Thinking strategically about “boring” issues

By: N. Kuzmenko

In his 2014 book, American Insecurity, David Rothkopf stated one of
the challenges for U.S. national security leadership is being caught up in the
news cycle. Thinking about current issues, he argues, does not allow them
to prepare for the opportunities and dangers that may lie ahead, in other
words - to think strategically. As an example, Rothkopf uses the analysis of
the thematic and geographic distribution of research done by major
American think tanks. The analysis has shown that between 2005 and 2013,
think tanks focused primarily on trends disproportionately covering current
security issues and traditional adversaries while underreporting on
economic and scientific issues and developments in regions such as Africa
and South America. Strategic projection, another expert says, gives an
opportunity to prepare “an appropriate level of resources” that would be
sufficient to warn against and mitigate specific security breaches in the
future (Davis 2003). It is apparent the United States as well as many
countries worldwide need to brace for surprises that are not necessarily
political or militarily in nature. The United States' late response to the
recent pandemic of COVID-19 is the most illustrative example of such short-
sightedness. Although there are various such challenges that lie ahead, it is
imperative to focus on the issue of climate change.

The politicization of climate change, like mask-wearing, is causing
people to take sides in a topic that is professionally researched and
recognized by the scientific community as a major problem. For example,
the Pew Research Center revealed that partisanship significantly affects
people’s position on climate change and its causes (Funk and Kennedy
2020). In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body
providing policymakers with scientific assessments of climate change,
published a report that concluded since the 1950’s glaciers and Arctic ice
has been melting with rising sea level due to steadily rising global
temperatures caused by the human factor (2013). This is already causing
security challenges. Although the melting of the Arctic opened up new
opportunities for international trade and access to depositories of energy
resources, it also causes additional friction points in Russia–United States
relations. Russia’s strategic military build-up raises concerns about the
possibility of new military competition in the region (Lanteigne 2019).

Climate change along with population growth contributes to water
shortages in the U.S., which will only worsen if outdated infrastructure and
demand management are not addressed (Brekke et al. 2009). An
environmental scientist, Michael Oppenheimer, identified the increased
frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes,
wildfires, draughts, and floods as another issue stemming from climate
change. Additional extreme and devastating events can “compound the
damage” to the economy and people’s well-being (p.34). Japan’s experience
is one of the most vivid examples of the compound effect of extreme events.
In 2018, the country suffered from the Osaka earthquake and then was
flooded while being hit by torrential rain. Later that year, the country was
hit by a typhoon and yet another earthquake, thus causing Japan $10 billion
in damage (de Ruiter et al. 2020).

Nevertheless, climate change is unlikely to cause concern as it is a
slow moving and known “enemy” that allows governments and people to
adapt. However, if the climate change issue continues to be politicized and
ignored due to the salience of news-worthy political and military events, it is
unclear how different administrations will prioritize budget spending on
climate initiatives and what issues the public will choose as a point of
reference during elections.

References

Brekke, L., Kiang, J., Olsen, R., Pulwarty, R., Raff, D., Turnipseed, P., Webb,
R., and White, K. (2009). U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S.
Geological Survey. Climate Change and Water Resources
Management: A Federal Perspective. Retrieved from:
https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1331/Circ1331.pdf

Davis, J. (2003). "Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable, What Role for
Analysis?" Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis Occasional
Papers (2003), vol. 2 no. 1, Retrieved from: https://www-hsdl-
org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/?abstract&did=442470

de Ruiter, M. C., Couasnon, A., van den Homberg, M. J. C., Daniell, J. E., Gill,
J. C., & Ward, P. J. (2020). “Why we can no longer ignore consecutive
disasters.” Earth's Future, 8,e2019EF001425. Retrieved from:
https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019EF00142
5

Funk, C., Kennedy, B. (2020). “How Americans see climate change and the
environment in 7 charts.” The Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/21/how-americans-
see-climate-change-and-the-environment-in-7-charts/

Lanteigne, M. (2019).“The changing shape of Arctic security.” NATO
Review. https://www.nato.int/docu/review/articles/2019/06/28/the-
changing-shape-of-arctic-security/index.html

Oppenheimer, M. (2020). “As the World Burns.” Foreign Affairs. Retrieved
from: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2020-10-
13/world-burns

PCC. (2013). Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The
Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Retrieved from:
https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_SPM_FINA
L.pdf

Rothkopf, D. (2014). National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of
Fear (Illustrated ed.). New York: PublicAffairs