Climate change is also defense and security problem

| Evan A. Laksmana | Jakarta, 2 November 2009 |

We are now only less than a month away from the UN summit on climate Change in Copenhagen to hammer out a new post-Kyoto deal to save the planet.

Meanwhile, recent reports show that in Southeast Asia, one of the most susceptible regions to climate change, more than 750,000 people have died between 1998 and 2009 from natural disasters.

Indonesia too will soon see firsthand the increases in the severity of drought, flooding, forest fires, rising sea level and extreme weather conditions.

Yet, with this impending disaster, the then defense minister Juwono Sudarsono said recently his department had no specific national security agenda for climate change.

This statement is shocking – not least for its lack of concern about how climate change could radically change our national defense.

But it also shows climate change is still seen as an “environmental” issue, not a matter of urgency our defense should focus on. Climate change has the ability to change the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) entire mission as it dramatically increases the need to deploy humanitarian relief and regional disaster response in the coming decades.

Meanwhile, low-level conflicts resulting from migratory increases and state failures will certainly strain the TNI’s ability to quell internal unrest, and as extreme weather events increase, the number of epidemic diseases and humanitarian disasters will follow. To make matters worse, resource scarcity may fuel more conflicts.

This is no mere illusion if we consider that as our islands gradually disappear, there may be 255 million people in the country by 2015 – costing billions of dollars in energy and food consumption.

By then, a “Full Spectrum Force” may mean our soldiers are called upon to handle a wide array of contingencies, from the distribution of first aid to full-scale stability operations.

Bottom line, a new kind of TNI will be needed. At the operational level, climate change may forcefully alter our defense planning, posture and strategy, especially our Navy’s.

A climate-induced rise of Indonesia’s sea levels – up by 1 meter by 2010 according to one study – will increase salinity in our water, while the uptake of carbon dioxide will increase its acidity. Our ocean currents will eventually change as well. These changes, according to a recent Center for a New Ameri-can Security report, will affect surface and undersea navigation, and possibly affect ship operation and maintenance, engines and other equipment.

On the surface, severe weather events will certainly affect naval mobility, operations, training and maintenance. Not to mention the possible damage to our naval facilities and ports from high wind and waves. Extreme weather will also take a toll on our sailors’ physical and mental strength, and high heat may strain deck crews on our future landing platform docks.

In addition, extreme weather events may put major commercial and military ports at risk, causing not only disruption to naval operation and maintenance, but also undermining our defense industrial base such as PT PAL.

At the subsurface level, changes in water density and salinity may make it harder for a submarine captain to maintain neutral buoyancy. One naval analysis shows a change in salinity of just one part per thousand causes a buoyancy shift of about 3,600 kilograms in a Sturgeon-class submarine.

Underwater acoustical properties will be influenced as well, and by implication, so will the use of sonar-based detection – a key tool in any naval operation, especially in anti-submarine warfare, which we intend to develop.

Aside from these operational impacts, defense energy efficiency will also be a critical issue in the coming years as energy prices will spike through the roof.

This may further strain our defense budget and may exacerbate tradeoffs in funding for military operations, training, assistance and maintenance, especially when extreme environmental conditions increases maintenance requirements and reduces their life cycle, as a 2007 Center for Naval Analysis report noted.

The TNI, therefore, needs to think about defense fuel efficiency. Hopefully soon, as it has already spent around Rp 2.9 billion (US$300 million) annually for fuel and lubricants – not counting oil-price fluctuation and the cost of storage and distribution – while the government often only pays half the bill.

Bureaucratic red tape has also raised various defense fuel inefficiencies.

Regular reports by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) on military fuel management have continued to note excess usage, unaccounted distribution and other various irregularities. More importantly, since the government appropriates defense fuel funding based on a predetermined state budget, not on the volume of fuel needed, the TNI’s lifeblood is practically held hostage by the oil price.

Therefore, the new Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro must outline a comprehensive defense energy security strategy in conjunction with a complete audit of the TNI’s entire orders of battle to assess the state of military readiness in the face of climate change. This would offer a more stable threat projection and perhaps allow us to sidestep the highly problematic “Minimum Essential Force” concept that could change rapidly according to monthly changes in the regional military balance.

Energy efficiency, however, does not mean a weaker TNI. In fact, a recent Brookings report concluded pursuing lower petroleum consumption would ultimately increase combat and sustainability capabilities, providing greater freedom to maneuver, and reducing communication lines across the entire spectrum of warfare.

Climate is what you expect, but weather is what you get, as the old military saying goes. Well, we are certainly in for stormy weather.

The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.

The article was originally published by The Jakarta Post.

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