Climate change is what the U.S. military calls a “threat multiplier.” Natural disasters, strained natural resources, and mass migration, all consequences of climate change, directly threaten political stability and can worsen or spark violent conflict. In a 2019 government report, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, Dan Coats, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, said:
“Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.”
Later that year, in May, 2019, a report commissioned by General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called upon the Pentagon to urgently prepare for the possibility that domestic power, water, and food systems might collapse due to the impacts of climate change as we near mid-century. Made public that August, a significant news piece appeared at the end of October.
In 2021, the Harvard Crimson offered a fairly pessimistic view of our progress in their article, “How climate change will impact national security,” which included an interview with Calder Walton, the assistant director for research at the Belfer Center’s Intelligence Project. He clarified why the U.S. Intelligence community must take a leading role in climate initiatives: “Rising sea level, which is affecting how we are undertaking military operations. And then, the secondary knock-on effects of population displacement, of civil disorder as key essentials become scarce, damage to crops, and economic realignment. Also, refugee crises or population displacement, and radicalization of people angry with their own government or willing to take action against countries that they regard as the big polluters. Scarce resources leading to political violence, terrorism — that’s the kind of secondary threat progression that the U.S. intelligence community will be looking at.” He concluded with the concern that “they’re very, very late to the game.”
By 2022, in NATO’s Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment, climate change was recognized as an international security risk, sourcing resource shortages, civilian displacements, and military operations in extreme weather as a result of climate change as potential conflict insinuators. In the Executive Summary, we once again hear about “threat multipliers":
“These conditions represent a ‘threat multiplier’ that has significant security implications for NATO on a tactical, operational and strategic level. For that reason, NATO Heads of State and Government (HOSG) agreed that NATO should aim to become the leading international organization when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security, and endorsed NATO’s Climate Change and Security Action Plan (CCSAP) at their 2021 Summit in Brussels.”
The U.S. was one of twelve nations who founded NATO in 1949.
Later in 2022 the U.S. Department of Defense agreed that “Climate change has serious implications for national security.” Joe Bryan, Chief Sustainability Office and Senior Advisor for climate, added, “ Climate change is dramatically increasing the demand for military operations and, at the same time, impacting our readiness and our ability to meet those demands while imposing unsustainable costs on the department."