The US Pacific fleet has a huge and growing problem. And it’s not China. Two words: climate change.
According to statements by US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the biggest security threat to US naval forces in the Pacific is not an emerging Chinese superpower. Instead, the ongoing damage and future uncertainty resulting from human caused climate change is the biggest concern.
Admiral Locklear anticipates rising sea levels that will displace entire nations and an ever increasing number of super-typhoons — a rising crisis few had foreseen. Shocks due to spiking global temperatures are “probably the most likely thing that is going to happen… that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about,” said Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III to the Boston Globe.
Locklear is currently charged with monitoring tensions between North and South Korea as well as keeping tabs on growing resource conflicts between China and Japan. But in his tour as Commander, Locklear has been met with rising dangers from increasingly destructive weather events. This year alone has seen numerous severe weather events all throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
“You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level,” Locklear said in his Boston Globe interview. “Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.” Locklear then points out that nations are currently contemplating moving their entire populations to other countries due to sea level rise. Such nations, inhabiting small islands like Tarawa and Kiribati, already face a severe threat from the increased storms and encroaching seas.
Damage due to climate change has also increased hostilities between neighboring countries. Hotter waters, over-fishing and coral reef collapse have damaged a number of key fisheries. The result is that nations are scouring the region to provide seafood to growing populations. In some cases, this search has displayed signs of desperation and conflict between competing parties has resulted. In February China was accused of threatening a Japanese warship by targeting it with its radars in a dispute over fishing rights in the vicinity of islands that both nations now claim.
“We have an ongoing number of disputes,” Locklear said. “It is not just about China and everybody else, because there are disputes between other partners down there, too.”
Locklear is the Navy Commander charged with keeping tabs on North Korea. And this nation is certainly a major concern. North Korea recently threatened to launch a nuclear weapon at the United States. But North Korea’s own aggressiveness must also be viewed in light of major food and resources crises plaguing that nation. These must also be viewed in the context of ongoing climate change as North Korea faces an ever increasing number of crop failures.
It is for these reasons that Locklear identifies climate change as the most destabilizing force in the region, one with the highest potential to produce increasingly serious and severe future impacts.
“The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said.
“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he added. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’