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A Sustainable National Security Posture?

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — and what about climate change, Mike Mazarr? ]
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Is there even a Cheney-esque one-percent possibility that 97% of climate scientists (NASA’s estimate) are right?
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I just opened up Michael Mazarr‘s NDU Strategy Study Group report, Discriminate Power: A Strategy for a Sustainable National Security Posture. It’s quite far from my usual apocalyptic and more generally religious interests, but he and I once co-led a Y2K scenario role-playing game at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, so I have a friendly interest in what he’s up to.

What interested me next, though, was the overview to their report that Mazarr and company present in their Introduction. Their purview:

In the coming decade, the constraints on U.S. foreign and defense policy — fiscal, social, Geopolitical — are likely to intensify. At the same time, the security environment is evolving in ways that pose a more diverse array of risks, threats and opportunities. While foreign threats have dominated national security planning in the past, for example, future wars may more typically involve nontraditional foes and means threatening the homeland. This will change how we perceive and provide for national security, even as we confront new constraints.

This paper summarizes the work of a study group chartered to assess strategy under austerity for the next ten years. A core conclusion was that the United States is buying systems, forces and capabilities increasingly mismatched to the challenges, threats, and opportunities of the emerging environment. Military power, for example, cannot resolve many of the most complex and pressing challenges we confront — and yet our investments in national security remain vastly over-weighted to military instruments. The most likely threats to the U.S. homeland will come from nontraditional challenges such as biological pathogens, terrorism, cyber, and financial instruments, and yet resources for these issues remain minimal compared to traditional military instruments. At the same time, on our current trajectory, we will end up with a national security establishment dominated by salaries, health care, retirement costs, and a handful of staggeringly expensive major weapons systems. We are spending more and more to get less and less, in terms of relevant tools and influence.

There’s some ambiguity in here. There’s a segue from “foreign threats” to “future wars” without so much as a hiccup — but the actual threats our National Security strategy will need to address are presented as “nontraditional challenges such as biological pathogens, terrorism, cyber, and financial instruments”.

That’s a far broader array than “future wars” to be sure — but maybe still within the ambit of “foreign threats”. What I’m interested in, in the present context, however, is climate change. And unless my .pdf search function is deceiving me, I can find no mention of either “climate” or “warming” in the entire report.

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Compare these Remarks by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the President At the Launch of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy from a month ago:

The national security impacts of climate change stem from the increasingly severe environmental impacts it is having on countries and people around the world. Last year, the lower 48 U.S. states endured the warmest year on record. At one point, two-thirds of the contiguous United States was in a state of drought, and almost 10 million acres of the West were charred from wildfires. And while no single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change, we know that climate change is fueling more frequent extreme weather events. Last year alone, we endured 11 weather-related disasters that inflicted a $1 billion or more in damages – including Hurricane Sandy.

Internationally, we have seen the same: the first twelve years of this century are all among the fourteen warmest years on record.

Or the White House’s National Security Strategy of 2010:

Climate Change: The danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe. The United States will therefore confront climate change based upon clear guidance from the science, and in cooperation with all nations — for there is no effective solution to climate change that does not depend upon all nations taking responsibility for their own actions and for the planet we will leave behind.

And given what WSJ SWJ calls the Obama administration’s strategic shift to the East — what about Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III?

America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.

Harvard’s 2012 Climate Extremes: Recent Trends with Implications for National Security report?

Or the Council for Foreign Relations report, Climate Change and National Security: An Agenda for Action — from 2007?

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I know, the CIA has (quietly) closed its Center on Climate Change and National Security, although as the NYT’s Green blog told us:

Todd Ebitz, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency would continue to monitor the security and humanitarian challenges posed by climate change as part of its focus on economic security, but not in a stand-alone office.

But if you’re still interested, take a look at The Center for Climate & Security’s page On the Record: Climate Change as a Security Risk According to U.S. Administration Officials.

Their list is far more comprehensive than mine.

Okay. I know Mazarr’s report will have been written to fulfill certain criteria, specified or unspecified, and I’m not the one who set them — but isn’t climate change a part of the context that would need to be addressed, if “how we perceive and provide for national security, even as we confront new constraints” is the topic under discussion?

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Cross-grain thinking, 3: ASP’s Report on Climate Security

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — as Dylan sang, a change in the weather is known to be extreme ]
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People sit at a flooded table in Piazza San Marco, Venice -- photo: Luigi Costantini / AP

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Right at the top of Part I of the recent three-part Report on Climate Security from the American Security Project, we read this paragraph:

Climate change is real: we see its impacts every day, around the world. A melting Arctic, unprecedented droughts across the world, extreme examples of flooding, and uncontrollable wildfires are all examples of the changing climate.

That’s right, that’s right and important, that’s right, important and timely.

But you know, at heart I’m a poet. And although I’m concerned about the issues the report addresses, I can’t help thinking of climate and weather, atmosphere and wind, in a manner that crisscrosses the “interior” vs “exterior” divide.

If you lean to the scientific more than the poetic, you might want to consider what I’m talking about as an instatiation of the insight Gregory Bateson expressed in the title of his seminal book, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity.

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Let me lean to the poetry-side for a paragraph or so, then we’ll come back to security issues the report raises.

I probably caught this particular “weather and weather” disease from Dylan Thomas’ great and celebrated poem, A Process in the Weather of the Heart:

A process in the weather of the heart
Turns damp to dry; the golden shot
Storms in the freezing tomb.
A weather in the quarter of the veins
Turns night to day; blood in their suns
Lights up the living worm.

