By: Tyson D. Lee

On October 12, 2022, President Joe Biden issued a National Security Strategy. The purpose of this document was to outline a list of issues that threatened U.S. National Security. In this document, it stated the following: “Of all of the shared problems we face, climate change is the greatest and potentially existential for all nations.”[1]

National security encompasses the national defense, foreign intelligence and counterintelligence, international and internal security, and foreign relations.[2] National Security includes: countering terrorism; combatting espionage; combatting economic espionage conducted for the benefit of any foreign government, foreign instrumentality, or foreign agent; enforcing export controls and sanctions; and disrupting cyber threats that are perpetrated by nation states, terrorists, or their agents or proxies.[3] The nation’s security is arguably the highest priority for every president. Most of the time, the president is actually elected into office due to his plans and vision on ways to ensure the safety and security of the country from domestic and international threats.

After World War II, nations across the world began to recover and rebuild from the great war. The United States was no exception, as we too had to restrengthen our federal government and military.[4] During this period, Congress and President Truman began restructuring the military and our security institutions to ensure the safety of the country.[5] By 1947, the United States was engaged in a full scale Cold War with the Soviet Union.[6] As the magnitude of the Cold War increased, so too did the need for a more efficient and manageable foreign policymaking bureaucracy in the United States.[7] There was a need for reform in the national security field.

In 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act.[8] One of the purposes of this Act was the establishment of the National Security Council (NSC).[9] The NSC is based in the White House and serves as a coordinating agency.[10] The NSC is the president’s principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his or her senior advisors and cabinet officials.[11] The council’s function is to advise and assist the president and to coordinate matters of national security among government agencies.[12]

President Truman issued the first official National Security Strategy.[13] A national security strategy is the nation’s plan for ensuring its own continued existence.[14] A national security strategy’s basic purpose is to provide guidance on managing the risks associated with future challenges, thereby ensuring the security of the nation over the long term in the face of both general uncertainty and well-defined threats.[15] The national security strategy’s main goal is to serve as a big picture document that takes a screenshot view of the world as it relates to the United States and sets out a guide on how the United States can become stronger domestically and on the world stage.

In 2022, President Biden and his national security team outlined climate change as a top priority threat to national security, which had not been done by previous administrations. Although climate change has increasingly become a top priority for many presidents, its challenges have not been the main focus in the area of national security. Climate change has always been an environmental issue left to policy experts; however, due to serious repercussions and consequences, climate change has become an all-hands-on deck issue now included in studies done by national security experts.

President Biden’s National Security Strategy stated that his administration believed that climate change is one of the most important national security challenges that the United States face.[16] The strategy views climate change as a shared challenge that is not a marginal issue that comes second to geopolitics.[17] Instead, climate change is at the very core of national and international security.[18]

In the National Security Strategy, President Biden states that without immediate global action during this crucial decade, global temperatures will cross the critical warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius after which scientists have warned some of the most catastrophic climate impacts will be irreversible.[19] President Biden’s National Security Strategy states the following:

Climate effects and humanitarian emergencies will only worsen in the years ahead—from more powerful wildfires and hurricanes in the United States to flooding in Europe, rising sea levels in Oceania, water scarcity in the Middle East, melting ice in the Arctic, and drought and deadly temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa. Tensions will further intensify as countries compete for resources and energy advantage—increasing humanitarian need, food insecurity and health threats, as well as the potential for instability, conflict, and mass migration. The necessity to protect forests globally, electrify the transportation sector, redirect financial flows and create an energy revolution to head off the climate crisis is reinforced by the geopolitical imperative to reduce our collective dependence on states like Russia that seek to weaponize energy for coercion.[20]

President Biden views climate change as an issue so serious that it has national security implications. President Biden’s approach on climate change is different than his predecessor’s. In President Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy, he did not include climate change as an issue that threatened the United States’s national security. President Biden’s new approach to climate change is better in comparison because by making climate change a national security issue, the importance and gravity of the issue increases.

The global temperature is increasing at a rapid rate. Though the globe has been warming for a long time, the pace has significantly increased in the past 100 years.[21] Global warming has attributed to climate change because climate change refers to changes in weather patterns and growing seasons around the world.[22] These changes have caused the expansion of warmer seas and melting ice sheets and glaciers, which have led to rising sea levels.[23] Temperature is a fundamental measurement for describing the climate, and the temperature in particular places can have wide-ranging effects on human life and ecosystems.[24] Annual and seasonal temperature patterns determine the types of animals and plants that can survive in particular locations.[25] Changes in temperature can disrupt a wide range of natural processes, particularly if these changes occur more quickly than plant and animal species can adapt.[26]

