Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

May 9, 2007

Testimony Before The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations


Adm. Joseph Prueher, USN (Ret.); Vice Adm. Richard Truly, USN (Ret.); and Gen. Charles Wald, USAF (Ret.)
Members of the Military Advisory Board to CNAC Report “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”

Testimony of Admiral Joseph Prueher, USN (Ret.):

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your invitation to testify before this Committee.

My name is Joseph Prueher. I served the people of the United States for 39 years as a Navy Officer. My last position in the Navy was as Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Command. After retiring from the Navy, I served, under Presidents Clinton and Bush, as our Ambassador to China.

Today, I am here with two of my colleagues, General Chuck Wald and Admiral Richard Truly. We'll each touch on different parts of this issue; hopefully, the three of us together can give you a sense of the complete picture, as we see it.

Along with other retired three- and four-star Flag Officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, we agreed to serve on a Military Advisory Board to the CNA Corporation to consider the potential impacts of climate change. Using our experience as military leaders, we were asked to assess the national security implications of climate change.

In speaking to you today, here are the points I'd like to stress:

  • There is a direct linkage between climate change and energy security. As we work to address one, we can make progress toward the other.
  • Climate change will exacerbate many of the causes of instability that exist today. Those instabilities are part of the underpinnings of extremism.
  • Climate change will become a significant national security issue. Now, let me explain how our group reached its conclusions.

Like most of the others on the Board, owing to conflicting reports, I entered our discussions with skepticism about the arguments surrounding climate science and about the factors that might drive climate change. But with all the scrutiny we could muster, all of us came to see that there are some areas of broad agreement in the scientific community.

There are several facts on which almost all scientists agree. Climate change is occurring now, with warming trends in most regions. Atmospheric carbon is higher than at any point in the last 400,000 years, and is increasing. There is a linkage between increased temperatures and increased carbon levels (along with other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere; that relationship is complex, but it does exist.

There are other things we don't know. We don't know exactly what kinds of effects climate change may bring — we just know there is a range of possible effects. On the low end, we are likely to see rising temperatures, increased storm intensity, and shifts in precipitation and drought patterns. These are Katrina-like events. On the higher end of the spectrum, we could see more dramatic shifts in weather, the spread of infectious diseases, rapid loss of glaciers, and sea level rise.

This range of projected environmental effects will in turn affect societies. If, as projected, precipitation patterns change, an already-stressed nation's access to food and water can be limited. If, as projected, extreme weather events occur more frequently, a poorer nation's infrastructure can be decimated. If, as some project, sea levels rise, human migrations may occur, likely both within and across borders. These are issues that can, and will, affect societies and nations. These changes beget security risks.

As you know, national security involves much more than guns and military strength. The national security diagram consists of political, military, cultural and economic elements. These elements overlap, to one degree or another, and every major issue in the international arena contains all of them. We risk our security when we don't consider the full range of these issues. And climate change has an impact on each of them. This will be particularly true in the world's most volatile regions, where environmental and natural resource challenges have added greatly to the existing political, economic and cultural tensions. The instabilities that result now create fertile ground for extremism — and these instabilities are likely to be exacerbated by global climate change.

When we add it up, our view is that global climate change yields a group of challenges with which we've not grappled in a systematic way.

I request that our full report be included in the record of this hearing, so I will very quickly summarize our key findings.

  • Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America's national security.
  • Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.
  • Projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world.
  • Climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.

I know General Wald will offer some rich detail on these findings and will note our recommendations, and Admiral Truly will touch on the ways in which climate change will affect military commanders moving forward. With my remaining time, I'd like to make three quick observations.

The first is to highlight that link between climate change and energy security. One can describe our current energy supply as finite, foreign and fickle. Continued pursuit of overseas energy supplies, and our addiction to them, cause a great loss of leverage in the international arena. Ironically, a focus on climate change may actually help us on this count. Key elements of the solution set for climate change are the same ones we would use to gain energy security. Focusing on climate is not a distraction from our current challenges; it may actually help us identify solutions.

Second, this issue is one that the US alone cannot solve. If we in our nation do everything right — assuming we know what is right — the hazards of global climate change would not be solved. China and India are integral to the global solution, but we cannot use this as an excuse for inaction. We must instead engage them — on many fronts. Many issues of great importance to our world will not get solved without US and Chinese cooperation. Not talking to the Chinese about climate change is not a useful option.

My third point: For military leaders, the first responsibility is to fight the right war, at the right time, at the right place. The highest and best form of victory for one's nation involves meeting the objectives without actually having to resort to conflict. It's a process of trumping the battle, if you will. It takes a great deal of planning, strategy, resources and moral courage, but that is the higher art form for a servant of the nation.

That seems to be a reasonable way to think about climate and security. There are a great many risks associated with climate change, and the costs are uncertain. But if we start planning and working now, we may be able to meet our security objectives, and mitigate some of those battles.

