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Grasping the Geopolitics of Warming

by Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, the Pentagon and the Federal Bureau of Investigation should pool data and offer a comprehensive review of the national security threat posed by global warming, say U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Hagel.Last week, Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, introduced bipartisan legislation that would require a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to assess the security threats posed by global climate change.

NIE's are the federal government's most authoritative reports on issues concerning national security and contain the coordinated judgments of all U.S. intelligence agencies regarding predictions of future events and contingencies.

"For years, too many of us have viewed global warming as simply an environmental or economic issue. We now need to consider it as a security concern," said Durbin.

"Many of the most severe effects of global warming are expected in regions where fragile governments are least capable of responding to them. Failing to recognise and plan for the geopolitical consequences of global warming would be a serious mistake," he said. "This intelligence assessment will guide policymakers in protecting our national security and averting potential international crises."

Both senators say an NIE is necessary to effectively compare and contrast the information gathered by different intelligence agencies and compile a comprehensive report on the possible geopolitical consequences of climate change.

Durbin and Hagel's bill, the Global Climate Change Security Oversight Act, would authorise the intelligence community to provide an estimate of the risks posed by climate change for countries and regions that are of economic or military interest to the United States, or that are at serious risk of humanitarian suffering.

Situations such as water scarcity, food shortages or flooding may exacerbate conflict along economic, ethnic or sectarian divisions and may lead to large displacements of people and mass migration.

The bill would empower the NIE to examine these issues in the context of the next 30 years, as well as funding additional research by the Department of Defence to examine the impact of climate change on military operations.

"This bipartisan legislation takes on an important emerging policy issue -- the impact of climate change on national security," said General Charles F. Wald, former deputy commander of Headquarters U.S. European Command. "I support its call for a National Intelligence Estimate of the topic and authorising the secretary of defence to conduct further research on the military impact of climate change."

In 2006, Pres. George W. Bush's National Security Strategy acknowledged that environmental issues pose a national and international security challenge.

The United Nations Security Council has also acknowledged the threats posed by global warming and put climate change on its agenda for the first time, warning that global warming could be a catalyst for conflict.

In 2003, Pentagon analysts Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall released a report that explored how an abrupt climate change scenario could potentially destabilise the geopolitical environment, leading to skirmishes, battles and even war due to resource constraints.

The study suggested that as tensions mount around resource shortages, nations with the resources to do so may build virtual fortresses around their countries, preserving their resources while other nations will engage in struggles for access to food, clean water or energy.

"...(T)he way forward is to responsibly address the issue of climate change with a national strategy that incorporates economic, environmental and energy priorities. These issues are inextricably linked and changes to one will affect the other two," said Hagel.

"Risk assessment is essential to putting our national resources in the places where they will be most effective. This is even more important when assessing risk to national security. This legislation will provide information we need to continue to help make our country secure in the years to come."

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service

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