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Changes in Global Environment and Security --- US Security Strategy

Hideshi Tokuchi
Senior Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS)

1. Introduction: Environment and Security

The concept of "security" is equivocal. An approach to security issues --- be it academic or pragmatic --- involves the task of answering the question of who (what) defends what and how, or a task related to this.

If the global environment is worth protecting, and at the same time if the change of the natural environment or particularly the destruction of nature by humanity is considered to be a threat to the global environment, it would not be out of place to address environmental issues as security issues.

Today, global warming caused by massive and long-term emissions of carbon dioxide has raised the sea level. Many coastal nations, including Pacific island nations, are facing the threat of the reduction or loss of their land areas. Since this is a crisis associated with the land that constitutes the fundamental of a nation, it is literally a question of "national security" rather than merely a question of "human security."

As early as in 1989, Jessica Mathews, in her article "Redefining Security," took up the questions of population growth, deforestation, land erosion, the overfishing of fisheries resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and chlorofluorocarbon emissions. She discussed the impact of these issues on the global environment and human life, and emphasized the need to redefine economic indicators, and most importantly, the earliest revision of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; the implementation of the Tropical Forestry Action Program proposed by the World Bank; support for family planning projects, and the formulation of US policies on the efficient use of energy.1 Her article discusses environmental protection measures under the name of "security." Criticism may be predictable on the author's treating the issue of environmental protection as a "security" issue. Nonetheless, the article points out that the deterioration of the environment may lead to conflicts over, among other things, water resources. It also cautions about the possibility that if the questions of resources and population are not resolved, the resulting economic decline will lead to domestic instability and civil war, and furthermore to the emergence of an authoritarian government, political overthrow, and the outflow of environmental refugees.2 Debates on regional conflicts from such a viewpoint may fall in the category of conventional security debates.

Approaches that view climate change as a threat, and argue that terrorist-stricken Pakistan, for example, is likely to become more destabilized by floods and water shortages resulting from climate change,3 are quite analogous to the view that regards environment problems as the source of conflicts. Reportedly, environmental destruction entailed by combat operations and the purification of radioactive contamination derived from nuclear weapon development are sometimes carried out under the name of "environmental security."4

Whether or not categorized as "environmental security" issues, topics to be discussed under the theme of environmental change and security are not limited to those mentioned above. For example, climate change may affect military operational environments, and as a result the military will have to respond to it. Changes in training environments may make it difficult for the military to conduct the exercises that they have done until now, or to maintain military installations. How to address such a situation will be a more pressing issue than ever. There are also issues associated with changes in the roles and missions of the military due to climate change. Nobody would deny that the role of the military in rescue operations for large-scale natural disasters is becoming increasingly important today. Furthermore, climate change may alter human activities, which in turn may affect the military's range of activity, and its roles and missions. As, for instance, the Arctic Ocean attracts attention as a maritime transport route due to the decrease of Arctic sea ice, the sea area will increase its importance as a route for the deployment and movement of military forces. The Arctic Ocean will simultaneously become a place for geopolitical conflicts and competition among the countries concerned, as well as a place for international cooperation concerning sea rescue and responses to maritime disaster.

Although debates over the environment and "security" may evolve into various aspects, this paper will focus on the US Department of Defense's "Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense"5 released in January 2019, and the "Report to Congress: Department of Defense Arctic Strategy"6 released in June 2019, and will discuss the US government's efforts associated with changes in the global environment.

Before reviewing these two reports, the present author would like to introduce the trends in US public opinion on climate change, because this question reflects US political divides.

According to a Pew Research Center opinion poll conducted in early October 2019, 62% of Americans believe that climate change is affecting their lives.7 Interestingly, 82% of Democrat Americans think they are affected by climate change, while only 38% of Republican Americans think so.8 As many as 96% of liberal Democrats believe that human activity is accountable for climate change, while only 53% of conservative Republicans think so.9 81% of liberal Democrats think that climate policies do more good than harm for the environment, and 57% of them also think that climate policies help the US economy. Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, who think the same on climate policies account for 25% concerning the environment, and 10% regarding the economy, respectively.10

According to the results of the June 2019 Chicago Council Survey of American Public Opinion, "the American public divides sharply along partisan lines when it comes to three threats to the United States, immigration, climate change, and China." The gap between Democrats and Republicans who view these three partisan issues as threats to the US national interests is: 59% regarding immigration (Democrats 19% versus Republicans 78%); 55% regarding climate change (Democrats 78% versus Republicans 23%), and 18% regarding China (Democrats 36% versus Republicans 54%). These results indicate that immigration and climate change are much more partisan topics than China. Moreover, a comparison of trends over the past decade shows that the gap between Democrats and Republicans has been always notable regarding the issue of climate change than the other two.11

Responses to climate change can be said to be a major contributor to American political divides. In this connection, Democrat Joseph Biden described in his January 2020 contribution to Foreign Affairs magazine that the primary global challenges facing the United States are climate change and immigration, and that with the birth of a Biden administration, the United States would return to the Paris Agreement on its inaugural day.12

2. "Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense" ("The DoD Climate Change Report")

The DoD Climate Change Report released in January 2019 clarifies the risks that climate change poses to US military facilities and operations, and elaborates on measures to enhance facility resilience and operational viability. While the DoD Arctic Strategy (See Section 3) was compiled by the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the DoD Climate Change Report was worked out by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. For this reason, the DoD Climate Change Report primarily discusses possible measures to address climate change as part of the US military's acquisition and sustainment management. It does not discuss climate change as a source of conflicts, nor describe environmental destruction accompanying combat operations.

Instead, this Report analyzes the impact of recurrent floods, droughts, desertification, wildfires and the thawing permafrost on US military installations. According to the Report, the effects of flooding include rising sea levels, and inundations;13 the effects of drought include changes in water supply, vegetation, and temperature (including the increase of energy consumption for cooling air-conditioning), and land crack;14 and the effects of desertification include changes in vegetation and runoffs.15 Wildfires affect facilities, training and testing activities,16 while thawing permafrost affects the structural stability of the foundation of facility buildings.17

The presence or not of current and potential vulnerabilities to each of 79 military installations over the next 20 years is analyzed.18 In conclusion, about two-thirds of the 79 installations are expected to be vulnerable to current or future recurrent floods; more than half the installations vulnerable to current or future drought; and about half the installations vulnerable to wildfires. Only one installation is found vulnerable to thawing permafrost.19

When it comes to US military operations, this Report primarily discusses the impact of climate change on US military roles and missions. As for the US Africa Command Area of Responsibility, for instance, responses are deemed important to flooding, drought, and desertification. Flooding and earthquake-induced tsunamis are assessed to contribute to instability in the Indo-Pacific Command.20 The Report also refers to the Arctic issues (See Section 3), pointing out that the demand for Arctic-specific search and rescue resources will increase as Arctic activity increases due to growing Arctic maritime traffic.21 Other topics mentioned include cooperation with USAID and FEMA in relation to disaster relief;22 field training and testing; and the health and safety risks to personnel.23

What is interesting regarding responses to climate change is changes in cooperation programs between US geographical unified combatant commands and their partner nations, and in the plans and training of each geographical unified combatant command. Although the Report is not specific on this topic, it states, for example, that planners at the US Africa Command must consider the impacts of drought and desertification as high potential instability factors, while the US Africa Command and Europe Command are cooperating on water issues with the nations concerned, and the US Northern Command is analyzing operations in the Arctic with Scandinavian countries. According to the Report, the US Indo-Pacific Command is focusing their training on response readiness and resilience to natural disasters.24

This Report collectively discusses such many-faceted issues in relation to climate change as the resilience of US military installations, the effects on the health of personnel, coordination with other US government agencies, as well as the missions of geographical unified combatant commands and coordination with the countries concerned. As a result the Report is somewhat complicated, which, in a sense, reflects the current status of the issue of environment and security that must wait for further analysis and discussion.