Writing about this poem in his Reader’s Guide to Dylan Thomas, William York Tindall notes “Thomas’ obsessive concern with the natural process that, linking man and world, inner and outer, turns upon the axis of life and death” and specifies that “applying ‘weather,’ a word for outer climate, to inner climate joins two worlds.”

Thomas is concerned in that extraordinary poem to join, likewise, life with death, night with day, womb with tomb, seeing eye with blind bone and more – or not so much to join them as to see them as inseparable, as parts of the single unfolding that is the world.

There is much more to the poem than the central obsessive theme of the “process in the weather of the heart” with which the poem opens and the “process in the weather of the world” with which it closes. It is their conjunction, their inseparability which interests me here – the poet’s perception that there is no inner without the outer, no outer without the inner – that in each there is weather, which Tyndall also calls climate, that weather is in both…

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Back to meteorology and national security..

Look, I’m not exactly an enemy of thinking about climate change and national — or global — security. I admire ASP for today’s piece by Catherine Foley, Climate Change: The Missing Link in Tackling the Mali Crisis. We need more considerations of that kind, they’re rare and extremely valuable.

Mecca is one of the hottest cities in the world, and the Kaaba the central pivot around which all Islam revolves — potentially a double hot-spot. What are the implications of climate change for the Saudis, for Mecca, for Islam?

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When I think about weather, I think about storms in the world, storms in the heart and mind, almost in the same breath. Specifically, when I think of global warming, I can’t help but see the problem as being one of double-awareness – rising temperatures and rising tempers, rising sea-levels and rising levels of anxiety and / or denial, the climate of meteorology and the climate of opinion…

Seen from my bifocal perspective, the report is notably focused on externals. Take another sentence from the brief bullet points on the first page;

The climate influences people’s everyday lives, from what they eat to where they live.

We eat food, food that can be weighed and measured, and analyzed for its nutrient elements and health properties. We live in cities, towns and villages, in houses, or developments, which can located on maps…

With my bifocals on, it would be more accurate, more encompassing to say:

The climate influences people’s everyday lives, from what they eat to how they feel, and from where they live to what they think and how they behave.

Because in my view, the situation is as much about “mind change” as it is “climate change” — in my view, the “fulcrum that can move the world” is to be found in the geography of mind and heart.

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Okay, let’s back up a bit.

The “first page” I quoted is the first page of the First Part of the Report, but there’s also an Introduction, and I want to pick up the thread there now, because the Introduction is written with human thought — specifically “honest dialogue” — in mind, and opens with what seems at first glance like one of those obvious truths that serve as the jumping off points for more detailed considerations:

The American Security Project is organized around the belief that honest, public discussion of national security requires open, non-biased, non-partisan discourse about the dangers and opportunities of the 21st Century.

There’s just one problem here, though — a single paragraph later, we read:

Climate change poses a clear and present danger to the United States

I’d give my assent happily enough to either of these two propositions, if they weren’t both talking about the same situation. Because when someone sees a “clear and present” hungry tiger coming at them and doesn’t take rapid action to avoid being eaten, it’s not “open” and “unbiased” — it’s “in denial”.

Which in turn means there’s a swathe of the population that may not be willing to hear “open, non-biased, non-partisan discourse” nor able to contribute to it. “I don’t believe my eyes, they’re deceiving me with all this hogwash about tigers”…

And those people have loved ones, bring foods to community pot-lucks, and teach class, and vote…

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Some time ago, I was working on a transposition of the Gospel narratives of Luke and John into the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with Britain playing the part of Rome and so forth, and adding some commentary along the way. Here’s a slightly revised version of my comment on John 3.8:

There is one particular word that John uses which has what we today might call a triple (rather than a double) meaning. When Christ in this verse says, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of Spirit,” it is the Greek word pneuma that can be translated both as wind and spirit. It also means breath.

Christ is saying here that those who are born of spirit are like the wind, like breath, and like inspiration: each of which can be noticed but not predicted, because each moves of its own accord — yet in the Greek these are not three separate concepts as they are for us today. As CS Lewis says in another context, we must always remember “that the various senses we take out of an ancient word by analysis existed in it as a unity.”

In telling us this, St John is saying at one and the same time that nobody knows where the first breath comes from or when the last breath will leave us, nobody knows how to forecast exactly which path a hurricane will take, and nobody knows how to make an assembly line for inspiration – if we did, Beethoven could have written another three symphonies as great as his Ninth to order, stat!

One of the reasons we don’t know how the heart and mind work is that we’ve separated “meteorological” weather from “the weather of the heart” — and there’s a storm brewing, inextricably, on both fronts.

If the ASP report is anything to judge by, we’re only looking at one of them.

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Oh, and here by way of confirmation is an old friend from my Oxford days, the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, quoted in a piece for the November issue of Shambhala Sun:

No matter where we are in the world, there is a need for enlightened society, wherever natural disasters hit. In this case, “natural disaster” refers to aggression, passion, and ignorance. These kinds of natural disasters occur in the minds of people.

Trungpa’s sense of “natural disaster”, I humbly submit to the folks at the American Security Project, either needs to run like a woof through the warp of their report on climate change — which it doesn’t — or it deserves a fourth section of its own.

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Look, I’m sorry to be so blunt — II: all you need is math

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — global warming, global curriculum ]
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you can turn an aircraft carrier pretty fast -- but the human population?

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Bill McKibben has an article out in Rolling Stone, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, in which he says:

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math.

Well, no you don’t.

You need something closer to global understanding. Once you’ve gathered — via that “little math” — that we’re not on a sustainable track, you’ll need to understand a few other things. Like:

Look, I’m sorry to be so blunt, but… the problem isn’t understanding, it’s changing.

Psychology. Inwardness.

And I can’t speak for economy or ideology, but believe me — theology will have a role to play!

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