mounting mammoth relief operations that lasted for many weeks or months. And they are keenly mindful of the fact that the military’s own bases are coming under mounting assault from rising seas, extreme storms, and raging wildfires.

Senior US military officials have, therefore, continued to identify warming as a significant threat to American national security, despite the official guidance from the White House. “When I look at climate change, it’s in the category of sources of conflict around the world and things we have to respond to,” said General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in November 2018. “Shortages of water, and those kinds of things . . . are all sources of conflict. So, it is very much something that we take into account in our planning as we anticipate when, where and how we may be engaged in the future and what capabilities we should have.”

Institutional Endangerment
To note that global warming poses a formidable threat to American national security is not to say that warming has necessarily been elevated above other perceived threats. In fact, the Department of Defense has made it clear that China and Russia constitute America’s principal security threats and will remain so for some time to come.

Rather, top military officials perceive climate change as a secondary but insidious threat, capable of aggravating foreign conflicts, provoking regional instability, endangering American communities, and impairing the military’s own response capabilities. Worse yet, warming’s impacts are expected to grow increasingly severe, complicating the ability to address what it views as its more critical tasks. Ultimately, some officers fear, it could make fulfillment of those tasks nearly impossible.

To appreciate the military’s perspective on the climate change threat, it’s necessary to grasp something essential about the military leadership itself. Whatever else they may say, career officers will tell you that they’ve chosen a career in the military out of a deep belief in its overarching mission: to protect the homeland and defeat the nation’s enemies.

To succeed at this mission, they will explain, the military must be constantly vigilant and prepared, fully capable at every moment of undertaking any task or operation assigned by the president. Fighting and winning wars is, of course, their ultimate duty; but short of actual combat, their principal responsibility is to ensure that America’s forces possess the capacity to win those wars.

Accordingly, anything that detracts from that capacity represents, by definition, a threat to national security. And climate change, by undermining the military’s ability to fulfill its primary strategic responsibilities, is widely feared to constitute exactly that sort of peril.

Senior commanders are well aware that there is an intense national debate over climate change and that some politicians — including the president and most of his cabinet — doubt the reality or imminence of planetary warming. But they have also seen evidence of warming for themselves (especially if they’ve served in drought-stricken areas of the Middle East and Asia, as a significant majority of them have done), and know that scientific evidence overwhelmingly confirms the climate change prognosis.

Even more important, military officers are practical people and careful managers of risk. While they can never know for sure when and where the next security threat will arise, they must prepare themselves for any plausible contingency, and devastating climate change forecasts fall in this category.

Even if the science of global warming still has a margin of uncertainty, they will say, it is close enough to being certain that the armed services must account for it in their future planning and take whatever steps they can to mitigate its harmful consequences.

There is, therefore, a direct clash between current White House doctrine on climate change and the Pentagon’s determination to overcome climate-related threats to military preparedness. A vivid illustration of this ongoing confrontation comes from the DoD’s efforts to assess the danger that climate change poses to its domestic installations.

Although many of America’s combat-ready forces are deployed in or near potential hotspots abroad, the Pentagon relies on stateside bases to train and supply those forward-deployed units — so any threat to the operational utility of domestic facilities would endanger critical military operations. Military bases are launch platforms, and you “can’t fight a war unless you’ve got a place to leave from,” said General Gerald Galloway, formerly a senior officer at the Army Corps of Engineers.

Rising seas have already begun flooding US bases.

Rising Seas; Flooded Bases
In 2015, after it became clear that rising seas would make many key coastal installations vulnerable to flooding and storm damage, Congress directed the Department of Defense to conduct a full-scale assessment of climate-related threats to all US military bases. In response to that congressional directive, the DoD commenced a detailed survey of such risks to every one of its major facilities — a total of over thirty-five hundred installations.

An interim report on that endeavor, “Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure: Initial Vulnerability Assessment Survey,” was released in January 2018. It indicated that of the thousands of bases and installations queried, over half reported exposure to at least one climate-related impact, and many tallied multiple effects.

The greatest reported impact was from drought, with 782 facilities (22 percent of all US bases) experiencing some drought conditions; in addition, 763 bases reported impacts from strong winds, 706 from severe flooding, and 210 from wildfires. These remarkable numbers seemed to astonish even the DoD personnel who drafted the report. “If extreme weather makes our critical facilities unusable or necessitates costly or manpower-intensive work-arounds,” they wrote, “that is an unacceptable impact.”

“’We often don’t associate climate change
with threats to America’s military,
yet Hurricane Michael showed us
how very real that threat is.
— Lieutenant General Norman Seip

These findings attracted considerable press attention, both because of the magnitude of the dangers revealed and because of what seemed like a surprising willingness by the DoD to issue a report contrary to Trump administration views on global warming.  But it soon became apparent that the survey was only released after Pentagon officials — presumably acting under pressure from the White House — scrubbed the report of numerous references to climate change and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

Following its release, the Washington Post obtained an earlier draft of the report, dating from 2016, and revealed that the draft version had referred to climate change twenty-three times, while the text released to the public in 2018 mentioned it only once; instead, it had substituted terms like extreme weather or simply change.

Discussions of rising sea levels and the melting of Arctic sea ice were also removed from the public version of the interim report, further diminishing the overall impression of warming’s threat to US military installations.

The Post’s disclosure of this crude attempt to alter the tone of the assessment survey sparked widespread outrage in Washington.

In July 2018, forty-four members of Congress — including ten Republicans — wrote to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and insisted that the final survey report provide an accurate account of warming’s potential impacts, with “candid assessments” of base vulnerabilities.

If White House officials had hoped to erase climate change from the discourse on military preparedness, they failed utterly. Instead, their efforts at censorship and the subsequent congressional outrage only increased public awareness, generating fresh coverage of the topic.

Excerpt: Read the entire article online here.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes