Instability due to fighting over resources in ‘weak states’ may be one of the more urgent threats of climate change and one that is likely to be dealt with militarily. If interstate conflicts erupt over water supplies, say between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, international troops will likely be called in. Relations could become strained between the U.S. and Mexico for similar reasons, or between Russia and its Arctic neighbors due to territorial issues.


U.S. soldier in Parun, Afghanistan (Image source: U.S. Dept. of Defense)

This argument, by retired U.S. Navy Admiral Lee Gunn of the American Security Project, a national security and public policy think tank, is put forward in an op-ed article from October 20th in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Gunn contends that the face of international relations and security will be put to new tests due to factors involving climate change such as so-called ‘climate refugees’ who migrate in search of water or other resources, altered topographies due to melting Arctic ice, and changing economic situations. Possible crises may be conflict-related, humanitarian, public health emergencies or the management of limited resources between countries.

Lee Gunn’s piece could be seen as a new form of climate change alarmism, or just pragmatic – albeit somewhat conservative – realist perspectives on international relations. Either way it makes one consider the military role the United States – and indeed other military forces around the world – will take when faced with challenges either brought on or exacerbated by climate change.

See ‘War and the Environment – From the Right’ for more American military perspectives on climate change and Thomas Friedman’s op-ed for the New York Times about how a gas tax might help America get out of the Middle East.

Additional resources:
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists collection on climate change and security