January 19, 2018

IntelBrief: The Dangerous Link Between National Security and Climate Change 

The current cold front sweeping across the eastern United States is yet another reminder of the instability caused by the warming of the polar regions.
  • On January 11, 106 U.S. Members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump asking that he reconsider climate change as a national security threat.
  • The Trump administration’s newly released National Security Strategy does not consider climate change to be a threat, though both the Department of Defense and Secretary Mattis have previously warned of its impact.
  • Increasingly volatile weather, persistent drought, crop loss, and depleted water supplies will negatively impact stability and increase conflicts across the globe.
  • The administration’s silence on all matters of climate change, while pushing for coal use abroad, is at complete odds with many of its closest allies and partners.


The current cold front sweeping across the eastern United States is yet another reminder of the instability caused by the warming of the polar regions. Volatile and extreme weather represents one of the greatest challenges of the modern age. Countries around the world are struggling with how to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, which include rising sea levels, depleted potable water supplies, significant crop loss, and extreme heatwaves. While changes to the Earth’s climate are historically common, overwhelming evidence supports that changes which used to occur over hundreds or thousands of years are now happening within decades.

The U.S. government is at odds with most of its closest allies and partners on the issue of climate change; the strongest example of this was the Trump administration’s June 2017 decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The European Union (EU) works on collaborative approaches to mitigate effects of climate change, an issue they see as a global threat requiring a global solution. Far from being a leader in the efforts to counter the impacts of a warming planet, the U.S. is in fact doing the opposite, encouraging a dramatic increase in the use of coal and insisting there is no climate change threat. Calls made by the administration for an ‘entirely new transaction’ that promotes ‘clean coal’ have been summarily rejected by all leading countries. The Trump administration has shown a preference for unilateral deals assessed in purely transactional ways—this is an impossible position when discussing climate change, however.

In December 2017, the U.S. released its National Security Strategy, a publication highlighting the government’s top security threats. In keeping with its silence on all things climate-related, the administration’s December report made no mention of how the impact of climate change would affect U.S. national security. The only reference to climate change within the report was the ways it would impact U.S. energy sales, and the need to counter an ‘anti-growth energy agenda,’ which was deemed ‘detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests.’

The Trump administration’s current rhetoric around climate change, and its affect (or lack thereof) on national security, strays from concerns voiced by prior U.S. administrations. The 2015 National Security Strategy by then-President Obama repeatedly laid out the security concerns caused by a rapidly changing climate. The Department of Defense (DoD) has previously stated that climate change would exacerbate conflicts, as well as impact U.S. bases around the globe. The DoD operates more than 555,000 facilities and installations in the U.S. and around the globe, with many located in areas predicted to be disastrously affected by rising sea levels. Surprisingly, attempts to mitigate these concerns face challenges in Congress, which has tried to restrict the use of funds for climate change-related issues.


For tailored research and analysis, please contact: