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Research Questions

  1. What will be CENTCOM's role in preventing or mitigating climate-related conflict in the region?
  2. What are some tools that CENTCOM leaders can use to interrupt the progression from climate hazard to conflict?
  3. Within the CENTCOM coalition, how can partner resilience to climate hazards be strengthened?
  4. What are the anticipated operational costs of responding to climate-related conflict?
  5. What types of operations, activities, and investments will CENTCOM be expected to provide within the AOR?

Over the coming decades, stressors from climate change will become more intense and more frequent in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). This development will likely contribute to CENTCOM's broader shift from a warfighting-focused command to a command that will have to reprioritize and balance how it responds to and conducts both traditional and nontraditional security missions. This report addresses how CENTCOM planners can use operations, activities, and investments to prevent — or mitigate the intensity of — climate-related conflict.

Climate change, along with other transnational threats, is often discussed as part of a broader concept known as nontraditional security. Many of the threats that are part of the nontraditional security concept, such as infectious disease and large-scale migration, are exacerbated by climate change. This report examines which traditional military tools can be applied to this nontraditional security threat and which new tools can be developed to address the implications of climate change for CENTCOM.

The aim of this report is to help CENTCOM planners prepare for a future security environment that is affected by climate change. Even with preventive action, the command will face additional requirements from climate stress. To provide context for resource prioritization discussions, this report presents an analysis of the frequency and the conditions under which the United States has traditionally intervened militarily in the CENTCOM theater and rough order of magnitude costs of interventions by type. This report is the fifth and final in a series focused on climate change and the security environment.

Key Findings

  • The causal pathways from climate hazards to conflict revolve around political and economic concerns. CENTCOM will likely play a supporting role to interagency partners in reducing the risk of climate-related conflict.
  • Military-led operations, activities, and investments provide some niche tools to interrupt the progression along those causal pathways and could decrease the severity of conflicts by improving U.S. and partner response capabilities.
  • In addition to mitigating conflict risk, CENTCOM has an opportunity to develop partner resilience to climate hazards, with the ancillary benefit of strengthening bonds within the CENTCOM coalition.
  • In the coming decades, there is likely to be an increased demand on CENTCOM to directly support humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) in the theater and help partners build their own response capabilities.
  • If climate stress leads to more conflicts in the CENTCOM AOR and U.S. policymakers define U.S. interests in ways that lead Washington to intervene, then stabilization operations would likely drive the highest costs for the operation types considered in the costing analysis. On the basis of the authors' climate projections, stabilization forces will have to contend with more extreme heat and less available water, among other climate hazards, which will likely stress regional logistics capabilities.
  • HADR, counterterrorism operations, noncombatant evacuation operations, and planned security cooperation impose lesser costs on U.S. Department of Defense funding. Although such operations occur at a frequency that does not stress current budgets, the financial calculus could change if climate hazards lead to requirements for increased HADR operations or noncombatant evacuation operations.

Recommendations

  • CENTCOM planners will be required to sharpen their prioritization of competing demands for resources in a climate of budget reductions. When considering security cooperation investments with partners, nontraditional security cooperation activities should be prioritized because they address emerging threats, draw on the United States' strength in technological adaptation, and can be leveraged to deepen cooperation within the CENTCOM coalition.
  • CENTCOM planning and intelligence staff should incorporate climate intelligence and analysis, including climate projections and other related analyses, when developing or updating theater campaign plans, operational plans, and contingency plans. Intelligence officers and analysts can be trained to identify the climate-related developments and signposts that could lead to humanitarian disasters or contribute to political instability.
  • CENTCOM should request the expansion of the State Partnership Program (SPP) within the AOR, particularly with National Guard units that have experience in climate resiliency and adaptation. Critically, the development of an SPP with Pakistan, in which the National Guard partner has experience with disaster response related to flooding, should be prioritized, considering the frequency of HADR operations in that country over the past few decades.
  • CENTCOM would benefit from greater climate literacy among headquarters staff and among forward-deployed personnel, such as security cooperation officers and defense attachés based in the region. Education and training should occur at multiple levels, including at joint professional military education institutions, the Defense Security Cooperation University, and CENTCOM headquarters.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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