Global Warming and National Security — Tianchi Wu


Climate change is a far reaching hazard of nature rather than a threat emanating from a foreign government or terrorist group. However, climate change is increasingly designated as a crisis with national security implications. Global warming presents grave economic, political, and security challenges to modern nation-states. At present, global warming is not a calamity occurring within a definite time period and requiring immediate government action. Instead, it is a growing risk that may culminate in a true crisis or catastrophe in the future. Therefore, any assessment of the United States government’s response to global warming should focus on the preparation it has undertaken in anticipation of the impending crisis rather than its response to future climate change effects. The policy planning and implementation associated with such government action is the subject of this case study. The merits and shortcomings of U.S. climate change policy are a controversial subject. The history of U.S. policy responses to environmental challenges, beginning in 1960, has elicited a mixed variety of praise and censure. Secondary literature on the U.S. decision to reject the Kyoto Protocol, citing economic damage and other sovereignty concerns, is particularly critical.

Due to the inherently preparatory nature of U.S. climate change strategy, federal policy development has largely been planned rather than ad hoc. The U.S. government has developed effective organizational strategies to coordinate and integrate more than a dozen federal agencies in the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP). Although the U.S. government failed to include essential agencies such as the EPA in its policy decisions regarding the Kyoto Protocol, it was still able to arrive at a policy and act on it in a planned and systematic way.

In general, U.S. strategy implementation exhibited good interagency cooperation, although lapses have occurred in the past, as when no lead agency existed during the 1970s to provide overall coordination. Recent federal programs, such as CCSP and CCTP, have integrated more than a dozen government agencies in climate change policy implementation efforts, and a cabinet-level management structure has been successfully employed to plan and implement interagency coordination. The Department of Commerce (DOC) and Department of Energy (DOE) served as lead agencies for CCSP and CCTP, respectively, providing clear lines of leadership authority that secured organizational success. However, interagency cooperation was either poor or nonexistent in the U.S. response to the Kyoto Protocol. Most notably, the Environmental Protection Agency, the principal body responsible for enforcing emissions requirements, was poorly integrated into the policy making processes of the Bush administration. This is evidenced by an EPA report released in 2002 contradicting the official position of the president on the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, there is a striking inconsistency between state and federal responses to the Kyoto Protocol. The state of California and a group of northeastern states have expressed official support for the protocol, implicitly deviating from federal policy.

The relative success of the U.S. government in establishing new federal programs (CCSP/CCTP) to confront environmental challenges can be attributed to the breadth of integration across federal agencies, clear interagency authorities, and the employment of a lead-agency approach. A principal weakness of CCSP and CCTP is the lack of budgetary authority among member agency directors. The agency principals often had to depend on persuasion to secure funding and had little to allocate at their own discretion. Furthermore, new initiatives developed by CCSP and CCTP, however effective, will not necessarily be adopted by industries in the private sector. The failure of federal policy makers to propose a successful alternative to the Kyoto Protocol can best be attributed to the poor integration of essential federal agencies such as the EPA into the decision process.

Annual budgets for CCSP and CCTP are two billion and four billion dollars, respectively. Due to the preparatory nature of U.S. climate change strategy, the precise benefits of U.S. mitigation efforts remain unrealized unless a true environmental crisis occurs. The benefits of CCSP and CCTP are difficult to quantify and come in the form of risk mitigation, the reduction of likelihood that a catastrophic environmental crisis will occur in the future. However, there are immediate costs to American prestige and soft power associated with the U.S. failure to develop a suitable alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. As seen by many Europeans, the United States has set itself against the world without credible justification. By failing to propose an international alternative to Kyoto, the United States has also increased, or at least failed to reduce, the risk of a global environmental crisis. Rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, however, did bring financial benefits: the United States has avoided the economic costs of the protocol’s emissions regulations, estimated by some to amount to 4% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

From a systems viewpoint, the U.S. government has exhibited good organizational capabilities in certain instances of policy planning and implementation. The CCSP and CCTP represent the effective integration of a broad array of federal agencies and national security resources. While the U.S. government seeks to balance concerns of sovereignty with the necessity of intergovernmental coordination, it has yet to find such an equilibrium. Of particular concern from an organizational perspective was the United States government’s ultimate inability to develop a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol. In short, the current national security system proved incapable of addressing security issues of the global commons.