Evidence of disruptive water and weather risks to the homeland and to international stability has been accumulating in recent years. These risks range from extreme weather events across the US that include extended droughts, floods, heatwaves, cold waves and intense tropical storms, to destabilizing droughts in east Africa and the Middle East. Among others, the National Research Council (2012) and the National Intelligence Council (2016) have outlined the implications for US National Security challenges of present risks and anticipated changes. The NIC
notes that over the next 5 years, the security risks for the United States linked to climate will arise primarily from distinct extreme weather events and from the exacerbation of currently strained conditions. Challenges include threats to stability derived from tensions over shared or disputed resources including water, food price volatility and availability leading to migration, risks to human health, impacts on investments and economic competitiveness, and potential discontinuities and surprises. Such events in turn become multipliers of complex threats, which, unless proactively engaged, can lead to increased stress on military operations and installations within the U.S. and internationally, with pressures for crisis-based action that can compromise long-term national security interests. Many “hotspots” that show fragility in the face of extreme weather events also exhibit water scarcity, soil moisture and soil quality reduction combined with reduced capacity for responding to extreme events. While there is increasing agreement on research regarding the influence of climate on human conflict, several mechanisms likely contribute to the outcomes, and the present literature is currently unable to decisively ascertain specific drivers. At the same time, there have been successful national and international actions interventions, such as in Ethiopia in 2015-2016, which served to avoid a food security crises and the potential for intergroup conflict. The NRC (2012) recommends monitoring potential new conflict dynamics through periodic “stress testing” of countries, regions, and global systems to assess whether they can handle “potentially disruptive conjunctions of climate events and socioeconomic and political conditions. A deeper evidence-based framework to understand the pathways above, in specific contexts is needed. Drawing on cases in the U.S., the Horn of Africa, the Mediterranean, the Sahel, and elsewhere, and examples in which the authors have been directly engaged we propose an integrative multidisciplinary framework for addressing water-related disruptions and the opportunities for proactive responses to associated security risks.
Framing a path for addressing these concerns include developing the monitoring and research basis for answers to the following:
- What physical, social, and economic impacts may arise from cascading, clustered or sequential extreme weather events?
- What conditions are drivers of persistent drought or flood events, and can they be anticipated?
- Can early warning signs and attendant information systems be developed/characterized for rapid large-scale shifts?
- How should/does this foresight become action? How might this intelligence capability be sustained?
The proposed approach, moves beyond potential impacts, to responses and confounding factors, that alter the evolution of those risks from the subseasonal to decadal timescales, with international partnership opportunities that can inform action over the next 1-5, 5-10, and 10-20- years. Most critical, will be condensing these scenarios and options into compelling narratives, through cases, gaming, and other prototyping mechanisms. A related objective is to connect key science-based decision support efforts, such as the USAID ALERTS List, the Famine Early Warning System Network, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), to this framework, as well as international efforts such as the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, and Global Framework on Climate Services, as sources of evidence and early warning information in support of US security interests.