Military researchers see climate change as a growing national security threat

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WASHINGTON -- The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict, a report published Tuesday by a leading government-funded military research organization concluded.

The Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating long-standing regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions such as eastern India, Bangladesh and Vietnam's Mekong Delta at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.

In addition, the report predicted that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for U.S. troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases.

In an interview, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the report's findings would influence U.S. foreign policy. "Tribes are killing each other over water today," Mr. Kerry said. "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."

Mr. Kerry, who plans to deliver a major speech this summer on the links between climate change and national security, said his remarks would also be aimed at building political support for President Barack Obama's climate change agenda, including a new regulation to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants that the administration will introduce in June. "We're going to try to lay out to people legitimate options for action that are not bank-breaking or negative," Mr. Kerry said.

Pentagon officials said the report would affect military policy. "The department certainly agrees that climate change is having an impact on national security, whether by increasing global instability, by opening the Arctic or by increasing sea level and storm surge near our coastal installations," said John Conger, the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment. "We are actively integrating climate considerations across the full spectrum of our activities to ensure a ready and resilient force."

The report Tuesday follows a recent string of studies warning that the effects of climate change are already occurring, and that flooding, droughts, extreme storms, food and water shortages and damage to infrastructure will occur in the near future.

In March, the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, the agency's main public document describing the current doctrine of the U.S. military, drew a direct link between the effects of global warming -- such as rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns -- and terrorism. "These effects are 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," the review said.

The most recent scientific reports on climate change warn that increasing drought in Africa is now turning arable land to desert. The national security report's authors conclude that the slow but steady expansion of the Sahara through Mali, which is killing crops and leaving farmers starving, may have been a contributing force in the jihadi uprising in that African country in 2012. Since then, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has seized control of northern Mali and remains in conflict with the Malian government.

Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee's ranking Republican and a vocal skeptic of the established science that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, scoffed at the idea that climate change is linked to national security threats.

"There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer," he said of the report's authors. "I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now, you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this."


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