America’s newest security threat: Global warming

December 27, 2007

Retired four-star General Zinni calls global warming a serious security threat

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Retired four-star General Zinni calls global warming a serious security threat



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Story Transcript

Global warming worries US General

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER/PRODUCER: According to a group of former four-star generals, rising carbon emission is the newest threat to America. Earlier this year, senior military leaders released a report entitled National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, cautioning that global warming will lead to potentially dangerous instability around the world. Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, former commander-in-chief of US naval forces in Europe, states in the report that climate change can provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror. Rising ocean water levels, droughts, violent weather, ruined national economies—those are the kinds of stresses we’ll see more under climate change. To understand the problem facing US security and global stability, we spoke with report advisor General Anthony Zinni, a former commander-in-chief of US Central Command.

RET. GENERAL ANTHONY ZINNI, FORMER COMMANDER OF US CENTCOM: Obviously, if you look at climate change and you look at their impacts, you then have to realize that those impacts can cause national security issues or concerns. I think you’ve seen the military responses in places like Bangladesh several times over the last decade or so and humanitarian intervention. But, you know, I think you can clearly look out there and see it’s not only going to be a matter of land loss and the other problems that emerge; it’s going to be problems, you know, such as water shortages, where entire aquifers disappear. We have large societies that are dependent upon glacier sources or sources and aquifers that are drying up, and it doesn’t take much to project forward and see when they’ll reach disastrous proportions. And then what happens? Are we going to have water wars? Having been the commander of US Central Command, I’m familiar with the Middle East and Africa, and even central Asia. There are serious water concerns in those parts of the world now. And if there was a liquid that could cause war more than oil, it was certainly water in those places. But what we saw in relationship to terrorism—and I would even broaden it to non-state entities, such as drug cartels, warlords, organized international criminal organizations, terrorist groups, etcetera—many of these groups, in order to survive, need unstable societies that don’t have the security forces and the level of governance that can counter their impact. And so that’s why the al-Qaedas of the world search out the Afghanistans or the Somalias to operate in. And the more failed or incapable states you have or failed or incapable societies that have been reduced to that unstable state because of environmental conditions, the more likely that in that sort of degraded situation these kinds of groups will find sanctuary. I also think when you look at some conditions, you know, for example, like the melting of the ice cap in the arctic, we now have a sea that could become a transportable sea. What are the implications of that? How do we protect our interests there? Promote our interests? Prevent it from being threatened? People will rush there, obviously, nations, to acquire the resources, to use it as a means of transit. And just like the Atlantic or the Pacific or other major seaways, there’s a security issue involved in that. So those are some examples of how the impacts could flow over into national security concerns.

NKWETA: The report released by the Center for Naval Analyses illustrates a clear trade-off between short-term economic costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and long-term human and military costs to stabilize an ensuing global disorder. The report suggests that the US should become a more constructive partner with the international community to help build and execute a plan to prevent destabilizing effects from climate change, including setting targets for long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The current White House, which defines itself by a strong national security agenda, has not adopted the general’s recommendations for addressing this global threat. Just last week at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, the US refused the E.U. proposal to lower carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020.

ZINNI: If we don’t pay attention to it now and we don’t look at mitigating the conditions that are worsened by releasing greenhouse gases, then the impacts will be more severe. And then it logically follows that security concerns or issues that will arise will be more severe. So we can help mitigate that now. It’s not a matter of, well, jeez, I don’t want to spend the resources now; I can worry about this later. You will spend them later, probably in greater amounts, and the conditions will be much worse. So it’s an investment. It’s almost like an insurance policy on what you could do to reduce these effects now. And my advice would be, to any leader representing us in these international conferences on this, is, as a leader of the free world, to set the example to look at how we can best reduce the release of greenhouse gases, and at the same time to work with the international community, bring pressure on others like China and India that are not signatories to Kyoto and other arrangements that cause them to do likewise. You know, it’s a small planet. The effects of this will know no borders. And it’s important for us to find common ground on this as best we can. If we worry about the immediate economic impact, that may be just a short-term advantage, and the longer term will be much more expensive down the road, not only to our economy, but to our security interests and to the welfare of our population, as well as others. So the basic, you know, recommendations are to be good stewards of the environment, do what you can within the military to limit the problems that may be generated from training exercises and equipment. Secondly, understand the problem, use your intelligence resources and study of how these things can cause emerging security problems. And then, third, do the planning and the preparation necessary should these things arrive. What you do now, even if these impacts are thirty years off—I happen to believe they’re not that far—but even if they are that far off, why would you not want to do things to lessen the severity of it by taking actions now and adjusting to it? There are some things you can see right—you can see the ice melting in the arctic. You can see the arctic becoming a transportable sea. You can see many nations rushing to the arctic to exploit its resources out there. You can see that those things all generate security concerns and issues. So to put your head into the sand and say it’s thirty years off, don’t worry about it now, will allow you to be unprepared when the time comes and maybe make the situation worse because of the actions you don’t take in the interim. So I don’t think it’s alarmist. You know, around that table were eleven very senior general officers and admirals that tend not to be alarmist and tend to be more conservatives. So if those views emerged from a group like ours, I think it should get some attention.

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