North Korea just annulled the 1953 armistice ending its war with South Korea. China and Japan are locked in a dispute over an island chain. But the greatest long-term threat to the peace of East Asia and Pacific Ocean — the part of the world at the heart of the Obama administration’s aspirational defense strategy — is climate change, according to the admiral in charge of U.S. military operations there.
Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III is no smelly hippie. He became chief of U.S. Pacific Command last year after running the maritime portion of NATO’s 2011 war against Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi. To Locklear, the consequences of a warming planet are likely to “cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”
“You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level,” Locklear told Danger Room pal Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe over the weekend. “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.”
So the greatest threat in the Pacific region isn’t a military one, despite the fresh provocations fromnuclear North Korea; the Chinese missile buildup; and the hardening responses by the nations that feel threatened by both regional military powers. All this has right-leaning naval analyst Bryan McGrath shaking his head that Locklear’s jumped the shark.
And yet Locklear’s forces frequently have to respond to the destructive weather events that are growing more frequent as the Earth’s climate shifts. Whether it’s a typhoon in the Philippines, a hurricane in Burma or an earthquake in Indonesia, climate change is putting a greater operational strain on U.S. forces in the Pacific than most other threats facing a region experiencing what Locklear recently described as “relative peace.” These are just the immediate-term consequences of climate change, not the ones that will manifest over the coming decades in a region where half the world’s trade occurs.
“I’m into the consequence management side of it,” Locklear told Bender. “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.” More