U.S. spy agencies say climate change means growing security concerns in the Arctic

While the new National Intelligence Estimate suggested competition in the region would be mainly economic, it pointed to the growing risk of military miscalculation.

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The USS Connecticut after surfacing through the ice during ICEX 2018 in the Beaufort Sea. (Daniel Hinton / US Navy)

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies on Thursday cited the Arctic as a region of concern in a report that emphasized the security threats posed by global climate change.

In a new National Intelligence Estimate, the Office of Director of National Intelligence predicts that global warming will increase geopolitical tensions and risks to U.S. national security up to 2040, a senior intelligence official involved in drafting the report said.

Such estimates are broad U.S. intelligence community assessments.

The report notes the likelihood of increasing strategic competition over the Arctic. It says that Arctic and non-Arctic states “almost certainly will increase their competitive activities as the region becomes more accessible because of warming temperatures and reduced ice.”

It predicts international competition in the Arctic “will be largely economic but the risk of miscalculation will increase modestly by 2040 as commercial and military activity grows and opportunities are more contested.”

The report also singled out 11 countries as being “highly vulnerable” in terms of their ability to prepare for and respond to environmental and societal crises caused by climate change.

Thursday’s report identifies as particular “countries of concern” Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iraq, North Korea, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia.

Heat, drought, water availability and ineffective government make Afghanistan specifically worrying, the official said. Water disputes are also a key “geopolitical flashpoint” in India and the rest of South Asia.

The report identifies two additional regions of concern to U.S. intelligence agencies. Climate change is “likely to increase the risk of instability in countries in Central Africa and small island states in the Pacific, which clustered together form two of the most vulnerable areas in the world.”

The report notes disparities around global approaches to tackling climate change, saying countries that rely on fossil fuel exports to support their economies “will continue to resist a quick transition to a zero-carbon world because they fear the economic, political, and geopolitical costs of doing so.”