Friday, May 8, 2009

What Role for the Military?

The second plenary session, chaired by Andrew Parasiliti, IISS-US Executive Director and IISS-Middle East Corresponding Director, was titled: “Managing Climate-Induced State-Threatening Crises: What is the role of the military in climate-induced crises?” The three panelists were: Major General (ret) Muniruzzaman, of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies; Brigadier General (ret) Nigel Hall, a Senior Associate Fellow at the Defence Academy of the UK; and Kent Butts, the Director of the National Security Issues Group at the US Army War College.

General Muniruzzaman began the panel by stating that Bangladesh is a “Front line state in the fight against climate change” because of its dependence on large international rivers, its low elevation, and its poverty. He underlined that climate change is not just a future threat to his country, but something that is happening now, citing increased salinity of drinking water and a reduction in land available for farming. He stated that of its 155 million people, 30-40 million could become refugees due to climate-induced crises. The Bangladeshi military is beginning to plan for the inevitable disruptions this will cause, but more needs to be done.

General Hall made the important point the climate change is too important to be dealt with solely by militaries. In Europe, militaries must remain focused on short-term kinetic security threats, like the war in Afghanistan. In the long-term, Western militaries will inevitably be called on to deal with the crises caused by climate change, but now we have an opportunity to limit and mitigate the potential future damages of climate change. Hall strongly argued that this should be a “whole of government” focus, which will require “Visionary leadership” for a “21st Century Mobilization” of government, science, and society in order to successfully deal with this problem.

In contrast, Kent Butts stated that the American military can and should be involved in the fight against the effects of climate change. The most important way for the US Military to be involved is through engagement with militaries most likely to be harmed in climate-related disasters. He quoted the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, which stated that the Department of Defense’s policy should be to take “preventative actions so problems do not become crises.” He argued that environmental stability is a prerequisite for state stability, and therefore climate change can undermine the legitimacy of states, so the US Military should engage in action to prevent these outcomes.

Overall, the panelists agreed that the role of militaries in dealing with climate change is different around the world, depending on the relative size, importance, legitimacy, and stability of a country’s military and it government. General Hall cited the example that President Zadari of Pakistan was unlikely to be worried about climate change, because he is dealing with major existential threats to the Pakistani central government. The role of European militaries, however, in planning for climate-related disasters may remain small, because of shrinking military budgets, and an understanding that the civilian arm of the government is competent in preparing for environmental change. In the United States, however, a large and well-funded military should use its projection powers to warn of climate threats. It was agreed that civilian governments should lead in the fight to mitigate climate change, so that a military leader “like Marshall or McArthur” does not have to respond to a crisis.

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