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National Defense > Blog > Posts > PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat
PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat
By Stew Magnuson



Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, Pacific Command commander, raised eyebrows and invited some criticism when he said on Capitol Hill last year that climate change was the number one long-term threat in the Asia-Pacific.

When asked March 6 if that were still the case, Locklear said, “I haven’t changed my position.”
 
As a military leader, it is not his role to debate political issues, he said during a question and answer session at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. “All I do is report what I see.”
 
“This is a pretty aggressive area of the world for natural disasters,” he said. Eighty percent of all the catastrophes in the world happen in the PACOM area of operations, which encompasses 36 nations and about half of the world’s surface.
 
Only 17 percent of PACOM’s region is land mass and six of every 10 people in the world live there, he added. And more of these populations are moving closer to shorelines in search of economic opportunity, he said.
 
“The implications for any climate change, or any change in the weather pattern or sea level change, are much more dramatic for the mass amount of population,” which are moving closer to the littorals, he said.
 
Locklear tells junior commanders when they join PACOM that they may not engage in a conflict with another military during their tenure, but they will inevitably have a natural disaster to contend with, and they will have to assist or manage the consequences.
 
“That has been true every year,” he said.

His area of operation stops short of the Arctic, but he has given some thought to the future of the region as ice melts and opens the area for sea lanes.
 
It’s all about dollars and “sense,” he said. It is easier and less expensive for shippers to go over the top of the world than around the middle. There are areas rich in petroleum reserves, and as fisheries collapse around the world, there will be more enterprises heading there in search of a new “protein supply.”
 
“I think the global economy will drive activity in the Arctic,” he said.
 
“We have to posture ourselves for peace. But you don’t get that peace unless you sense what’s in the area, know what’s going on and you have the ability to protect your own national interests,” he said.
 
Most the questions directed at the commander centered on China.
 
“Generally, the U.S. relationship with China, across many aspects, is cooperative, but competitive,” he said. Military-to-military engagement between the United States and China is steadily improving, and he plans on visiting there a “couple” more times this year.

The Chinese navy has also been invited to participate in the annual Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii this year.
 
“It’s a big deal. It will be historic for them to come there and do that,” Locklear said. They arrive with three or four ships in a U.S.-led exercise where some 20 other nations participate.
 
“Some of them they are not particularly getting along well with right now,” he added.  
 
Territorial disputes between China and its neighbors are another possible threat to the region, he said. China’s military and navy are growing, he said, which is not surprising for an emerging nation with global economic interests.
 
But if that military “is used to coerce their neighbors into giving up a legal process … of determining the legitimacy of territorial claims, then that would be a problem,” he said.
 
China and Japan are disputing sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which may have petroleum resources. The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.

Credit:
Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III (Atlantic Council photo)

Comments

Re: PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat

Climate change the number 1 threat?  Really?  And I suppose China, North Korea, and yes, Russia in the PACOM region are secondary threats?

ADM Locklear is a politician of the highest degree.  Will say anything to hold favor with the current regime.  I wonder, politiking for CNO?
tom pieluszczak at 3/7/2014 8:19 AM

Re: PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat

As a current Navy Chief this make me embarrassed.  This guy is clearly educated beyond his intelligence. He is not fit to comand if he believes this.
Mr bob at 3/7/2014 8:56 AM

Re: PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat

If he really believes that climate change is the greatest threat in the Pacific, he should have all the aircraft stop flying, all the ships stop sailing, and all the soldiers and Marines stop training. Complete stop, and we should tell all other nations that we are stopping because of global climate change. Gotta do everything we can to stop it right now.

Sounds like his command is now a bill payer.

Dumbest SOB in the room. "Where do we get such men?"
Don at 3/18/2014 10:02 PM

Re: PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat

Governments and militaries are always ill prepared for natural disasters and the Pacific region is going to be challenge.  Just look at the amount of time it took to react and deal with the tidal wave that killed nearly 275,000 persons after a major earthquake within the last ten years. The artic is opening up and nations (minus the US) are scrambling to lay claims to include China who is already in talks with Iceland for basing rights (and Iceland is strapped for cash - so they will be more than happy to deal).  The US is asleep at the switch when it comes to the Artic.  We have woken up about the Pacific region and hopefully not too late to ensure and guarantee open navigation through the South China Sea area; plan for natural disasters (due to climate change and other influences); but the question will be how well will the US be able to sustain its presence there.  Natural disasters affecting living areas, resource access, and economies are the major threat of the future as they can lead to wars because displaced persons migrate into areas they are unwanted thus sparking strife and conflict. Too many people in that region and not enough space/resources to share.
Cen at 5/19/2014 9:34 AM

Re: PACOM Commander Sticks to Climate Change as Asia-Pacific’s Number One Threat

The question would seem to be whether climate change (sea level rise) is occurring and if it is accelerating. In fact this has been going on for thousands of years. Since the last ice age! There is a great deal of geological evidence of this. The real questions are: how fast is climate change (sea level rise) accelerating, what is causing it and what to do about it. The rate of acceleration is a matter of serious and significant debate. The cause is a matter of some contention between the scientific community and the non-scientific community but the military doesn’t need to be costumed by this. The military can and should make plans for climate change and continuing acceleration of sea level rise. After all, aren’t most of our military bases located in coastal areas. Weren’t most built on land that was too low and swampy for commercial use. Isn’t a large portion of our civilian population and industrial infrastructure located within a few feet of sea level? Aren’t many extremely heavy populated third world nations located in vulnerable areas? Sea level rise of three to five feet in a hundred years would seem to be possible. That’s on the low side according to many experts in the field. What if climate patters shift and drought wipes out water supplies and agricultural lands in other parts of the world? Where will those people go? How will other nations' military forces respond? For the first time in its history China, suffering from desertification and continuing population growth , can no longer feed its own population. They are buying and taking out long term leases on vast areas of agricultural  land in the southern hemisphere to make up the growing difference. At the same time, for the first time in their history they are assembling an expeditionary naval force. Might there be a connection here?

It’s not surprising to read that those who argue for consideration of these potential threats are educated beyond their intelligence.  After all, there a so many people who are foolish beyond their lack of education. But one hopes that this kind of ignorance is not characteristic of our military leadership.
Thomas Colbert at 8/10/2014 7:21 PM

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