Scientific Document


An ideal goal for the entire world community is “to work toward a sustainable peace,” or what we can alternatively term “global stability.” Prior to the end of World War II, maintaining a sustainable peace (or security) for a nation was synonymous with combating military threats; this, in turn, was the responsibility of soldiers and their leaders with the support of their government. Since World War II, and through the Cold War, it has been recognized that national security requires not only a military strategy but also national and international multi-faceted strategies as well, with the latter including political, economic, and psychological components. In recent years, it has also become evident that security and stability of nations depends on environmental issues, especially through linkages via human health, which follows trends in both social behavior and the natural environment. In periods of relative stability, biological controls over pests and disease organisms (or pathogens) can function efficiently. Today, an increasingly unstable climate, the accelerated loss of versatile species and advent of invasive species, and growing economic and social inequities challenge the resilience and resistance of natural systems, thus contributing to the emergence, resurgence, and redistribution of infectious disease on a global scale. In the past, widespread diseases that affect multiple continents (pandemics) have often transpired social disruption and major shifts in human settlements, while in other instances the resurgence of infectious disease have inspired social and environmental reforms.


An overarching environmental issue now facing the world is climate change. There is no doubt that global temperatures are rising over the past several decades, although there is lesser consensus on whether it an anthropogenic effect. While our understanding of the broad range of factors influencing climate change is still inadequate to make accurate long-range projections of the future climate, the trends of these changes such as the earth’s temperature and the increasing presence of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and hydrocarbons in the atmosphere are clear. What is far less understood are the possible impacts of climate change on economic well-being and human health and concomitant impacts on the security of nations; this is the theme of this NATO workshop. A report issued in 2007 by the Military Advisory Board of the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) on national security risks of climate change concluded that global warming is a "threat multiplier" in many already fragile regions around the world. Such destabilization and an increased need for humanitarian relief will, in the future, expand the military's burden it argued (CNA 2007).  The Board identified four areas of primary concern: food, fresh water, land, and health. Reduced access to freshwater, impaired food production, health catastrophes, and land loss and flooding leading to displacement of major populations promote escalation of conflicts over resources, drive mass migrations between nations, and raise the potential for failure of states and fuel the growth of terrorism. The conclusion of the CNA study as well as other follow up studies (EU 2008) have led to the encouragement of Dr. Vincenzo Costigliola, Chief medical Officer, NATO, for us to convene a workshop cutting across climate change, human health and national security.

Given that the topic is novel, challenging and highly multidisciplinary, we have contacted many foremost researchers and policymakers to obtain input and managed to assemble a diverse group of participants covering a spectrum of NATO countries. Other participants will be accommodated according to availability of resources.


The recent report of the High Representative and European Commission on “Climate Change and International Security” (EU 2008) also points out the recognition of European Security Strategy the existence of a link between global warming and competition for natural resources, and then details the unique ability of the European community to respond to the security risks associated with climate change. In a June 2008 speech addressing the future of NATO, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called for NATO to prepare for a period of global insecurity caused by climate change.


In the USA, a meeting was recently convened by the Center for Environment and National Security at Scripps Oceanographic Institute during June 21-22, 2010, entitled “Climate and National Security: Securing Better Forecasts” to explore climate change implications for United States national security, foreign policy and development interests. The participants discussed regional impacts of climate, particularly in regions of exacerbated response, reviewed the state of climate forecasting and examined the national security implications of climate impacts. The present conference will expand discussions to more global scales, with emphasis on conflicts that may arise due to behavioral and health implications of climate change.


Certain aspects of climate change already in evidence may result in a degradation of human health. According to a recent report of the United Nations' World Health Organization, since 1976, thirty diseases have emerged that are new to medicine. The appearance of new diseases (such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, exacerbated by HIV/AIDS) or old diseases that once thought of as under control (childhood diphtheria, whooping cough, and measles) are of great concern. Malaria, dengue, yellow fever, cholera, and a number of rodent-borne viruses are also appearing with increased frequency. Their emergence and transmission may reflect both environmental and social change, and underlying causations need to be looked at carefully.


