NATO Shifts Strategy to Address Climate Change — It’s a “Crisis Multiplier”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses NATO       Photo: U.S. Mission to NATO

Military leaders around the globe increasingly find one of the most challenging “forces” when it comes to upsetting global peace and prosperity is not a military one — it’s climate change.  The Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, led the Alliance’s defense ministers earlier this week to make climate change a major focus of strategy and planning, The Washington Post reported.  Calling climate change a “crisis-multiplier,” Stoltenberg said he intends to push militaries to be carbon-neutral by 2050.  U.S. Secretary of State Blinken stressed that climate change is a global security crisis in his remarks at NATO on Wednesday.

Why This Matters: At last, there is a widespread recognition that Russia and man-made weapons are not the only deadly and destabilizing threats we face. A clear-eyed examination of what is driving instability and danger to global peace cannot ignore the obvious — severe weather, droughts, sea-level rise, fires, and the related shortages of food and water are among the greatest risks and challenges we face.  And these factors are complicating the way militaries fight — from vulnerable military installations around the globe to heat extremes stressing troops and weapons systems.  Fighting climate change — both reducing carbon emissions by our forces and adapting our military to the new “normal” climate — is smart defense strategy.

U.S. Department of Defense Factoring Climate Change

The Biden administration’s new team at the Defense Department is already elevating climate change in its national security planning.  Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is has a high-level climate change working group and said the Defense Department will incorporate climate change into military planning and war-gaming, according to The Post, and will include climate change in its updated national defense strategy document that is a blueprint of how it defends our country against the biggest threats to our national security.  This is a marked change from the Trump administration, which sought to purge climate change from those plans and its programs.  Indeed, President Biden has also spoken of having the Defense Department lead on innovation in energy and transportation, among other sectors.  And the Department recognizes that many of its installations are ground zero for climate impacts such as fires, sea-level rise and flooding.

Greening the Military

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made many NATO countries realize the need to decrease their carbon footprint — fuel re-supply trucks are heavy and move slowly, which made them ideal targets for enemy forces.  Military forces have tended to be very carbon-dependent, whether as fuel for jet fighters or large ships or even tanks and other tracked vehicles, and there has been little outside pressure on militaries to change because that was seen as potentially impacting readiness.  Stoltenberg pointed out the need for militaries to go greener now and to think in terms of fighting in a planet with more extreme and hazardous weather — from challenges operating in the melting Arctic to the 120-degree heat in Iraq.  He urged his fellow ministers to do something out of character — “to be radical in the way we think.”

To Go Deeper:  We recommend this testimony by Friend of the Planet Sherri Goodman before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense — they recently held a hearing on climate change, the Arctic and security.  It is worth your time.

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