July 12, 2024

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    The Impact of Climate Change on Military Strategy and Operations

    The Impact of Climate Change on Military Strategy and Operations

    Climate change has become a major factor in global security. The rising temperatures, the sea level rise and extreme weather are not only environmental concerns, but also present a serious challenge to military strategy and operations. This paper explores the many ways that climate change impacts military planning, operational preparedness, and strategic considerations.

    Environmental Changes and strategic Considerations

    Arctic Operations

      • Melting Ice, and Geopolitical Conflicts: With the melting of Arctic ice, new routes to sea and deposits of resources become available, increasing geopolitical tensions. The United States, Russia and Canada are among the nations with Arctic territories that have increased their military presence. U.S. Navy has updated its Arctic Strategy to reflect new security dynamics.
      • Operational challenges: Thawing of permafrost compromises the stability of infrastructure, making it difficult to build and maintain bases and airstrips. Extreme cold weather conditions also require specialized training and equipment, which increases logistical complexity and costs.


    Rising Sea Levels

      • Coastal bases are at risk: Many military and naval bases are located along the coast. These facilities are at risk of flooding and erosion due to rising sea levels. Sea level rise poses a significant threat to the Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia’s largest naval base. This has led to substantial investments being made in infrastructure resilience.
      • Humanitarian missions: The increase in flooding and storm surges is likely to lead to a greater frequency of humanitarian missions. The military will need to be ready to respond to disasters, provide evacuation assistance and support to the affected civilian population, stretching its resources and capabilities.


    Extreme Weather Events

      • Operational Readyness: Extreme events such as hurricanes and typhoons can disrupt training plans, damage equipment and hamper operational readiness. In 2018, Hurricane Michael caused significant damage to Tyndall Air Force Base, affecting the operational capabilities of the base.
      • Supply chain disruptions: Extreme temperatures can disrupt supply chains globally, affecting availability of critical components and materials needed for military operations. Supply chain resilience is a priority.

    Climate-Induced Conflicts & Human Security

    Resource Scarcity

      • Water and Food Security Climate Change exacerbates scarcity of water and food, leading to increased tensions and conflicts over resources. Military planners need to consider the consequences of resource-driven conflict in areas such as the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa.
      • Displacement and Migration: Climate-induced displacement and migration can create humanitarian crises which destabilize areas and require military intervention. The military needs to develop the capability to manage large-scale movements and provide security for affected areas.


    Political instability

      • State fragility: The climate change can increase state fragility, by causing economic instability, increasing social inequality, and triggering unrest. Fragile countries are more vulnerable to insurgency and terrorism. They require increased military involvement in stabilization and peacekeeping missions.
      • Tensions between States: The competition for scarce resources can lead to inter-state conflict. In order to develop effective deterrence measures and prevent conflicts, military strategies need to take into account potential flashpoints.

    Adaptation and mitigation strategies

    Infrastructure Resilience

      • Hardening Facility: It is important to invest in resilience of military infrastructures against climate impacts. It is important to elevate buildings, build flood defenses and ensure energy resilience by using renewable energy sources.
      • Flexible Base: The development of flexible bases, such as mobile or modular units, allows rapid deployment and adaptation to changing environmental conditions.


    Operational Adjustments

      • Climate-Resilient training: By integrating climate resilience into military education, personnel will be prepared to operate in a variety of extreme environments. This includes equipment adaptation and health precautions, as well as survival training.
      • Sustainable practices: Adopting sustainability practices, like reducing carbon footprints, and using green technologies not only reduces environmental impact, but also improves operational efficiency, and energy security.


    Strategic Planning

      • Climate Informed Intelligence Integrating climate data in intelligence assessments can help anticipate and mitigate climate related security risks. Monitoring environmental changes, predicting migration trends, and assessing resources vulnerabilities are all part of this.
      • Multilateral Co-operation: The climate change is a global problem that requires multilateral co-operation. Joining international coalitions and partnerships enhances resource sharing and collective security.

    Case Studies

    Pacific Islands

      • Rising Sea Levels Threaten Military Bases: The U.S. Navy’s Pacific bases such as those on Guam and in the Marshall Islands face existential threat from rising sea levels. To maintain a strategic presence in this region, proactive measures are needed, such as relocation and infrastructure investments.
      • Humanitarian Aid: Typhoons are more frequent in the Pacific, and the military must be ready to provide extensive humanitarian assistance.


    Sahel Region

      • Desertification in Africa and resource conflicts: The Sahel area of Africa is suffering from severe desertification which leads to conflicts over arable lands and water. In this region, military operations are aimed at stabilizing the affected areas and supporting local government.
      • Counterterrorism Operation: Climate-induced instabilities in the Sahel provide fertile ground to extremist groups. The military strategy integrates counterterrorism operations with humanitarian and development efforts.


    The conclusion 

    Climate change poses complex and changing challenges to military strategy and operations. Environmental changes and security dynamics require a comprehensive, adaptive approach. The military can navigate the multiple impacts of climate changes by integrating climate considerations in strategic planning, improving infrastructure resilience and encouraging international cooperation. This proactive approach not only contributes to operational readiness, but also global stability and security.

    Thomas Dearborn
    About Author

    Thomas Dearborn

    I am honoured to share my experiences and stories for all the years of my service

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