Retired Generals Focus on Climate Change, Security

Nov 25, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor
Global instability caused by drought. Rising sea levels, threatening naval bases. The logistical problems caused by transporting water and food.

These are just some of the problems facing the U.S. military because of climate change, according to two distinguished retired Army generals, who spoke to a forum at FSC on Nov. 19, organized by the American Security Project, a nonprofit educational organization in Washington. The forum, “Climate Change: Risks for National Security,” brought Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy and Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick to campus as part of an effort to educate the American public about the impact of global warming on military planning and national security.

Kennedy was the first woman to achieve the rank of three-star general in the United States Army. She served as the senior intelligence officer for U.S. Forces Command, deputy commanding general for the Army Intelligence Center and School, and completed her Army career as the deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

Kerrick was director of European affairs for the National Security Council, director of operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and served as deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Both speakers have ties to FSC. Kerrick is an alumnus, class of 1971, and a former member of the Board of Trustees. Kennedy’s sister, Elizabeth Kennedy, is an alumna, class of 1977.

In his remarks, Kerrick noted that the military is not interested in how global warming is caused but is interested in its effects and is formulating plans to compensate for those effects.

“The last two quarterly defense reviews have cited how climate change will affect military operations. One is that many Navy bases are at sea level, and if scientists are accurate that sea levels will rise over the long term, obviously that will affect how those bases operate,” he said.

Kerrick noted that during the war in Iraq, between 2004 and 2008, there were about 2,700 casualties related to the movement of convoys, with almost three-fourths of the casualties the result of carrying water and food.

“What that means is that where there are no resources available, we have to bring them in, and it is horrendously expensive, and it becomes very dangerous for our troops,” he said.

Kerrick also noted in the context of U.S. involvement in the civil war in Syria, the conflict there was preceded for several years by one of the worst droughts in its history, adding to the instability.

Kennedy in turn pointed to a 2003 report by Population Action International that highlighted major global population trends. Rapid urbanization and refugees or displaced persons were among the trends that would be adversely affected by climate change, she said. Competition for land and water and epidemic diseases, such as the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa, are also trends that foster civil unrest. That affects security in the United States because national and global security are linked.

“This country is not safe in a vacuum. We are only safe if the world is safe,” she said. “Where would this world be if all those things I just mentioned are not resolved? It’s not something the U.S. can do alone, but for sure, a lot of the rest of the world doesn’t get started on it until the U.S. shows leadership.”

Both speakers called for greater awareness in the American public about the problem of climate change and lamented the political impasse that has prevented bipartisan legislation.

“National security begins at home, with an engaged, educated, motivated population, and frankly we don’t have it,” Kerrick said.

Kennedy encouraged the students present to consider public service in some form.

“You should be thinking of running for public office. It’s very important you get in the game, and you have to start now,” she said.