With all of the worries and concerns that our top military brass has, it’s hard to believe that the man who is in charge of monitoring escalating tensions between China and Japan, hostility from North Korea, and Chinese-traced computer attacks adamantly claims that climate change is our biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region. But that’s exactly what Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III is saying.
In early March, Admiral Locklear spent two days in New England to meet privately with security and foreign policy specialists at Harvard and Tufts universities and students at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island to discuss his concerns.
“[Climate change] is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about,’’ he told the Boston Globe.
Included in the meetings were Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Asia specialist Joseph Nye Jr.
He described the reaction that he gets when he shares his observations with people who are in denial about climate change concerns.
“People are surprised sometimes,” he said. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
His assessment and concerns are in line with the Obama Administration’s focus shift to Asia. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have dominated our national attention for a decade and as a result, we have neglected our relations with China and India, both of which have rising military and economic powers. This is something that we are going to have to address, because most of our trade links are in China and India.
So, why is climate change a threat, and why is a man of Admiral Locklear’s stature worrying himself about it? I mean, he’s not a “tree hugger,” is he? Probably not. It’s not specifically shrinking islands, increased dramatic weather, and rising seas that are causing the concerns of Locklear and other specialists. It’s the conflicts that will result – and indeed, are already resulting – from these issues. For example, Japan and China currently have a dispute over islands over which both nations claim sovereignty and fishing and mineral rights. What happens in cases like this?
“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”
We have an ongoing number of disputes,” Locklear said. “It is not just about China and everybody else, because there are disputes between other partners down there, too. Sometimes I think the Chinese get handled a little too roughly on this. What we are concerned most about,” he added, “is that they work through these things.” (Boston Globe)
Will our ridiculous conservative politicians take note and begin a shift towards acceptance of climate change? Probably not. That’s OK, though. The military has this. While the GOP is leveraging political power plays, Admiral Locklear and his ilk are handling business. They are reaching out to other forces in the Pacific region to collaborate and work for solutions.
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’
Locklear’s headquarters in Hawaii is working with nearly two dozen Asian nations to stockpile supplies in strategic locations and they will conduct an exercise in May to determine the risk level and “what-ifs” scenarios. The Hawaiian headquarters is responsible for operations from California to India and is assigned 400,000+ military and civilian personnel.