Four-Star Warning: Generals Dub Climate Change a Security Risk

Image: U.S. Marines hand out bottled water to typhoon survivors waiting for flight out of Tacloban city,

U.S. Marines hand out bottled water to typhoon survivors waiting for flight out of Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines Tuesday Nov. 19, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, which tore across several islands in the eastern Philippines on Nov. 8. Aaron Favila / AP file

A new report from a panel of former Pentagon leaders calls climate change a direct threat to national security and the U.S. economy, as extreme weather stands to stretch troops thin, spark unrest in unstable regions, and unravel global networks of trade and resources.

The authors –- 16 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals who compose the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board (MAB) -- blame a warming planet for, in part, aggravating tensions among some nations.

Their study, released Tuesday night, dubs climate change “a catalyst for conflict” against a backdrop of increasingly decentralized power structures around the world.


“Political posturing and budgetary woes cannot be allowed to inhibit discussion and debate over what so many believe to be a salient national security concern for our nation,” the generals and admirals wrote. “… Time and tide wait for no one.”

Key findings include:

  • “…climate change impacts are already accelerating instability in vulnerable regions," including the Arctic.
  • “Projected climate change impacts within the United States will place key elements of our National Power at risk and threaten our homeland security.”
  • “The projected impacts of climate change will threaten major sectors of the U.S. economy.”

The panel –- a non-government group -- offered a 2007 forecast predicting a collision between climate change and U.S. security interests. That original study was cited by the 2007 New York Times “Year in Ideas” section.

The latest analysis is an update to their 2007 findings: “We gather again because of our growing concern over the lack of comprehensive action by both the United States and the international community to address the full spectrum of projected climate change issues.”

In a foreword to the report, former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the generals’ and admirals’ latest assessments should serve as a bipartisan call to action, asserting that climate change is no longer a future threat but “is taking place now.”

“It identifies threats to elements of national power here at home, particularly those associated with our infrastructure and our ability to maintain military readiness,” Chertoff and Panetta wrote.


The group pointed specifically to the Arctic as one region already prompting U.S. national security experts to gaze northward.

The vast polar sea will see increased traffic from international fleets as glaciers shrink. With the ice disappearing, the region presents a potential, watery turf battle: The Arctic may account for as much as 20 percent of the world’s untapped oil and natural gas resources.

"We see areas around the globe where projected climate change causes us concern, but the most immediate is in the Arctic,” retired U.S. Army Gen. Paul Kern, panel chairman, told NBC News.

“Accelerated melting of ice is already opening the area," Kern said. "The U.S. and international community are not ready to respond to disasters or to resolve territory and resource disputes. We see this as not only a risk to the environment, but a risk to security of the area.”