The strange case of the disappearing report

In August 2019, the Centre for Climate and Security published an article about a recent publication by the U.S Army War College. The document, entitled “Implications of Climate change for the U.S Army”, however, cannot be found anymore on the “publications” page of the U.S Army War College.

Raiders of the (not so) lost document

The version posted by the Centre for Climate and Security has neither foreword, nor commissioning letter, nor date of publication. However, according to the CCS, it would have been “commissioned by then-Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley (who is now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)”. A rapid internet search allows us to find the report cited in a few articles and posted in a pdf version on internet journals, such as Vice and Popular Mechanics. Yet, it cannot be found on official Department of Defense websites.

The strange case of this “quantum” document, that is and is not at the same time, reminds us of the unofficial “leaked” diffusion of the Pentagon report “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Consequences for U.S National Security”, authored the Office of Network Assessment ( Jean-Michel Valantin, “Climate blowback and US National Security”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, March 17, 2014).

Despite the atypical character of its appearance, this report is quite interesting, in as much as it is written by military staff and researchers, based on a dense corpus of research papers published by civil as well as by national security organizations since 2003, and for the Chief of Staff. A such, it opens a window on a way the U.S military thinks about climate change.

Climate change a national survival issue

The U.S. Army War College paper “Implications of climate change for the U.S. Army” is a call for military preparedness in a time of climate change as a massive strategic threat.

In the very words of its authors,

“ … , if climate change is occurring and we choose to do nothing, we invite catastrophe, though we cannot know just how bad this payoff would be … Prudent risk management therefore suggests that we should work to avoid the catastrophic outcome and prepare for and mitigate climate change. Based on this argument, this report accepts as a core assumption the reality of climate change and climate-change related global warming, and therefore focuses on what the Army should do to prepare itself”.

Politics of survival

This report is both potentially a programmatic document, as well as a signal. It could express the way the U.S. Army prepares itself to be an actor and a defence organisation in a time of climate crisis. As such, it could be a very powerful political statement, because it defines the different forms of climate vulnerability of the U.S.

It also points out the way climate change is about to deeply transform the missions and the modus operandi of the U.S. Army. As it happens, it could turn the latter’s historical use as an expeditionary force into a continental U.S. defense force. The Army would also have to adapt to the new climate-related complex risk situation during force projections.

By the same token, this “not so official nor officious” document is also developing propositions in order to support the adaptation of the whole Department of Defense to the evolution of the U.S. political landscape, under the pressure of the social, infrastructural and political consequences of climate change.

In this article, we shall study how the propositions of this report express the way the U.S. Army could transform the very notion of dominance on a rapidly warming planet. This rationale, favouring the adaptation of the U.S. military to the consequences of climate change, inserts itself in the history of military preparedness to climate change, which dates back to 2003, when “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario…” was leaked (Valantin, Ibid.).

Furthermore, the current report also develops a political stance that aims at renewing the social and political acceptance of the military apparatus during the next twenty years of the climate “long emergency” (James Howard Kunstler, The Long emergency, surviving the converging catastrophes of the twenty-first century, 2005).

Foresight as a military and strategic virtue

From threat matrix to climate change

The “Implications of climate change for the U.S Army” starts and ends with long explanations about the importance of preparedness in the face of possible risks. This approach is all the more important that the risk, i.e the complex consequences of climate change, are powerful, multidimensional and pervasive.

This introduction and this conclusion establish the importance of using threat matrix, systems thinking and beliefs and cognitive bias analysis. This methodological approach leads the reader to understand how basically important it is to accept the importance of climate change as a major issue for defense and security (Hélène Lavoix, “Meeting the Need to Foresee and Warn – Our Philosophy”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).

In order to assert the importance of the climate threat, the authors even use an analysis of the Nazi’s Wehrmacht’s “Barabarossa” offensive against the Soviet Union in June 1941. This offensive came very close to wipe out the Soviet army and the USSR. From the point of view of the authors, the efficiency of Barbarossa was magnified by the state of denial that was blinding the Soviet elites. For them, it was a “Black Swan” event for the Soviet authorities (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007 – see also Hélène Lavoix, “Taleb’s Black Swans: The End of Foresight?” and “Useful Rules for Strategic Foresight and Risk Management from Taleb’s The Black SwanThe Red (Team) Analysis Society).

The U.S. Army and the Hyper Siege

This emphasis on foresight methodology is rooted in the understanding that climate threat is both a threat for the Continental U.S. as well as for the U.S. Army itself.  The report identifies several categories of threats and issues.

The first of these issues is the global challenge of climate change, because of its effects on rising seas, on the water and food systems, as well as on the power grid. The document insists on the fact that if those risks take place in foreign countries, they are also growing for the U.S.

In other words, the report establishes that the new operating environment of the U.S. Army is what we define since 2014 as “the state of hyper siege” (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Hyper siege: Climate Change and U.S National Security”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, March 17, 2014 and “The U.S Navy vs Climate and ocean change”, The Red (Team) Analysis, June 11, 2018).

This means that, should this report be read and considered by those who initially commissioned it, according to Mariah Furtek of The Center for Climate & Security, the U.S. Army is likely to increasingly understand that climate change is an existential threat to the U.S. For example, over the next 20 years, climate change could profoundly disrupt, in a systemic way, the access of U.S. citizens to food and potable water.

