Friday, December 18, 2009

Designing appropriate responses to the security threat posed by climate change

Determining the appropriate policy response to the security threats posed by climate change requires properly identifying the nature of the threat, so that the correct sort of security knowledge and technology can be mobilized to counter the threat. Critics of the “securitization” of the climate change impacts debate are not entirely wrong that the debate itself, if misconceived, has the potential to misdirect security resources away from the security platforms in most urgent need of shoring up in the face of climate change.

Specifically, the security platforms in most urgent need of attention in the face of the climate change threat are ones related to vital systems and population security, and only secondarily to sovereign state security. The most immediate security threats posed by climate change will involve acute insults to and chronic compromising of critical infrastructure, including energy production and delivery systems, transportation networks, agriculture, and water supplies. Just as severe will be the threats to population security, above all to public health and economic well-being, some of which will happen because of the direct effects of a hotter, more volatile climate, and some of which will be a second-order result of the damaging effects of climate change on critical infrastructure.

These climate-related threats to vital systems and population security should be the highest priorities for governments. This means redoubling investment in the technology designed to address these threats: improving preparedness, resiliency, and redundancy in the case of vital systems; and more effective development programs in the case of population security, including investment in biosurveillance, health care delivery programs, and programs to improve economic growth. In addition, a great deal of attention should be paid to ensure that the anticipatory adaptations, by both the private sector and governments, focus on delivering Pareto-efficient benefits, rather than simply on redistributing the risks and threats associated with climate change.

In the longer run (toward the second half of this century) the threats to vital systems and population security may become so severe that they indeed begin to seriously impact sovereign state security of large, populous nations. Already we have the foretaste of that future by examining the fate of small island nations. These pioneers of the brave new climate future only show to the economically and technologically more advanced nations the image of their own future. Mass refugee crises and environmentally failed states, each of which for different reasons may seem to necessitate the intervention of armed forces, will become an increasingly pressing possibility as the century advances. And the environmental conditions under which these armed forces will be forced to operate will be increasingly harsh.

It is thus crucial that security analysts be able to correctly characterize the different threats posed by climate change, and above all not to assume that the military should be the primary vehicle for addressing these threats. Using soldiers to improve civilian preparedness and the resiliency of vital systems not only is obviously inefficient, but also is likely to be ineffective. Likewise, asking the military to address the ongoing climate change threat to the health and well-being of the population will not work well. Nor does it make sense only to invest in upgrading military response capacity at the expense of improving vital systems security and population security technologies. The armed forces are only well-suited for dealing with climate change threats once they have cascaded into sovereign state security threats. Ultimately, using the military to address vital systems and population security threats is as inefficient as using emergency rooms to provide primary care, and to invest in military systems as a way to deal with the climate change threat, at the expense of improving public health and the resiliency of critical infrastructure, is akin toa state that neglects to provide primary care, only to deal with a much more dire and expensive crisis in emergency rooms. It is therefore crucial that security planners learn to correctly identify and differentiate the different sorts of threat posed by climate change, and design and fund threat-appropriate responses, rather that assuming that a single class of preparation will be sufficient.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Why do you think "Mass refugee crises and environmentally failed states" will "necessitate the intervention of armed forces" ?

If we really are looking toward massive cascading failures of multiple states, including possibly our own, what would the conditions be for "necessitating intervention of armed forces" in foreign states to which we have no direct security relationship?