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Mon. September 24, 2018
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National Security and Climate Change
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The United States of America is faced with many national security threats. One threat that threatens the USA’s national security in the present and future is climate change.

As the temperature of the earth rises, “It alters Earth’s ecosystems in nonlinear ways not fully understood by science” (Lewis, 2014). The most recent National Security Strategy states, “climate change causes adverse effects of weather and the oceans, particularly hurricanes and increased sea levels” (The White House, 2016). Most catastrophic events are caused by Mother Nature, not by terrorists (Lewis, 2014). Through risk strategies such as expected utility formulation (also knows as EUT) and model-based risk analysis (also referred as MBRA) the U.S. government could help prevent the effects of climate change on the civilian population and the military.

Like with armed attacks, some of the effects of climate change could swiftly kill or endanger large numbers of people and cause such large-scale disruptions that local public health, law enforcement, and emergency response units would not be able to contain the threat (Busby, 2007). Natural disasters are suddenly getting worse. According to a 2017 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab’s (GFDL), climate change will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average and an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm” (GFDL, 2017).

Climate change is a national security threat to the USA because it will impact the everyday lives of many civilians and will impact the readiness of the military.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Americans witnessed the devastation a powerful storm can cause. The storm destroyed much of the city, causing more than “$80 billion in damages, killing more than 1,800 people, and displacing more than 270,000 people” (Busby, 2007). Katrina also had severe effects on critical infrastructure, and taking crude oil production and refinery capacity off-line for an unprecedented length of time (Busby, 2007).

Large hurricanes are also a threat to the military. For example, in 1992, Hurricane Andrew did such damage to Homestead Air Force Base in Miami that it never reopened. Also in 2004, damage from Hurricane Ivan kept Pensacola Naval Air Station closed for almost a year. Given the kinds of effects hurricanes have historically had on military bases in the region, it is not farfetched to imagine serious impairment to U.S. national security (Busby, 2007).

EUT is used to predict the probability of an outcome and the consequences of such outcome (Lewis,2014). The ability to predict the probability and consequences of a large hurricane such as Hurricane Katrina is important to national security because roughly a third of the U.S. population (more than 100 million people) live in coastal counties that can be affected by hurricanes (UOCS, 2017). Using EUT will give the U.S. government enough time to evacuate an area where the population would be under threat from the hurricane. It also gives the military time to properly prepare its bases for the hurricane. Hurricanes Katrina, Andrew, and Ivan demonstrated all too well the possibility that an extreme weather event could kill and endanger large numbers of people, cause civil disorder, and damage critical infrastructure in other parts of the country, regardless if the population is civilian or military (Busby, 2007). By being able to predict the probability and consequences of such storms, hopefully the government can prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

Another side effect of climate change are rising sea levels. The increase in sea levels has consequences on the civilian population and the military. An example is the loss of highly populated areas near the coast. One such area is New York City. The city has a population of 2.9 million people and $2.1 trillion in assets (Brodwin, 2016). A “2006”NASA simulation that combined a modest forty-centimeter sea-level rise by 2050 with storm surges from a Category Three hurricane found that, “Without new adaptive measures, large parts of New York City would be inundated, including much of southern Brooklyn and Queens and portions of lower Manhattan” (Busby, 2007).

The Pentagon has long raised concerns about the impact of climate change on security and even its facilities, especially naval stations (Bedard, 2017). Rising sea levels could submerge major military installations near the coast such as the U.S. Navy's Dam Neck Fleet Combat Training Center, and the nearby Norfolk Naval Base (UOCS, 2011). If rising sea levels flood naval facilities, they will become inoperable. This is a major concern for national security because the navy is a key part of the USA’s national security.

The U.S. government can use the risk strategy method of MBRA to help prevent the effects of rising sea levels on coastal cities and coastal military bases. MBRA is a software tool for modeling critical infrastructures as fault trees and networks. MBRA calculates risk, computes optimal resource allocation, and simulates single-asset failures and their resulting cascade effects on networks (Lewis, 2014).

One way the U.S. government can use MBRA for a coastal city like New York City is to determine what parts of the city will be most affected by rising sea levels. There is not enough money to protect every critical infrastructure and key resource system also known as CIKR, so optimal allocation is essential (Lewis, 2014). The most vulnerable part of the city is the southern part; this is because it is closest to the water. The government can allocate resources to this particular part of the city first (i.e. Build retention walls and levies). The government can also identify which walls/levies are most critical. For example, if one fails, will it cause a chain reaction of the other walls/levies to fail? If so, the U.S. government can allocate resources to that particular wall/levy and reinforce it so it does not fail.

Similar to the New York City example, the U.S. government can use MBRA in regards to naval bases. An example of MBRA being implemented is with Norfolk Naval Base. The U.S. government determined that the piers for the ships were vulnerable to rising sea levels. Also, through MBRA, the U.S. government realized that the piers are a critical part of the naval base and if they fail, it will cause a cascading effect. For instance, if the piers were underwater, no one could board the ships. This leads to the problem of the navy not being able to deploy its ships, which leads to the USA being vulnerable by sea and no longer able to project its military power. Rising sea levels could be detrimental to military readiness, strain base resilience both at home and abroad, and may limit America’s ability to respond to future demands (CNA, 2014). However, the U.S. government has allocated funds to building double-deck piers (Parker, 2017). Double-deck piers ensure that the navy can still maintain its readiness even with rising sea levels.

Most recently, Secretary of Defense General James Mattis stated, “I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness” (Bedard, 2017). The U.S. government can use EUT and MBRA to help better prepare for the effects of climate change. By being bettered prepared, the U.S. government could potentially minimize the national security risk of climate change.


Adam Thomas is currently a graduate student at Norwich University in Northfield, VT, focusing on national and international security.



Bedard, P. (2017). Mattis: Climate Change is a National Security Threat. Retrieved from, http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/mattis-climate-change-is-a-national-security-threat/article/2617369

Brodwin, E. (2016). Sea Levels are Rising Faster Than They Have In 28 Centuries, and It Spells a Worrisome Reality for New York City. Retrieved from, http://www.businessinsider.com/new-york-city-climate-change-risk-2016-2

Busby, J. (2007). Climate Change and National Security: An Agenda for Action. Retrieved                        from,https://www.cfr.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf                                                                     ClimateChange_CSR32%20%281%29.pdf

CNA. (2014). National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change. Retrieved from, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/MAB_5-8-14.pdf

GFDL. (2017). Global Warming and Hurricanes. Retreived from,   https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/

Lewis, T. (2014). Critical Infrastructure Protection in Homeland Security. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/norwich/                                   reader.action?docID=1813343

Parker,L. (2017). Who's Still Fighting Climate Change? The U.S. Military. Retrieved from,http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/pentagon-fights-climate-change-sea-level-rise-defense-department-military/

The White House. (2016). National Security Strategy. Retrieved from, http://nssarchive.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015.pdf

UOCS. (2017). Hurricanes and Climate Change. Retrieved from, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/hurricanes-and-climate-change.html#.WX6PUxPytE4

UOCS. (2011). Virginia Beach, VA USA. Retrieved from, http://www.climatehotmap.org/global-warming-locations/virginia-beach-va

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