At the very same time, the U.S. would have to face the inner migration of millions, if not tens of millions, of littoral migrants, as well as of “water migrants” from the Southwest.

Meanwhile, during these inner upheavals, the Army would have to maintain the U.S. strategic dominance in places deeply altered by climate change, such as the Arctic (Christopher Woody, “The US Navy is pushing north, closer to Russia in freezing conditions — and it’s planning on hanging around up there“, Business Insider, 7 November 2018, and Jean-Michel Valantin, « Towards a US-China War ?(2) : Military tensions in a Warming Arctic“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, September 16, 2019).

No surrender

Adapt or perish

Furthermore, the purpose of this situation analysis is to make the recommendations necessary to the adaptation of the U.S. Army, as well as of the whole department of defense, to this new reality.  From an operational point of view, the authors recommend to develop decentralized systems of water capture and recycling for the operating units. They also recommend better training and preparations. These would be especially important as far as the Arctic is concerned. Another important topic as well would be the development of a military culture regarding the environment.

Environmental and cultural military adaptation

If we tie up those three recommendations, it appears that the U.S. Army could soon be preparing its members, as well as its “service sisters”, to operate in extreme environments. Those environments could be dominated, among others, by aridity or by cold. Thus, the development of an environmental culture also aims at supporting military awareness.

The report highlights too the strategic stake of the current and future competition for energy and natural resources in environments dangerously altered by climate change (J.R McNeil, Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration, An Environmental History of The Anthropocene since 1945, Belknap Press, 2016 and Gwynn Dyer, Climate Wars, 2010).

Climate mitigation and (military) climate politics

The second set of recommendations is quite bold for the military institution. Indeed, the report encourages the U.S. DoD to develop mitigation measures against climate change. Thus, these recommendations are of a political nature.

They are defining the U.S. military institution as a major stakeholder in the global fight against climate change. The justification for this political stance is the fact that climate change is about to become a central political issue, in the U.S., as well as at the global level (Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth, The fate of the Humans in the Anthropocene, 2017).

From civil to military climate politics?

This follows the track of rapidly growing damages, costs and risks that hammer the world and the U.S.  As it happens, this political stance is particularly interesting to note in the context of the militant climate skepticism of the Trump administration.

This political posture translates itself into politics through the decision made by President Donald Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord (Rebecca Hersher, “U.S formally begins to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement”, NPR, November 4, 2019).

From climate risks to renewed politics

In this dense political context, one understands that the authors of the report imply that the combination of the permanent and aggravating economic, social, infrastructural, food and health consequences of climate change, at the national level, are creating a political nexus.

They also would imply that this nexus is about to become the centre of the domestic and foreign U.S. politics. Meanwhile, the level of the threat is so high and its consequences are so deeply systemic, that denial does not appear as an option anymore (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Shall we live or die on our changing planet?“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, February 11, 2019). On the contrary, tackling the mitigation issue would be an efficient way for the DoD to renew its social acceptability and legitimacy, and thus its influence.

Extreme threat: The climate and nuclear nexus

This extreme level of threat is illustrated by the sensitivity of the civil and military nuclear complex to the consequences of the rising ocean and of the heating up of rivers. Knowing that this could create nuclear accidents prone situations, the report links the present and future situation to the Cold War awareness of the radical dangerousness of nuclear accidents – a Chernobyl. Then, it uses these cases to feed the emerging consciousness of the danger of climate change.

As a result, the authors of the report suggest that the military must now start preparing its own robustness and resiliency capabilities in order to resist the disruptive effects of climate change. This means integrating climate data both to intelligence and decision making cycles in the military and intelligence communities, as well as elevating the level of jointness and readiness.

The Army vs collapse

Jared Diamond, the bio-geographer and author of the seminal study Collapse chose as subtitle “How societies choose to fail or succeed” (Jared Diamond, Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive, 2005).

This report could be the answer of the U.S. Army to Jared Diamond’s choice. It develops the ways and means by which the military could become an actor of the strategic and existential “success” of the United States vs climate change.

In order to guarantee the survival of the U.S. and of its military, this report is an analysis of both the dangers of climate change, as well as of the vulnerabilities of the American society and military. Thus, this research builds upon the fundamental recommendation by Sun Tzu in The Art of War:

“If you know your enemy, and know yourself, of 100 battles, you will make 100 victories”.

Should the recommendations of this document be heard and considered, the strategic objective of the U.S. Army in adapting to climate change could be a major factor of cohesion for the country that would emerge from the era of the “long emergency”.

As such, it aims to answer the “long emergency” by being an actor and factor of a “long success”.


Featured image: U.S. Department of Agriculture Senior Airman Crystal Housman/California National Guard, 15 december 2017, Public Domain

About the author: Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris)

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy. He is the author of "Menace climatique sur l’ordre mondial" (Climatic threat on the world order), "Ecologie et gouvernance mondiale" (Ecology and world governance), "Guerre et Nature, l’Amérique prépare la guerre du climat, "(War and nature: America gets ready for climate war) and of "Hollywood, the Pentagon and Washington".

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