Anthropogenic climate change is gravely affecting all aspects of societies, including national security and defence. Often referred to as a “threat multiplier”, the phenomenon is bringing up new security challenges while exacerbating the already existing ones. And while the COVID-19 pandemic crisis keeps ceasing, the climate crisis stays and worsens with each day. Therefore, if we want to rebuild societies in the post-pandemic world, we cannot do so without considering climate change and its implications.

Unprecedented times

Globally, the sea levels are rising, climate conditions are changing, extreme weather events are of higher incidence and intensity, significantly threatening military installations and the capabilities to carry out military operations. Moreover, transcending borders of national states, the impacts of climate change are likely to spill over and threaten even those states, where the impacts themselves may not be so perceptible, which is making the challenge truly global.

Acknowledging the situation, the reaction must not be trivialized by any country, and emphasis must be put on building the required capabilities to cope with the arising challenges. The states should not only react to the impacts but also adapt to the changing environment and understand it. In terms of defence and security, the need for resilience building and inclusion of climate security in strategic and defence planning is even more stressed because of the commitments to collective security under NATO to preserve the effectiveness and interoperability in pursuing the transatlantic interests.

In fact, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has recognized climate change as one of the key security challenges, and declared that NATO should become a leading voice among international organizations “and to be a catalyst for positive change”.

The crucial role of cooperation

Though the impacts of climate change are well documented, and both NATO and the European Union (EU) fully recognize the situation, some countries, notable states of Central Eastern Europe (CEE) may for various reasons fall behind in catching up on the latest advancements and the rapid pace of changing environment. This could have a negative effect not only on the interoperability but also on the readiness of the armies.

The unprecedented times require unprecedented measures, including even tighter cooperation under the EU and NATO, to ensure that the various challenges are faced unanimously. The member states should incentivize larger emerging countries in the procurement of the latest technology to build resilience, reduce military carbon footprint, and improve interoperability under the changing climate, with increased spending on research and development being the backbone of the whole process.

The support of research and development should go alongside strengthening the connection between the private and public sector to stimulate the debate and boost the procurement of the latest technologies and knowledge to prevent negative scenarios. The inclusion of the societies and experts from academia, think tanks or NGOs, is crucial, too, to find the best possible solutions to preserve the effectiveness of the armed forces while responding to climate change.

With adaptation to readiness and effectiveness

The mitigation of climate change is indeed important and should be always considered, that is why decarbonization of the armies mostly by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels lies among the priorities of climate security. However, the states should already be paying attention to the adaptation. Notably, resilience-building is considered to be “a far more effective way to advance NATO’s collective security than continuing to focus only on expanding the capability to respond to crises after they arise.”

Without taking adaptation into account, the readiness and effectiveness of armies may significantly decrease, because the military vehicles will not be able to operate under extreme conditions, troops will not have the adequate set of skills to respond to natural disasters home or abroad, or the military infrastructure will be destructed and impossible to use.

Security for the 21st century

In the 21st century, security and defence planning with regard to climate change will be essential. And though the acknowledgement of climate change and attempts to adequately respond may be overwhelming, it also brings up many opportunities for this century such as innovation, adapting to urbanization, creating a more resilient society, and so forth. Especially, in the post-pandemic world.

The nexus between climate and security will be addressed at the upcoming Globsec’s 2021 Bratislava Forum from 15th to 17th of June, including the arising threats and opportunities for NATO and CEE. The panel will be attended by Kate Guy, a research fellow from the Centre for Climate and Security, Janani Vivekananda, the head of the programme Climate Diplomacy and Security, and Alexander Veerbek, the editor of a new report Sustainable Peace & Security in a Changing Climate: Recommendations for NATO 2030.