The potential and adverse effects of climate change could make current changes seem small. Facing and sorting these challenges, for our nation's leaders, can be daunting. It will require vision, proactivity, courage and thoughtful articulation. What we cannot do is wait.

I'm most grateful that this Committee is considering this issue.

Thank you.

Testimony of Vice Admiral Truly, USN (Ret.):

My name is Richard Truly, and I served more than thirty years on active duty in the U.S. Navy. Much of this period was on exchange duty with the Air Force and NASA, serving in both the national security and civilian space programs. My final Navy duty assignment was again at NASA, charged with returning the Space Shuttle to safe flight following the Challenger accident. I retired from the Navy in 1989 as a Vice Admiral, and was sworn in the following morning as Administrator of NASA. Following my departure from NASA in 1992, I served several years as Director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, then as Director of the Department of Energy's National Renewable Laboratory for eight years. It was during this period that I began paying serious attention to the possibility of global warming, leading to climate change.

No issue could possibly be more global than the possibility of changes in the Earth's climate. During the eight months that our Military Advisory Board debated these effects on our national security, we were fortunate to have such a wide range of senior military, diplomatic and civilian agency experience and differing viewpoints at our disposal. Of particular importance, in my view, were the voices of experience from commanders of U.S. combat forces in Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Africa and the Middle East as we explored the possible effects of changing environments in these regions.

We had quite spirited discussions about a range of issues from climate science to the causes of local, regional and global conflict.

But we coalesced around a single set of findings and recommendations because everywhere in the world we looked, and the longer we examined the possibilities, we kept arriving at the same conclusion which Admiral Prueher mentioned — that the potential impacts of climate change inevitably exacerbate societal stresses, which in turn have potentially severe security consequences. This is particularly true in some of the regions of the world where margins for survival is already thin, borders are uncontrolled, and societies are extremely stressed. It's hard to see how these regions can avoid becoming breeding grounds for further trouble.

One of these regions is the continent of Africa, which General Wald covered in some detail.

Another is the Middle East, long a tinderbox of conflict. The natural environment of this region is dominated by two important natural resources — oil because of its abundance, and water because of its scarcity. Climate change has the potential to exacerbate tensions over water as precipitation patterns decrease, projected to decline as much as 60% in some areas. This suggests even more trouble in a region of fragile governments and infrastructures and historical animosities among countries and religious groups.

Observed and projected sea level rise coupled with the predicted increase in violent storms poses a new threat to coastal regions. Some of our most critical infrastructure for trade, energy and defense is located on our coasts. Further, a number of low-lying island nations, particularly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, could literally be under threat of inundation in coming decades. Some of our strategic military installations are located on low-lying islands, such as Diego Garcia, which is a critical base of support for our Middle East operations.

Major river deltas are at severe risk from projected sea level rise. General Wald discussed the consequences of the Niger River delta flooding; other examples that could pose disastrous conditions are the Nile delta in Egypt, and of course the Mouths of the Ganges delta in Eastern India and Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated and stressed locations on the planet. Sea level rise has the potential to displace tens of millions of people from this area with potentially serious destabilizing effects in a region that is strategically and economically important to the U.S.

These potential river delta floodings also point out a major difference in national security threats caused by climate change than those we are accustomed to. Normally, we deal with single isolated conflicts in generally confined geographical areas. But when the Niger delta floods, so will other rivers such as the Nile, the Ganges and the Mississippi, for example. This could present overwhelming security challenges for our military in widely dispersed areas of the world.

Projected climate change will add tensions even in stable regions of the world, including the United States, although our strength and wealth places us in a far better position to cope. But prolonged declines in rainfall in Mexico and Latin America predicted by climate models could exacerbate an already challenging immigration situation on our southern border.

Polar regions feel the effects of climate sooner, and more acutely, than lower latitudes. All indications are that the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean by way of Canada's high Arctic will be navigable part year within a decade or so, and ice-free in summer later in the century. The U.S. considers the Northwest Passage as international waters free to navigation, but Canada considers it territorial waters. We anticipate many countries will push for the passage to be declared an international waterway — including the European Union, Russia and others. This would pose an international issue, directly caused by climate change, to all the nations bordering the Arctic Ocean.

These are but a few examples of how the expected effects of climate change can lead to increased stress on populations and increased strife among countries. In the national and international security environment, climate change threatens to add new hostile and stressing factors. We believe that climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.

As Admiral Prueher pointed out, our security revolves around issues that are political, economic, cultural and military in nature. We have concluded that the potential effects of climate change warrant serious national attention, and I want to thank the Committee for addressing this serious and important issue.

Testimony of General Chares Wald, USAF (Ret.):

I am Chuck Wald and I recently retired from the U.S. Air Force after 35 years of active duty service. During my career I was stationed overseas for more than 15 years, the majority of the time in Europe and the Middle East. In my last assignment I was the Deputy Commander of United States European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. European Command's area of responsibility includes 91 countries in Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa.

