I recognize that some time has passed since my last blog, but I don’t try to do this on a daily basis and some times my topic requires a bit of study before I write about it. My previous blog on the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire’s use of intelligence services and clandestine operatives called to mind some lessons from my contacts with the intelligence community during my career at the Department of State, some of which came to mind in connection with this new report on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.”
The Center for Naval Analysis, often known simply as CNA, recently released this report, which can be accessed and downloaded at www.SecurityandClimate.can.org , was prepared by a panel of 11 distinguished retired Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps generals and admirals. Their purpose in this report was to examine the issue of climate change “through the lens of our military experience as warfighters, planners, and leaders.” This is a straightforward statement reflecting a basic aspect of military analysis often overlooked by those outside of the Department of Defense and the uniformed services.
Military analysts, such as those working with intelligence information at the Pentagon, for example, almost always focus upon military and related capabilities rather than on intentions when assessing possible threats by other states and by non-state players. During the long years of the Cold War, this reflected the hard truth that capabilities could be assessed in great part by simply counting the other side's warships, airplanes, tanks, submarines, and missiles etc. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, a focus solely upon capabilities that ignores intentions can result in erroneous and sometimes almost farcical conclusions. (An Army paratroop officer I knew at the Navy War College in the mid-1980s had conceived the notion that the Soviet Union was going to use all of its then-recently expanded airborne/parachute/airmobile assets to launch the simultaneous seizure of the microchip manufacturing centers in Japan and Singapore and thus deprive the United States, its friends, and its allies of these essential commodities. He was un-persuaded by the argument that such an operation flew completely in the face of decades of Soviet military operations and practices – not to mention centuries of Russian operations – and was completely inconsistent with the then-global geo-political situation – i.e. he ignored the issue of intentions because of his fascination at the capabilities.)
This does not mean that I believe that our retired generals and admirals have fallen into this trap in their analysis of the threat of climate change. It does mean that the reader should bear in mind that this analysis will in many ways likewise focus upon capabilities – especially the capabilities that are likely to be needed by the United States and its friends and allies if/when confronted by the identified possible outcomes and effects of global warming. And because these are capabilities that cannot be acquired overnight but must be acquired, developed, and built up over months and years of work and of Congressional budget cycles – their report is going to present a lot of worst case analysis. They have to present such worst cases if we are to be prepared for the worst – and especially if they have concluded that we are dangerously far right now from being prepared for the worst possible cases. Our experience with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath do not offer much assurance and not enough has been done to correct the identifiable errors in our response to that disaster.
But the worst cases contemplated in this study are not just those of natural disasters linked to or resulting from climate change, also considered are the potential consequences of those disasters for humanity and the possible behavior of affected states and/or their populations. Again, the analysis reflects an assessment of potential capabilities because intentions in such projections are even more difficult to determine than they are today in the war on terror. Do read their report carefully, examine their recommendations, and decide what you think about their recommendations and what we should be doing. There is a relevant though now crusty epigram that I learned while working with the military – the Five (or if you prefer, Six) Ps - Prior Planning Prevents Piss-poor Performance. Without this study and the numerous others examining the challenges of climate change, we would be unable to make any plans at all.
"Intelligences sees how to. Wisdom sees when to."