The impacts of climate change are intensifying. Some of these are the multiplying extreme weather events, such as mega wildfires and giant floods. The intensity and the scale of these events are now so important threatening for infrastructures, ecosystems and human life, that they entail a growing mobilisation of military forces. Thus, we need to understand if this means that adapting to climate change implies that the military are an essential component of the answer by nation-states to climate change?

The Long Summer

Throughout the summer of 2021, all around the world, the militaries had to mobilize alongside civil security services against raging mega wildfires and giant, devastating floods.

In the U.S., thousands of troops from the national guard and from the armed services engaged the monsters Dixie and Caldor fires. They did so too for the 45.518 other wildfires that burned almost 6,3 million acres (National InterAgency Fire Centre).

Among these fires, 46 were very large and 15.533 civil and military personnel were necessary to fight them. Furthermore, the U.S. military had also to mobilise aircrafts and helicopters in order to help the firefighters (NIFC).

Meanwhile, in Russia, the military deployed dozens of military transport aircrafts, in order to move squads of firefighters from one giant forest fire to another in the Siberian Yakut country.

Exactly at the same time, in the south-east of Nizhny Novgorod, in the depths of the deep Russian forest, a huge battle against the fire was taking place near the secret city of Rasov (“Russian army helicopters join battle against Siberian wildfires”, Reuters, 14 July 2021). Starting during the Soviet Union era, Rasov has been the city where Soviet then Russian weapons nuclear have been developed. Containing the huge wildfire there was thus of strategic importance, hence the use of civil security and military forces (“Russian planes seed clouds as raging wildfires near power plant”, Reuters, July 19, 2021).

Soldiers, fire and flood

Casualties

Despite military involvement in Northern and Southern Siberia, the Kremlin sent firefighting and military capabilities in Greece and Turkey. They were to support the national civil security services. On 14 August, eight Turkish and Russian personnel died in a plane crash during a water bombing operation (“Eight dead as Russian firefighting plane crashes in Southern Turkey”, France-24, 14/08/2021). On 10 August, in Algiers, more than 25 soldiers died fighting the huge wildfires in Kabyle country (“Wildfires in Algeria leave 42 people dead, including 25 soldiers”, ABC News, by AP, 11 August 2021).

Urban crisis in China

Still during this catastrophic summer, very heavy downfalls poured in the Henan province. Because of breaking dams, floods literally drowned the 10 million people strong city of Zhengzhou. Against this massive threat, the provincial command of the People’s Liberation Army mobilised. It sent almost 46.000 soldiers and 64.000 militia men to sandbag the city, work on the dams and help rescue people (Elisabeth Chen, “Historic flooding highlights outstanding infrastructures problems”, The Jamestown Foundation, July 30, 2021).

Those are a few examples among the dozens of military mobilisations during the dreadful fire and flood summer of 2021.

However, those mobilisations are not exceptional events as we have highlighted and warned about since 2014 ( Jean-Michel Valantin, “Climate blowback and US National Security”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 17, 2014).

They are part of a series of other military mobilisations that have become increasingly frequent since the beginning of the 21st century. Indeed, for the past dozen years, they have been occurring on an annual basis, and on an increasing scale, in the United States as well as in other countries. (Michael Klare, (Michael Klare, All Hell Breaking Loose, The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, 2019).

In fact, this type of military mobilisation is nothing but a strong signal, getting stronger every year, of the consequences of climate change (See Jean-Michel Valantin, “Global Apocalypse, The California Way”, “The Global Wildfire (1)“,  « The U.S Army versus a warming Planet », The Red Team Analysis Society)

Armies from the cold

Arctic warming, militarization of the Arctic

This new military reality is also quite pregnant in the rapidly warming and changing Arctic. As we have explained in The Red Team Analysis Society’s publications, and related conferences since 2014, notably the Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian race towards the Arctic is contributing to drive the emergence of the continental Russo-Asian bloc.

Indeed, the vast Arctic Russian economic exclusive zone is attracting Russian and Asian energy developpers (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian Strategies Interests Converge?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 23, 2016).

The mammoth oil, gas, mineral and biological resources there are becoming a giant economic attractor.

Meanwhile, because of the effects of the Arctic warming, the Russian authorities open the “ Northern sea route”. This new sea lane follows the Siberian coast and connects the Bering Strait to Norway and the Northern Atlantic.

From geophysics to geopolitics

Thus, it also connects the immense Asian basins of economic development to Northern Europe and to the Atlantic. In the same time, Moscow militarizes the Siberian coast and the archipelagos.

In the same dynamic, the Russian Northern Fleet and Army multiply patrols and sea and land manoeuvres. Thus, over the last few years, NATO, the U.S. and Scandinavian militaries have also been multiplying national and regional manoeuvres in the Arctic. This is especially true in Norway and the Barents Sea. Those are very close to the Russian land, air and sea frontiers.

The number of air patrols and military exercises grows year after year. For example, on 20 October 2020, the U.S.S. Ross missile-guided destroyer sailed its third tour of the year in the Barents Sea (Thomas Nilsen, “Increase in NATO scrambled jets from Norway”, The Independent Barents Observer, and “US warship returns Barents Sea”, September 14, and October 2020).

The Arctic as military Area of responsibility

This follows the installation of the NATO Atlantic Command at the Norfolk Navy base, in September 2020. The area of responsibility of this new command is the protection of European and North American sea-lanes. Among them, we find the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. (GIUK) gap to and from the Arctic.

In other words, the Joint Force Norfolk Command’s mission is to project U.S. and NATO power in the Arctic (Levon Sevuts, “NATO’s new Atlantic command to keep watch over the European Arctic”, The Independent Barents Observer, September 18, 2020).

Adaptation

However, the mobilization of the military when facing the growing number and intensification of extreme weather events, as well as the militarization of the Arctic, are signalling a deeper level of the emerging reality, i.e the deep relationship between adaptation to climate change and military issues ( Jean-Michel Valantin, “Climate blowback and US National Security”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 17, 2014).

Domestic and international threats

As it happens, the chain reactions of climate change consequences are generating an uninterrupted series of threats. Those are endangering the integrity of territories and societies, as well as the geopolitical distribution of power. This is why the rapidly growing involvement of the national defence apparatus becomes both a necessity as well as mean for the adaptation of nations to climate change.

When Europe seeks to move forward with its defense, this is a new component that must be integrated.

Towards “climate wars”?

This also means that the very complex issues of national and international security and of war are now rapidly merging with the climate change issue.

Are climate wars starting?


Featured image: U.S. Army Soldiers from the 2-3 Infantry Battalion, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, led by strike team crew boss Ricardo Rubio, a National Interagency Fire Center fire fighter, walk down a vehicle trail as they look to hold and patrol containment lines while deployed in support of the Department of Defense wildland firefighting response operations on the Dixie Fire in Plumas National Forest, California, Sept. 4, 2021. U.S. Army North, as U.S. Northern Command’s Joint Force Land Component Command, remains committed to providing flexible DoD support to the National Interagency Fire Center to respond quickly and effectively to assist our local, state, and federal partners in protecting people, property, and public lands.(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Deion Kean) (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Deion Kean) – Public Domain


Published by Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris)

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red Team Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy. He is the author of "Menace climatique sur l’ordre mondial" (Climatic threat on the world order), "Ecologie et gouvernance mondiale" (Ecology and world governance), "Guerre et Nature, l’Amérique prépare la guerre du climat, "(War and nature: America gets ready for climate war) and of "Hollywood, the Pentagon and Washington". View more posts

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