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Climate Issues Tied to U.S. Security

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that global climate change will worsen food shortages and disease exposure in sub-Saharan Africa over the next two decades, creating operational problems for the Pentagon's newest overseas military command.

"Without food aid, the region will likely face higher levels of instability, particularly violent ethnic clashes over land ownership," probably creating "extensive and novel operational requirements," for the fledgling U.S. Africa Command, according to a National Intelligence Assessment on the security implications of climate change by the National Intelligence Council.

NIC Chairman Thomas Fingar presented the report's key conclusions yesterday to a joint meeting of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence.

Overall, the assessment found that while the United States "is better equipped than most nations to deal with climate change," the impact on other countries has the "potential to seriously affect U.S. national security interests." Humanitarian disasters, economic migration, food and water shortages -- all caused by climate change -- will pressure other countries to respond. Such demands "may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture," the assessment found.

Fingar said Africa is most vulnerable "because of multiple environmental, economic, political and social stresses." While no country will avoid climate change, the report said, "most of the struggling and poor states that will suffer adverse impacts to their potential and economic security," are in the Middle East, central and southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

The United States must "plan for growing immigration pressures," the report said, in part because almost a fourth of the countries with the greatest percentage of low-level coastal zones are in the Caribbean. The report noted that many U.S. military installations near the coast will be at "increasing risk of damage" from floods in coming years.

The proposal for an intelligence assessment on climate change originated with Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), a member of the House intelligence panel, who added it to the fiscal 2008 intelligence authorization bill. During last year's debate, GOP lawmakers said the work would divert analysts from the terrorist threat and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell sent Eshoo a letter saying the subject was "appropriate."

Fingar said future studies will examine the impact of climate change on specific countries, how anti-climate-change initiatives could affect national security and how climate change may shift relations between major powers.

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