Is Climate Change a National Security Issue?

Retired military officials belonging to a nonprofit research and analysis organization first communicated to US policymakers and the public that climate change is a threat multiplier to national security issues in 2007. They sought information from climate scientists, business leaders, and others studying climate change to shape a detailed report containing strategies for protecting US national security interests, both domestic and abroad. Then in 2010, with direction from the US Congress, the Pentagon explored potential threats to US security in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. Connections were drawn between climate change, energy security, and economic stability.

white ice formation
Photo by Harrison Haines on

Five years later, the White House released a short report titled, “The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate“, which highlighted some particularly expensive future consequences of climate change. Poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and food insecurity were among the issues of concern. However, the report’s graphics focused on melting glaciers, at-risk coastal cities, and flooded military bases.

Is Climate Change a National Security Issue?

It’s hard to think of things that the climate doesn’t have at least a mild influence on, although I’m sure there are a few – like calligraphy or the taste of pizza or the size of the universe. Although there is a link between climate change and national security, one article featured in the World Resources Report cautions against the militarization of climate change, arguing that the issue requires a more interdisciplinary approach. The article encourages the use of international assistance in fragile States, but also recognizes the benefits of federal resources, such as increased awareness and thorough risk assessment.

The Benefits of Federal Government Support

Pie chart of federal spending in 2019 from CBPP.

One particularly helpful aspect of identifying climate change as a national security issue is that it becomes part of the federal budget. The United States currently possesses the third largest military in the world and consequently spent roughly $676 billion (17% of total expenditures) of the $4.4 trillion defense budget last year. This is near what is spent on non-defense, which goes to domestic programs such as transportation, education, veteran’s benefits, health, housing assistance, and more, but it is less than the $1 billion (23%) spent on social security. The federal budget is primarily supported by revenues from individual income taxes (49% of total revenue), followed by payroll taxes (34%), and a small amount from corporate income taxes and other items such as estate taxes (<1.5%). Any over-budget deficit is made up with borrowed money in the form of Treasury securities.

As you can see in the pie chart above, the amount spent on science and medical research, as well as education, transportation infrastructure, and non-security international programs like humanitarian aid, made up a small percentage of total expenditures in 2019. The reason I bring all of this up is to say that 13% of the US defense budget is spent on research, development, testing, and evaluation. This means that although scientific research in itself only receives 2% of overall federal funds, the added bonus of federal defense funds doubles the amount of federal money going into science. This support then leads to cutting-edge research and the ability to do that research with the newest technologies.

Do you agree that Earth’s climate constitutes a national security issue? What do you see as the pros or cons of that designation? Let me know what you think! Have a great Tuesday, Jess 🙂

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