Other ecological changes are also afoot. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (2000), for example, has reported a ripple effect linking warming in the Arctic region to reduced fish stocks. The warming trend in the Arctic has caused decreased sea ice, which has reduced the available habitat for young seals and sea lions. With the decreased seal and sea lion populations, their natural predators, the orca, have turned to sea otters to supplement their diets. Since sea otters feed on sea urchins, the sea urchin population has exploded, decimating kelp forests (the sea urchin’s food supply). The decline in kelp forests eliminated fish breeding grounds, and thus fish populations have declined. It is not unforeseeable that fewer fish means less food available to human populations who depend on fish as the protein complement to their diets.


The question of the possible effect of climate change on national security is now receiving attention in national government circles. For example, The German Advisory Council on Global Change (2008) addressed the concern that climate change worsens existing environmental crises such as drought, water scarcity and soil degradation. The exacerbated crises are leading to intensification of land-use conflicts and increasing environmentally induced migrations. Some examples cited include: (i) rising temperatures increase the vulnerability of populations to poverty and social deprivation and thus to mounting social and international instability; (ii) rising sea levels and more frequent storm and flood disasters threaten the coastal cities and industrial regions of China, India and the U.S., thus inducing mass migrations; and (iii) increasing glacier melt decreases the fresh water supply for the Andean and Himalayan regions leading to resource conflicts and possible mass migrations.




Figure 1. The interrelationships between climate change, human health, and national security. The goal of this workshop is to identify the intersecting relationships between the three major topics as indicated by the blank areas of the diagram.






This workshop addresses issues related to climate change, human health and national security as well their issues at the intersections, as shown in Figure 1. The organizers have requested workshop support from the NATO because of its stated mission of promoting stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area by uniting efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security. As Mr. Jean-Francois Bureau stated in his address to the NATO Security Science Forum on Environmental Security in March 2008, “environment and security are common goods which will decisively shape our citizens’ living conditions, especially those of the future generation. As they relate to human security, they are of major importance for NATO nations, which share the values of human rights, rule of law and democracy.” We note that the topic is of far reaching nature, beyond the realm of NATO, and hence we encourage representatives from non-NATO countries to participate in the workshop.


While climate change is considered a driver of human health and military-terrorism issues, it must be recognized that there is a possible feedback loop as well in which human health and military issues affect climate change. To be effective, we believe the workshop should be highly focused on selected issues. Therefore, the workshop covers presentations at the intersection of at least two elements of the Venn diagram shown in Figure 1, preferably all three. The latter may include how climate change impacts human health and in turn how changes in human health impact matters of national security (e.g., inter- and intra-national disagreements and the ubiquitous presence of terrorism). The goal is to gather experts from crosscutting areas and develop a set of broad recommendations that can be adopted in developing strategy for mitigating adverse health and security outcomes of climate change.


Participation for the conference is by invitation only. We envision the workshop as including four keynote lectures and a summary lecture. The lectures should include an overview of the current state of understanding of climate change and security and the current needs of policy makers, the state of the science of climate change, the relationship between climate change and human health, the relationship between human health and national security, and a capstone lecture on integrating the results of the workshop with the needs of policy makers.





The CNA Corporation, Military Advisory Board. 2007. National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. The report can be downloaded at (link last accessed 03 July 2008).


European Union. 2008. Climate Change and International Security: Paper from the High Representative and the European Commission to the European Council. S113/08, 14 March 2008. 11 pp.


The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). 2008. Climate Change as a Security Risk. The report can be downloaded from (link last accessed 03 July 2008).


Scheffer, Jaap de Hoop. 2008. NATO: The Next Decade, a speech at the Security Defense Agenda, Brussels, 3 June 2008.


US Global Change Research Program. National Assessment Synthesis Team. 2000. Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. Overview:  Alaska. The report can be downloaded at (link last accessed 03 July 2008