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US National Security Policy for Climate Change Seeks Security for Corporate-Controlled Assets

My interview with Real News Network on Obama’s memorandum on climate change security. KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. Barack Obama is attempting to link climate change and national security and on Wednesday he signed a presidential memorandum to join these issues together under a shared policy umbrella.

The White House has ordered 20 federal agencies and offices to come up with an action plan within 90 days under a federal climate and national security working group. Our next guest however says we shouldn’t be too quick to applaud the government in its concern over climate change.

Joining us from Amsterdam to discuss these issues is Nick Buxton who is the coeditor of the recently released book titled The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate Changed World. And he’s also the communications manager for the Transnational Institute. Welcome back to the Real News, Nick.

NICK BUXTON: Thanks Kim. Good to be on.

BROWN: The Department of Defense and the National Security Agencies have been saying for some time now that climate change is a threat to American interest. So why should we be concerned when the Pentagon or the NSA talks about security?

BUXTON: First thing we need to understand of course is that that’s their job. The military is there to look at threats to national security and anyone looking at the scientific evidence can’t ignore that climate change is going to have very big impacts in this world. So we shouldn’’t be surprised that the military is looking at this.

But when we ask the question whether this is a good thing or not, then we need to think well what’s their interest in it and the first thing of course for a military is that it’s around there and they’re quite straight about this. It’s about their operational effectiveness. It’s about how they can continue to operate at a time change.

So one of the big reports that came out last week was looking at the threat that sea level rise is going to pose to military bases. There’s something like 1,774 coastal sites that the US have around the world and about 10% of those are under serious threat of flooding, erosion, and so on. So their prime concern there is really how are they going to continue to operate such a huge global imperial footprint.

But then you have to ask well who benefits from this. Well I was just reading one of the reports today and they talk about Diego Garcia, one of the islands that’s going to be threatened by flooding. Of course there’s no mention of the fact that Diego Garcia had islanders on it before it was turned into a US military base. That actually the reason they’re there is because they dispossessed the islanders who have never been able to return [inaud.] an agreement between the US and the UK.

And similarly we have to look at as they talk about marshall islands flooding. Again there’s no real mention of the fact that that entire island is likely to have to evacuate. So the concerns come very much in the frame of security and those who might be dispossessed in the process is not the top priority. That’s why I think you have to be concerned when you think that security is one thing for some people, but it’s not necessarily what we understand by security.

BROWN: So Nick, how do corporate interests coincide with the models that the US military is using for climate change preparedness and adaptation. Can you give us any specific examples about that?

BUXTON: It’’s interesting. One of the things that I was looking at how they can operate in a time of climate change. They’’re also thinking how are we going to cope with the impacts of climate change in terms of how it might impact on population movements, on conflicts around resources and so on. They started to map these things out in war gaming scenarios.

It’s 2007 that the military first came up with a book that really set the scene for this called the Age of Consequences where they talked about climate change becoming a threat multiplier and very much closed this whole thing of a world of scarcity and a world that we would need to have security based responses. What’s interesting is when you look at corporations and some of the ones that are doing the most long term planning, companies like Shell, Apple, and so on, they also–what’s interesting is how much their scenarios around the future map onto the ones in the military

. Shell in almost the same year as the Age of Consequences did a report where they looked at what they called a world of blueprints and a world which was of chaos and they had a very similar thing that we’re going to have a world of insecurity, scarcity, and we were going to need to have security based responses. So there’s really a kind of map in there of military and corporate solutions and it was again interesting.

If you look at this as military strategies, they don’t talk about security for everything. They say strategically important shipping routes. Strategically important areas. Agriculturally significant areas. They’re very much talking about securing assets that are largely corporate controlled assets. So there’s a real dovetailing of the two strategies, corporate and military. We shouldn’t be surprised about that.

There’s a reason why the US has military presence in 156 countries as they make clear in their recent report and that is to secure the interest, particularly, of its largest corporations.

BROWN: President Obama at his speech at the UN leaders’ summit on refugees this week, he spoke about how countries including the US must do more for the international refugee crisis. So what is the paradigm that the US military is using to look at the refugee crisis?

BUXTON: Well again it comes very much in a security based narrative. They talk about migration and the threats of mass migration and the potential instability and chaos it could cause. That these migrants are potential hotspots for the growth of terrorism for failed states for what they called ungoverned stasis. It turns migrants really who are of course going to be very much the victims of climate change.

