The Perfect Climate for War

Photo Credit: Getty Images

By: Anthony D’Amato, Columnist


Recent events in Paris, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria might have overshadowed another security threat announced this past week: the world is expected to become 1 degree Celsius warmer by the end of 2015. According to researchers at the U.K.-based Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services, the global temperature is on track to “reach the 1° C marker” above preindustrial levels for the first time. [i] While this may not pose an immediate threat to the average person the same way a terrorist attack does, it is still something that should concern national security experts. The long term threats of higher sea levels, more frequent natural disasters, and food and water shortages are reasons for action. Articles like Robert Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy envision a future plagued by resource scarcity, ethnic conflicts, and environmental degradation. [ii] A warmer world with fiercer competition for resources can potentially bring about those apocalyptic scenarios that Mr. Kaplan first wrote about in 1994.

Francesco Femia, Co-Director of the Center for Climate and Security, in reaction to the anticipated increase in temperature has said that, “climate change makes a number of other security issues worse, so we can’t ignore it. And if we do ignore it, then we’re also ignoring key drivers of instability, key drivers of conflict and potential drivers of terrorism that will come back to haunt us down the road.” [iii] Politically unstable countries in West Africa, for example, do not have the capabilities to simultaneously address the side effects of severe droughts and fight terrorist groups like Boko Haram. Yet, some countries might be confronted with such a daunting task in the future. Moreover, if some poor and unstable countries fail to fulfill their obligations to their populations, then the world will most likely have a refugee crisis that dwarfs the current crisis in the Middle East and Europe. Governments should create, or at least review, contingency plans now on how to handle millions of climate refugees fleeing coastline settlements or other unlivable areas.

In addition to the chaos brought on by further political instability and the mass movement of displaced people, climate change also exacerbates tensions in the resource abundant Artic, which was itself once completely covered in ice. The five littoral Artic States – the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark – are disputing overlapping territorial claims that are starting to become accessible by sea. Of particular importance is the promise of large energy reserves. Scientists estimate that the Artic contains “90 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of technically recoverable natural gas liquids.” [iv] The allure of massive economic gains has motivated powerful states to deploy more military assets to the Artic. Russia recently reopened old Soviet military bases and increased the number of marines permanently based in the region under a new Artic command. The United States, on the other hand, plans to station two squadrons of F-35 stealth fighters in Alaska and to build additional icebreaker ships for future military operations. [v] Although the movement of military forces to the Artic is not alarming now, it is hard not to imagine a larger military presence in the area as more sea ice melts.

The dangers posed by terrorism and regional instability deserve attention, but so do the long-term dangers associated with climate change. It would be both foolish and shortsighted to lose focus on the future while obsessing about the issues of the present. National security experts and government analysts “must be clear-eyed about the security threats presented by climate change” and prepare for possible contingencies. [vi] Fortunately, there is still an opportunity to prevent worse case scenarios from occurring. We should use whatever time we have left to our advantage, rather than waiting for another eye-opening headline to spur us into action.


[i] “Global Temperatures Set to Reach 1 °C Marker for First Time,” Met Office, November 9, 2015, accessed November 14, 2015,

[ii] Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” The Atlantic, February 1, 1994, accessed November 14, 2015,

[iii] Lisa Friedman and ClimateWire, “Immediate Risk to National Security Posed by Global Warming,” Scientific American Global RSS, October 14, 2014, accessed November 15, 2015,

[iv] “90 Billion Barrels of Oil and 1,670 Trillion Cubic Feet of Natural Gas Assessed in the Arctic,” USGS Newsroom, July 23, 2008, accessed on November 15, 2015,

[v] David Axe, “Russia and America Prep Forces for Arctic War,” Reuters, October 4, 2015, accessed on November 15, 2015,

[vi] Lisa Friedman and ClimateWire, “Immediate Risk to National Security Posed by Global Warming,” Scientific American Global RSS, October 14, 2014, accessed November 15, 2015,

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