The intersection of climate change and nuclear war could become a reality in the not too distant future. This article is about how rising temperatures may increase the chance of nuclear war.
Michael Klare has been writing books about the relationship between oil, dwindling natural resources, climate change and geopolitics for almost twenty years. The first of his books that I read was “Blood and Oil” which was published in 2004. This was followed by “Resource Wars”, “The Race for what’s Left” and “Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: the Geopolitics of Energy.
Klare’s latest book is “All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change.” This is a brand new book. I just bought it and I’ve just begun to read it.
Klare also published an article for The Nation Magazine on Jan 13, 2020 that is about the same subject, ie global warming, the pentagon and the dangers of nuclear war. This essay is based mostly on this article. All quotations come from this article. A link to the article and also to Klare’s new book follows this essay.
Donald Trump is doing his best to spread the word that global warming isn’t real. He thinks it is much more important to burn every drop of oil we can drill, buy or steal in order to maintain what he thinks is the US supremacy in everything. And he has ordered all departments of the US government to forget about climate and global warming and to never so much as mention them.
However, the Pentagon is quietly ignoring these instructions. It is getting on with it’s job of protecting the the US from all external threats and it realizes that global warming is real and that it is going to cause problems that could very easily become threats to the US. It doesn’t use the words global warming or climate change any more, as it once did, but it is nevertheless operating on the basis that both are very real.
The Nation article opens with an example of how the conjunction of global warming, the Pentagon and the dangerously volatile world out there could create a complex and dangerous situation.
Extreme heat, drought and abnormal monsoon rains are already happening all over the mid-east. Many observers have written that these conditions are partially responsible for the war in Syria and the consequent waves of migration to Europe.
However, the Pentagon is now looking more closely at Pakistan. In the Nation article, Klare says that:
“One particularly worrisome scenario is if extreme drought and abnormal monsoon rains devastate agriculture and unleash social chaos in Pakistan, this could potentially create an opening for radical Islamists aligned with elements of the armed forces to seize some of the country’s 150 or so nuclear weapons.”
And, says Klare, the Pentagon is already planning an operation to infiltrate Pakistan, locate their nuclear weapons and make sure they cannot be used. He says that most of the equipment for such an operation is already in position at US bases in the region.
“It’s safe to assume that planning for the worst-case scenario regarding Pakistan’s nukes has already taken place inside the US government,” said Roger Cressey, a former deputy director for counterterrorism in Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s administrations in 2011.”
Such an attack by the US would clearly be an act of war against Pakistan. And Pakistan would clearly resist such an attack on it’s nuclear weapons, which they see as the only thing that enables their survival against such enemies as India and America. The results of such a situation could be catastrophic says Klare. It could very likely result in some kind of a nuclear confrontation.
He says that:
“A potential US military incursion in nuclear-armed Pakistan is just one example of a crucial but little-discussed aspect of international politics in the early 21st century: how the acceleration of climate change and nuclear war planning may make those threats to human survival harder to defuse. At present, the intersections between climate change and nuclear war might not seem obvious. But powerful forces are pushing both threats toward their most destructive outcomes.”
The article goes on to say that climbing world temperatures are rapidly creating a very unstable world. For one thing rising temperatures are already limiting the food supply in many mideastern countries.
“Global corn production, for example, is projected to fall by as much as 14 percent in a 2°C warmer world, according to research cited in a 2018 special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Food scarcity and crop failures risk pushing hundreds of millions of people into overcrowded cities, where the likelihood of pandemics, ethnic strife, and severe storm damage is bound to increase. All of this will impose an immense burden on human institutions. Some states may collapse or break up into a collection of warring chiefdoms—all fighting over sources of water and other vital resources.”
Another problem is that China and Russia and the US are now beginning a new nuclear arms race.
“Even during the initial nuclear modernization program of the Obama era, Russian and Chinese leaders were sufficiently alarmed to hasten their own nuclear acquisitions. Both countries were already in the process of modernizing their stockpiles—Russia to replace Cold War–era systems that had become unreliable, China to provide its relatively small arsenal with enhanced capabilities.”
“Trump’s decision to acquire a whole new suite of ICBMs, nuclear-armed submarines, and bombers has added momentum to these efforts. And with all three major powers upgrading their arsenals, the other nuclear-weapon states—led by India, Pakistan, and North Korea—have been expanding their stockpiles as well.”
Moreover, with Trump’s recent decision to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, all major powers are developing missile delivery systems for a regional nuclear war such as might erupt in Europe, South Asia, or the western Pacific.”
And in the future it is clear that rising temperatures are only going to get worse and this will make the social and political forces even more volatile.
“All things being equal, rising temperatures will increase the likelihood of nuclear war, largely because climate change will heighten the risk of social stress, the decay of nation-states, and armed violence in general.”
“As food and water supplies dwindle and governments come under ever-increasing pressure to meet the vital needs of their populations, disputes over critical resources are likely to become more heated and violent, whether the parties involved have nuclear arms or not.”
“But this danger is compounded by the possibility that several nuclear-armed powers—notably India, Pakistan, and China—will break apart as a result of climate change and accompanying battles over disputed supplies of water.”
“Together, these three countries are projected by the UN Population Division to number approximately 3.4 billion people in 2050, or 34 percent of the world’s population. “
“Yet they possess a much smaller share of the world’s freshwater supplies, and climate change is destined to reduce what they have even further. “
“Warmer temperatures are also expected to diminish crop yields in these countries, adding to the desperation of farmers and very likely resulting in widespread ethnic strife and population displacement.”
“Under these circumstances, climate-related internal turmoil would increase the risk of nuclear war in two ways: by enabling the capture of nuclear arms by rogue elements of the military and their possible use against perceived enemies and by inciting wars between these states over vital supplies of water and other critical resources.”
“Thus, as global temperatures rise and agriculture declines, Pakistan could shatter along ethnic, class, and religious lines, precisely the scenario that might trigger the sort of intervention anticipated by the US Joint Special Operations Command.”
This is just the very beginning of a long article and an even longer book detailing how a warming world is becoming more and more dangerous.
Climate change and global warming are scary enough all by themselves. But it looks to me like the social and political and military situation that warming is pushing us into, will be even more dangerous than the actual warming.
I’m afraid that it’s not global warming itself that may kill us all. I’m very much afraid we may do ourselves in long before the changing climate snuffs us out.
Hopefully I’m just being paranoid, but the future that climate change is pushing us into looks very dangerous to me, and in ways we really haven’t even thought about yet.
I looks to me like we need to get to thinking pretty quickly. The intersection of Climate change and nuclear war is beginning to look very real.
More reading about climate change and nuclear war