3. "Report to Congress: Department of Defense Arctic Strategy" ("The DoD Arctic Strategy")

The significant reduction of Arctic sea ice due to global warming has expanded the possibilities of new utilization of the Arctic such as the practical utilization of the Arctic sea routes, natural resources development, and Arctic tourism. On the other hand, Arctic warming raises multiple issues including rising sea water temperatures, the impact of desalination and acidification on ecosystems, rising sea levels, and global-scale climate changes.25

The 2019 DoD Arctic Strategy updates the 2016 DoD Arctic Strategy in accordance with the 2018 National Defense Strategy. It outlines the DoD's strategic approach for protecting US national security interests in the Arctic in the era of strategic competition. The DoD's strategic goal in this context is to maintain reliable deterrence in the Arctic.26

The United States is one of the eight nations comprising the Arctic Council. Out of the seven other Arctic nations, four are NATO Allies: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, and Norway; and two are NATO partners: Finland and Sweden. The Arctic is vital to US homeland defense and to US power projection. Also, the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom-Norwegian (GIUK-N) gap is an important strategic corridor for US naval operations between the Arctic and the North Atlantic.27

The DoD Arctic Strategy predicts that the immediate prospect of conflict in the Arctic is low.28 However, the Strategy is concerned about the fact that Russia and Canada claim the right to regulate Arctic waters exceeding the authority permitted under international law. It is also concerned about Russia's increasing military activities and presence there. According to the Strategy, China's operational presence in the Arctic is more limited than Russia's, and China does not currently have a permanent Arctic military presence. However, it cautions about China's icebreaking vessels and civilian research efforts, "which could support a future Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, potentially including deployment of submarines to the region." As part of its "One Belt, One Road" initiative, China has linked its economic activities in the Arctic to its broader strategic objectives. China is enhancing its Arctic presence through economic outreach and scientific activities. As for China's claim of being a "Near Arctic State," the DoD does not recognize any such status.29

In discussing US national security interests in the Arctic, the DoD Arctic Strategy acknowledges the importance of the region from the viewpoint of US homeland defense, especially as an important area for early warning and missile defense. Likewise, the Strategy emphasizes Arctic cooperation with US allies and partners, and cautions about the potential strategic competition with China and Russia in this region. In this context the Strategy refers to the freedom of navigation in the Arctic.30 The Strategy points out that China's predatory economic behavior around the world could menace the Arctic.31

In line with the National Defense Strategy, the DoD Arctic Strategy sets forth the following prioritized DoD objectives for the Arctic: defend the homeland; compete when necessary to maintain favorable regional balances of power; and ensure that common domains remain free and open.32

The DoD's strategic approach for the Arctic seeks to advance cooperation with US allies and partners and to ensure a credible deterrent for the Arctic in ways that uphold the region's rules-based order, without fueling strategic competition.33 Specifically, the implementation of this strategic approach requires three sets of strategic goals: building Arctic awareness (the improvement of communications and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance); enhancing Arctic operations (cold weather training and regular exercises and deployments in the Arctic); and strengthening the rules-based order in the Arctic (strategic dialogues, staff talks, and preserving freedom of the seas.)34 Topics directly related to environmental issues include the effects of thawing permafrost on US military installations and training in the Arctic; response to maritime accidents; search and rescue; natural disaster relief, and environmental data collection.35

In May 2019, shortly before the DoD released its Arctic Strategy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech in Finland on US Arctic policy,36 focusing on strategic competition in the Arctic. He expressed strong concern over China and Russia's expansion into the region. It is noteworthy that Pompeo's criticism against China contained concerns about marine environmental issues: "Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims? Do we want the fragile Arctic environment exposed to the same ecological devastation caused by China's fishing fleet in the seas off its coast, or unregulated industrial activity in its own country? I think the answers are pretty clear." There is criticism against this remark that argues that the South China Sea and the Arctic have dramatically different political and legal frameworks.37 But given that China disregards the award rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which found China's violation of its obligation to preserve marine environment in the South China Sea,38 there is no guarantee that China will commit to protecting the Arctic environment. It is, therefore, judicious of Pompeo to have issued such a warning in advance.

