Now, in this year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, issued last week by the office of the director of national intelligence, a new risk has been highlighted, marking a historic shift in how we think about our enemies: the weather — more specifically climate change. And the fact that America’s entire national security apparatus has embraced it as a threat is, in the end, good news for local communities.
The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.”
And we are not the only ones:
The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.
Yet this isn’t a challenge for what is currently understood as our national security apparatus.
Unlike responses to most other national security threats, those that guard against climate change are local in nature.
And we still must become a more resilient society, one whose basic building blocks cannot be knocked out by threats that are utterly predictable.
So she talks about weather, critical infrastructure, resilience, and local action. Sounds like a lot of topics that come up in conversations about homeland security definitions and education. But the phrase “homeland security” appears nowhere in the piece. I’m certain that is not out of ignorance of the topic or an aversion to the field–she is a former Massachusetts homeland security adviser and DHS Assistant Secretary.
Instead she frames the topics of climate change, natural disaster, critical infrastructure, and resilience as “national security” issues. On one hand, this can be interpreted as weakening the notion of a distinct field of homeland security, as well as the need to precisely define it. On the other, it represents an opportunity to focus attention on those areas that have been considered as not directly related to traditional national security.
Since 9/11 and the resulting evolution of the general field of homeland security, there has existed a tension between the security side and (for the lack of a better term) the rest. Terrorism, border security, and other activities carried out by law enforcement personnel has existed in a not always smooth relationship with emergency management, non-police first responders, and the broad array of disciplines interested in building resilience. Immediately after the Katrina’s and Sandy’s much hang wringing is accomplished concerning our preparedness for natural disasters. However, the security side of the house (across departments and levels of government), with its connection to the military and intelligence worlds, always seems to retain cachet and policy priority. Protecting us from the bad person rather than the bad weather is more exciting. For example, there has been more ink spilled concerning the TSA’s decision to allow some sharp objects to be carried on planes versus the opportunities to build resilience in those communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy.
Protecting us from terrorism at home has always been considered a part of both homeland and national security. Protecting us from natural disasters and pandemics, building resilience, etc. was often left to those without security clearances. Instead of proposing definitions that only build walls between disciplines, might it be better to expand the idea of what we consider important to security and future of our country?