During a speech to West Point cadets, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks stated, “Climate change is a national security issue, and for the national security community, that declaration is not controversial—it’s fact.”[27] Since 2008, the national security community has discussed the importance of climate change on national security.[28] According to the Department of Defense (DOD), climate change requires the DOD to rethink how to best protect warfighters and prevent conflict. Climate change affects how the United States supports allies and partners.[29]

The DOD has seen firsthand how climate change affects the department. The number of personnel days the National Guard spent on firefighting increased from 14,000 in fiscal year 2016 to 176,000 days in fiscal year 2021.[30] For Hurricane Idalia, there were 5,500 national guardsmen already standing by in Florida.[31] Environmental conditions can create humanitarian crises and make nations vulnerable to instability, competition and conflict.[32]Extreme heat, floods, rising sea levels, drought, wildfires, more frequent and intense storms, and other natural disasters that are compounded by climate change, are reshaping the DOD’s operating environment and degrading military readiness.[33] Climate hazards are costly and affect basing and location access, which is vital for deterrence, destroy critical infrastructure and capabilities and put troops and their families in harm’s way.[34]

Despite the grave threat that climate change poses to our national security, there are many people who believe aggressive climate change-based initiatives and policies will negatively impact the military’s ability to be combat ready. Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida is a retired U.S. Army officer who share this belief. Congressman Waltz stated that Biden’s climate transition will harm our military readiness and national security.[35] He and many others believe that initiatives like transitioning 170,000 non-tactical vehicle fleet to zero emissions, installing solar microgrids at Army installations, and reducing carbon emissions in the military will strain the supply chains.[36] Opponents to these policies believe it will be too costly and too time consuming to successfully make these transitions.[37]

Although these are legitimate concerns, the benefits of climate change-based initiatives outweigh the cost of implementing these changes. A study completed by Rand Corp think-tank stated that “if we don’t intentionally look beyond today’s challenges, then we aren’t going to be able to outpace our adversaries.”[38] The report stated that generating, maintaining, and even increasing force readiness in light of changing climate threats is a key component of meeting the United States’s high-level strategic goals.[39] These strategic goals include defending the homeland and deterring aggression and strategic attacks.[40]

President Biden has already made the first step in the right direction by making climate change a national security issue. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the viability of society because it directly threatens society’s way of life. Looking at climate change through a national security lens gives this issue more gravity, weight, and importance. There has been a lack of climate change analysis in the national security discussion, but because of President Biden’s policy, climate change has become a topic of discussion amongst national security policy advisors.

To make more progress on climate change, President Biden should hire more climate change experts to work with the national security team. The study produced by the Rand Corps found that individuals with climate expertise are not typically present in decision forums, and senior decisionmakers are not always being educated to present climate issues from a strategic and all-encompassing perspective.[41] In addition to not being a central theme in readiness discussions, climate effects are not well integrated with readiness reporting and assessment.[42] In order to ensure that climate change is an issue at the forefront of all decision making, there should be more climate change experts in senior level decision making. President Biden appears to be conscientious on the fight against global warming and climate change. President Biden’s action on climate change is in sharp contrast from the previous president’s approach on climate change. President Biden’s policies on climate change put the issues at the forefront of national security discussion, which will ultimately encourage progress in the United States’s fight against climate change.

[1]President Joseph Biden, National Security Strategy, 2022.

[2] U.S. Dep’t of Just, (Nov. 2022) [].

[3] Id.

[4] Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, Speech at Georgetown University (Oct. 14, 2022).

[5] President Truman signs the National Security Act, A&E Television Networks (July 24, 2020). [].

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] National Security Council, The White House, [] (last visited Nov. 10, 2023).

[12] Id.

[13] Jake Sullivan, supra note 4.

[14] Malia DuMont, Elements of National Security Strategy, Atl. Council (Feb. 28, 2019). [].

[15] Id.

[16] President Joseph Biden, supra note 1.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Global Warming, Nat’l Geographic Soc’y (Dec. 14, 2022), [].

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Climate Change Indicators: U.S. and Global Temperature, U.S. Env’t Prot. Agency (Aug. 1, 2022), [].

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Jim Garamone, Hicks Defines Need to Focus DOD on Climate Change Threats, U.S. Dep’t of Defense (Aug. 30, 2023),readiness%2C%20the%20deputy%20secretary%20said [].

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Mike Waltz, Biden Climate transition will harm our Military Readiness and National Security, Mike Waltz (June 22, 2023) [].

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Denise Chow, Military must focus on short and long term challenges of climate change report finds, NBC News (May 25, 2023) [].

[39] Rand Corporation, Climate and Readiness, [] (last visited Nov. 10, 2023).

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.


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