As part of my duties as the DCOM of European Command, I traveled extensively and spent a considerable amount of time in countries facing significant challenges economically, politically and environmentally. The countries facing the greatest obstacles to stability and prosperity were in Africa. In European Command, we believed a new model of “engagement” was necessary to adequately address the issues required to create a stable, productive and secure environment. This is particularly true in Africa where non-traditional “threats” to stability, like massive health issues due to extensive HIV-Aides problems, malaria, limited to non-existent infrastructure and poor governance all contribute to a very volatile and potentially explosive situation. These factors will be likely be severely complicated by shifting weather patterns due to climate change. Beyond the more conventional threats we traditionally address, I believe we must now also prepare to respond to the consequences of dramatic population migrations, pandemic health issues and significant food and water shortages due to the possibility of significant climate change.

I want to offer a bit more detail on how we as a group see climate change as a national security issue. And I'll do that by focusing on Africa.

If we look at one country, Nigeria, we can get a sense of how projected environmental impacts could easily become serious security challenges. Even in a time of “relative” stability in Nigeria, there is very little civil governance and very limited capacity to provide huge numbers of people with the basics — such as electricity, clean water, health care or education. That's the situation today — it's a very tenuous environment.

If Nigeria's access to fresh water is reduced or additional stresses on food production — which could be a result of projected changes in rainfall patterns — millions of people would likely be displaced. If the Niger delta were to be flooded from sea level rise, or if major storms damaged oil-drilling capacity, the region would lose its primary source of income. Again, millions of people could be displaced. There really is no controlled place in Nigeria for displaced people to go, no organically controlled capacity for an organized departure, and an extremely limited capacity to create alternative living situations. And the movements would be occurring in a country with a population of 160 million people that is split geographically between Muslims and Christians. These stresses would add dramatically to the existing confusion and desperation, and place even more pressure on the Nigerian government. It makes the possibility of conflict very real.

If we look at Darfur, we can see that impact of climate change is not just an issue off in the distant future; it is having an affect on security today. The conflict in Darfur has many root causes, but one of its key instigators was driven by climate. Long periods of drought resulted in the loss of both farmland and grazing land to the desert. The loss of grazing lands led the nomads to migrate southward in search of water and herding grounds. This, in turn, led to conflict with the farming tribes occupying those lands. With the added stress of population growth, and ethnic and tribal differences, the competition for land became violent. It is a perfect case study of how existing marginal situations can be exacerbated beyond the tipping point by climate related factors. It is also why we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier.” The Darfur region was already fragile and replete with threats — but those threats were multiplied by the stresses induced by climate change.

The same can be said of Somalia, where alternating drought and floods led to migrations of varying size and speed. A prolonged instability grew out of those conditions — and the warlords capitalized on it. It's a glimpse at how climate change can cause the type of instability and failed states that lead to extremism and terrorism. Ungoverned spaces, filled with desperate people, are also the perfect recruiting grounds for terrorist groups.

These examples are all from Africa, and I think there are many reasons why Americans should be concerned about Africa and African security issues.

  • Many exotic minerals, found only in Africa, have essential military and civilian applications.
  • We import more energy from Africa than the Middle East today — probably a shock to a lot of people — and that share will grow significantly in the near future.
  • Other powerful nations, including China, are taking a keen interest in Africa, largely because of oil mineral resources
  • There is also the very real human suffering taking place in Africa. Even in the context of security discussions, this reason matters, because part of our security depends very much on remaining true to our values as a Nation.

It's important to note that the examples I have given, while all from the African continent can be replicated elsewhere. Our view is that climate change could be a threat multiplier in every global region.

I'd like to finish by very briefly noting the recommendations made in the report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.” As a group, we made the following recommendations:

  • The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies. The intelligence community should incorporate climate consequences into its National Intelligence Estimate. In this regard, we support the legislation introduced by Senators Durbin, Hagel and Feinstein calling for a National Intelligence Estimate on Global Climate Change.
  • The U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.
  • The U.S. should commit to global partnerships that help less developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.
  • The Department of Defense should enhance its operational capability by accelerating the adoption of improved business processes and innovative technologies that result in improved U.S. combat power through energy efficiency.
  • The DoD should conduct an assessment of the impact on U.S. military installations worldwide of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other possible climate change impacts over the next 30 to 40 years.

The Military Advisory Board drew a very narrow line in making these recommendations, not wanting to stray too far from our National Security area of expertise. But as Admiral Prueher and others have stated, security is a broad field, and enhancing our nation's security is certainly not the sole purview of the Defense Department. There are many steps we can take as a nation to enhance our security. Some of those steps include reconsidering our energy choices and our carbon emissions. Some initiatives will include engaging with other nations, working together to bring about changes that will improve our environment. Some of the steps will be as difficult as they are necessary. I'm very grateful that this Committee understands this, and has chosen to consider climate change through the very important prism of our national security. Your decision to address this matter is, by itself, an important statement.