Former Sen. John Warner discusses impact of climate change on national security

What impact will climate change have on the United States' national security? Will the security issue gain traction as the Senate takes up climate legislation? During today's OnPoint, former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) explains how the United States' security will be affected by climate change. Warner, who recently joined the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, discusses how Congress can address this issue in the legislation making its way through the Senate. He also gives his take on this year's climate debate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is former Virginia Senator John Warner. Senator Warner recently joined the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate. Senator Warner, it's a pleasure to have you.

John Warner: Delighted.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator, the intersection of national security and climate change has been receiving a lot of attention recently, especially now as the Senate starts to take up climate legislation. What impact will climate change have on our national security here in the U.S.?

John Warner: Well, first stop and think. Who are the people, which Americans are the first on the scene where there's a catastrophic problem like there was with the tsunami or in Somalia where we went to try and rescue a fallen government? It's the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Stop to think. When a president makes the decision to deploy the Armed Forces they're the ones that move out. And when I was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee this suddenly all came together, the focus of this nation on its leadership role in climate change, its willingness to respond to situations. In other words, extraordinary climactic changes like prolonged droughts, floods, other forms of weather changes bring about drastic problems on the ground that results in absence of the water to provide for your daily needs, the food that you need to live on and then that begins to cause instability of the governments and we've seen that throughout much of the African continent. It's a tragic situation, but climate change has caused a lot of human suffering thus far and will likely continue. And it's the men and women in the Armed Forces that fly the helicopters to bring in the food, to take in the medical teams, to take out some of those that are injured, so they have an important role. So when I was chairman of the committee I worked up a collaboration with Senator Clinton. She was a member of the committee and we put in the first law to direct the Department of Defense to begin to do their planning for the long-range future. Hopefully, we can begin to curtail some of the unfortunate circumstances of climate change, but in the meantime our military are getting ready and prepared and devising a format as to how they respond at the direction of the president.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you see the national security argument emerging in this year's climate debate? I mean is it getting enough attention?

John Warner: Well, actually the debate hasn't started. As you know, six committees of the Senate are now working on the bill. I've got to be very careful, under the ethics law I can't tell them what to do, but I can take what's in the public domain and just give you my views. I think they're trying in a very conscientious way to begin to look at this situation. It's a question of how soon that bill can come up on the Senate calendar. But rather than the one committee, as when I was there, in other words the Environment Committee largely did that work, the Energy Committee helped a lot, but that bill didn't succeed, the Lieberman-Warner bill, for various reasons. The Bush administration felt that it was too big a task to take up in the last few months of their administration. So President Obama has really stepped up and in a very commendable and decisive way has put a high priority on trying to have our administration, that is the executive branch of the government work with the legislative branch of the government, the Congress, to come up with a framework to guide America's participation.

Monica Trauzzi: How should this issue be addressed in the legislation?

John Warner: You know, I really am under the law precluded from trying to suggest that. I simply say that there are plenty of good minds up there. They understand the problem and I'm just hopeful that we will move forward this fall with a piece of legislation.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think that by bringing up national security concerns some people who may vote no on the bill might be swayed to vote yes?

John Warner: Again, my reason for working so diligently, with many others by the way, I mean the Pew Foundation is active, the Center for Naval Analysis, which is known for its work with the military, that's very active. You have other important charitable organizations here in town which are working on this. There's a whole group of us working together and we're putting together…for example, on this coming 30th of September we're bringing together all of the veterans organizations, that's Pew and Center for Naval Analysis and the Military Officers Association, bringing together all of the veterans organizations to tell them what the Department of Defense is doing now, how that correlates with the orders that the military active duty may get now and in the future to perform missions so that there's a greater understanding about the role of the military as it relates to our new energy policies and our new climate change policies.

Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk a bit more about this year's congressional debate on climate. The strategy is a bit different this time around than when you were there with the Lieberman-Warner bill. Looking at it from the outside, what are the Democrats doing right? What are they doing wrong? How would you assess the situation?

John Warner: I just have to kind of pull back because for two years a senator cannot in any way try to influence members of Congress in what they do. So all I can say is what's in the public domain, what I read, you read, and the public reads, it's clear to me that I think they're going to, in a very conscientious way, undertake to resolve such differences as exist and move together and put out a bill that hopefully will be voted favorably by both houses so that the United States, particularly in the forthcoming Copenhagen conference, you realize, 150 nations from all over the world are going to gather in December and we want to follow that role which the nations expect, the United States leading. And a legislative mandate by the Congress, signed into law by the president will go a long way to give credibility to the U.S. role.

Monica Trauzzi: Has the debate shifted since last year? Is there more forward momentum in Congress? I mean do you think it can actually get to the finish line this year?

John Warner: Well, that remains to be seen, but I can say that many more people now understand the complications and ramifications of erratic climate changes, how it's coupled with our new energy policy and they are paying attention to the subject. The public, and I've traveled extensively here, I've been to seven states here in the last two months, the public have a keen awareness that there are some problems and they're hopeful that the Congress can, working with the president, point a way for this country to lead.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it there.

John Warner: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Pleasure having you on the show. Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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