Climate change is starting to have an impact on forcing some people to move to certain areas for example in Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s turning those into threats and we can see what’s a likely response because it’s the response that’s already happening. It’s a response we can see on the border between US and Mexico which despite Trump’s rhetoric, already has a really highly militarized border and people who are fleeing from insecurity in Mexico or Central America are facing a very militarized response.

We have the same thing going on in Europe where states all the kind of angst that’s expressed around refugee crisis. There isn’t a solution which is actually about the safety or security of migrants. It’s a solution based on how do we kind of further militarize our boarders. TNI did a report recently showing that three of the major arms companies which are selling most of the arms to the Middle East, causing a lot of the instability, announced some of the main ones winning border security contracts. So you very much have this industrial military complex which is on both sides of the pitch.

But the people’s security who we should really care about, which are the refugees, are not being secure at all. If we really wanted to strategy that defended our security, we would be looking at safe ways for them to travel. We’d be looking at how to look out for the interests. Instead we have a very much militarized response. So I guess the migrant crisis and our response to it is a disturbing picture of what we could see more of unless we change our approach.

BROWN: Nick what are your thoughts about this presidential memorandum? The president has given these federal agencies 90 days to come up with an action plan but we all know that in 90 days it’s going to be the end of December and we will have already elected a new president and obviously it’s no guarantee that the new president will continue the policies of the old administration. So your thoughts about the timing of President Obama making this announcement to want to pair climate change and national security under a policy umbrella?

BUXTON: Well I think it is seen as a way of getting people on board. Particularly republicans who are concerned about the direction of Trump who very much appreciates a military security narrative to take climate change seriously. It’s been very much seen as the kind of avenue to—if the military is saying this and they’ve normally been most stoutly defended by the republican party. Then surly the republican party should listen and take. Take climate change seriously. So I think that some political maneuverance going on there also to create further division between parts of the republican party and Trump. So I think that’s very much part of it.

My concern is that it’s being really also supported and claimed by many people on the center or on the left who say well even the military is saying that climate change is something that we should take seriously and this is a good thing. But when you look at some of the solutions that were coming through in these recently reports, it’s very much saying the homeland security should now be in charge of how the US manages its national adaptation and resilience strategy. But if we get military solutions to problems which are really about community resilience and having a proper response to the climate crisis that protects the vulnerable, then we’re going to see scenes like we saw in Katrina where instead of people being protected and defended, you saw people going in and treating people who were just trying to survive as looters and shooting them.It’s a very dangerous strategy to take a military approach to issues of inequality and issues about community being in a resilient state to cope with crises.

BROWN: You raise an interesting point there because you know my next question is does the militarization of the urban police force across the US have a role in terms of a US military climate change agenda? We referenced Katrina and how the military and the national guard were used to make sure that property was protected rather than the livelihood of those who were impacted by the storm.

BUXTON: Absolutely. I think it’s really important to see the military and police not as a distinct as we used to think they are and there’s been real trends, particularly since 9/11 but even going back before that of the military becoming more like police. You saw that in most military benches no for example in Iraq. The military become effectively the police force of the country. But you also have the police becoming much more militarized. We see that really obviously in pictures that have come out of Ferguson around some of the black lives matter protests.

I was in California, last in the Bay area last week, 10 days ago for something called Urban Shield and there the Department of Homeland Security is training police department and medical services to cope with terrorist incidents. It was all about SWAT teams responding and very much a kind of military response to crises. It’s very much becoming the kind of governing framework for things. But we know that when we bring in the military and this is being made so clearly by the black lives matter movement. Those on the brute end of violence are far more often people of color.

We have a huge massive growth in SWAT rates. There was something like 3,000 SWAT rates a year in the mid 1980’s. There are now up to 80,000 SWAT rates a year and about two-thirds of them are targeting people of color. In those moments you often get shootings and killings and injuries. So there is a real danger here kind of gradual militarization of police who are supposed to be protecting all our security and actually feeding into the result being those who are most vulnerable from climate change. The poorest communities could end up again being turned from victims into threats.

BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Nick Buxton. He is the coeditor of the recently released book, you should go pick it up. It’s called The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate Changed World. Nick is also the communications manager for the Transnational Institute. Nick we appreciate your time today. Thank you.

BUXTON: Thank you.

BROWN: And thank you for checking out the Real News Network.

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