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Skelton says we should consider impact of climate on national security
Skelton says we should consider impact of climate on national security

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 23, 2009) — As the top leader in House of Representatives on defense issues, I take seriously the responsibility under the Constitution for the United States Congress to raise and maintain the U.S. military. We have a duty to work with the Administration so we can best take care of our troops and their families and to prepare for current and unforeseen military contingencies.

While terrorism, the proliferation of dangerous weapons, and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are obvious examples of serious threats to our national security in the short term, military leaders and the Congress have an obligation to look beyond today’s pressing challenges and to examine what issues might pose risks to America and our troops 10, 20, and 50 years from now.

An issue that has emerged as a real concern among America’s former and current strategic military planners is climate change. For many of us, this issue is “out of sight, out of mind.” However, it is important for all Americans to fully examine how this phenomenon, if left unchecked, could increase the likelihood of U.S. military intervention abroad and further stretch and strain our troops and their families.

A 2007 national security report authored by former Army Chief of Staff Gordon Sullivan and other former top military officials states in part, "on the simplest level, it (climate change) has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today. The consequences will likely foster political instability where societal demands exceed the capacity of governments to cope."

The report, which can be found at www.securityandclimate.cna.org/report, reminds us that there are real and serious national and global security implications when lakes go dry, famines occur, glaciers melt, and oceans rise. Natural disasters can undermine governments — especially in Africa, the Middle East, and South/Southeast Asia — and, if history is any indication, the United States would be heavily involved in meeting humanitarian obligations and safeguarding American and allied interests through the State Department and the Defense Department.

As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I am working with the Pentagon to anticipate these changes to the extent that we can and to prepare accordingly. Promoting a better understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change will be an essential first step toward anticipating and responding to these challenges. Our country and our military are not immune to the affects of climate change, and neither are our friends and allies abroad. By being open and honest about these challenges, we can collectively work to lessen their impact on our national security and to improve our position in the world.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at http://www.house.gov/skelton.

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