Climate Emergency – Military Aid to Civil Power

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World leaders gathered in Davos last month to discuss the climate emergency against the backdrop of record-breaking temperatures, extended drought and strong winds in Australia which converged to create disastrous fire conditions.

With the tragic death of citizens, combined with hundreds of homes being destroyed and millions of acres burned, the current fire season has been one of the worst in Australia’s history. To support efforts of firefighters, police and first responders to tackle the crisis, Australia deployed its military and called on its allies for help.

Military leaders have not said much in public about the climate crisis, in part because they are, quite rightly,  reluctant to become involved in partisan political issues. Nevertheless, senior officers of the armed forces across the world are fully aware of global warming’s deleterious effects and have devised a thorough analysis of its strategic implications. They believe that when global temperatures rise, essential resources will dwindle in many poor and divided countries, provoking conflict among internal factions and threatening the survival of fragile governments resulting in further tensions to already strained international relations.

In this chaotic environment, military leaders suggest that terrorist groups and organised crime groups will flourish, while dispossessed farmers will migrate in search of jobs—typically encountering hostility wherever they go. All this instability will result in deadly pandemics, incessant warfare, and a relentless call on the military to provide humanitarian relief and troop support.

Climate Crises and National security

The analysis conducted by military leaders has identified three main pathways by which climate change is likely to endanger a nations’ security: by increasing the level of conflict and chaos abroad; by exposing the relevant homeland to ever more destructive climate effects; and by obstructing the military’s capacity to carry out its primary assigned missions.

While many governments across the world have established plans to provide an effective response to all types of emergencies and major crises at national, regional and local level, the climate emergency has changed – and continues to change – the long term strategic planning of armed forces capacity and capability.

Militaries across the world continue to stand ready to support civil authorities when their capacity is overwhelmed. Armed forces provide this support from spare capacity, so it is subject to the availability of resources, without affecting core military objectives.

The majority of nations across the world do not have the luxury of generating and maintaining their military assets specifically for the task of supporting civil authorities. This is because the requirement is unpredictable in scale, duration and capability requirement and experience suggests that requirements can usually be met from spare capacity. It would also involve using defence budgets to pay for other government departments’ responsibilities.

The military accept their responsibility to support civil authorities in time of need but the growing incidents of natural disasters attributed to the climate emergency indicates that armed forces will be routinely re-directed to respond to floods and fires, prompting a major re-think of Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP), including the skills and expertise required by military personnel when deployed on such missions

Military-Civil Engagement and Soft Skills

To effectively support civil authorities during disaster, and to enhance their capacity and capability to do so, the military needs to recognise that citizens are under-utilized crisis responders; they are often first on the scene; they vastly outnumber the emergency first responders; they are creative and resourceful; and they perform countless life-saving actions. To increase operational effectiveness, the military must now explore how it can harness and enhance the role citizens play during a crisis.

This type of collaboration requires skills that are not necessarily included in more traditional command and control trainings for military personnel when they are directed to provide support to civil agencies during major disasters. Learning to collaborate with the general public requires different didactics than learning technical skills. The aim for the military must include being able to evaluate when the general public can be safely involved and what tasks they can effectively perform - primarily during the response phase.

The military can help citizens during a crisis by listening and joining their conversations to support each other; and by adding an enabling and authoritative voice, providing them with information they ask for in a way they can understand. The military can also target the actions of citizens, by directing their tasks to support key objectives of the wider mission.

The ability to harness and direct the actions of citizens engaged in crisis will not only serve to add great value to the emergency response but amplifies the capacity and capability of deployed military personnel. The ability for nations to survive future climate calamities will increasingly depend most of all on the resilience of a government’s multi-agency approach in which the military will play an important and ever-increasing role.