4. Conclusion

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Risk Report 2020, for the first time since the initiation of the 10-year forecast assessment of global risks, all the top five potential risks are environment-related risks including extreme weather, natural disasters, and the loss of biodiversity.39 The PHP Research Institute's 2020 Global Risk Analysis states that one of the 10 risks that could affect Japan's national interests and Japanese corporations' business activities will be the politicization of environmental issues due to the frequent occurrence of extremely severe disasters.40 The PHP report also predicts that populist politicians will object to the move to address global issues like climate change under global frameworks, viewing such a move as interference in domestic affairs.

It is no wonder that environmental issues and climate change are raising political and economic concerns, given the seriousness of the problems. However, these problems are now attracting attention not only as non-traditional security issues but also in relation to traditional security issues.

Under such situations, what is of concern is the South China Sea issue. As mentioned in the preceding section, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in its July 2016 ruling found that China violated its obligation to protect the environment in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, environmental activists around the world maintain a dubious silence on this flagrant environmental destruction. The South China Sea issue tends to be discussed only in relation to the freedom of navigation. The move to address this issue from the viewpoint of environmental protection shows no sign of developing. Setting aside whether or not to discuss this issue under the category of "environmental security," it is strange that opinion leaders are slow in raising their voice in demanding discussions on China's behavior in the South China Sea from the viewpoints of marine environment protection as part of rule of law at sea. US Secretary of State Pompeo's remarks in his Arctic speech on environmental issues in the South China Sea are important in this sense.

The DoD Climate Change Report discussed in Section 2 does not provide a comprehensive and organized discussion of the relationship between the environment and security. Nonetheless, the Report is informative for understanding the future operations of the US military and trends in military cooperation with its allies and partner countries.

Lastly, a few words about the Arctic issues. Japan is a maritime nation that is geographically susceptible to climate change in the Arctic. As a maritime nation situated near to the Arctic, Japan is susceptible to various positive and negative impacts of changes in the Arctic due to climate change. Consequently, we should consider Arctic security issues from the perspective of Arctic climate change.

Japan's Third Basic Plan on Ocean Policy stipulates "Promoting Arctic Policy" as one of the "Ocean Measures for Comprehensive and Systematic Implementation by the Government." The three pillars of Japan's Arctic policy described by the Basic Plan are research and development; international cooperation; and sustainable use.41 The Basic Plan states, "Bearing in mind the economic and security environments surrounding the Arctic, Japan will proactively work with other countries by making use of multilateral fora including the Arctic Council and bilateral dialogues with the Arctic States so that principles of international law including freedom of navigation is respected in the Arctic Ocean based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."42 The "sustainable use" includes "safe navigation along the Arctic Sea Route."43 The National Security Strategy, in its section "Risks to Global Commons," also states, "the Arctic Sea is deemed to have enormous potential for developing new shipping routes and exploration of natural resources. While it is expected that states concerned work together under relevant international rules, such potential could provide new causes of friction among them."44

When, however, it comes to problems caused by Arctic climate change, Japan has yet to formulate a comprehensive security policy including security measures to be taken to address the problems. Hideaki Kaneda points out that if the Arctic sea routes become viable as transport routes, US maneuverability between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will be improved significantly, and US power projection in the Arctic will also become possible. This would be conducive to changes in the US military posture, and the US Indo-Pacific Command would provide troops to the US Northern Command that currently has only a small military force. Such force relocation would have a significant impact on the military balance in the Asia-Pacific region.45 According to the same author, the increased use of the Arctic sea routes will bring about congested traffic in the Sea of Japan and in its three inlet and outlet straits. Furthermore, if the development of natural resources in Russia's East Siberia and of maritime transport routes bound for Japan and other countries were developed, energy transport routes via the Sea of Japan would emerge. As a result, traffic congestion in the Sea of Japan and in its three straits would increase, which in turn will give rise to new problems of maritime safety and security.46 The development, however, of such maritime transport routes will not be realized in the short term. On the other hand, the Arctic issues, increasingly discussed in association with military balance and the US-China strategic confrontation, now pose a significant security question. The Arctic issues require a prompt review of Japan's national security strategy.

Under such circumstances, Japan should continue to pay attention to the US Arctic Strategy and its implementation as the United States is Japan's ally as well as an Arctic nation.

(This paper was translated into English by Tsutomu Inuzuka, SSDP Associate)

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