Enacting NATO Article 5 In Response To Climate Change

April 26, 2021


On Earth Day, Concentric hosted a purposefully provocative panel on the topic of Article 5 of NATO (collective self-defense) and the prospect of applying it to climate change.


Watch the full video:


Who took part in the webinar?

Moderated by Wall Street Journal Correspondent Vivian Salama, Concentric Founder, Roderick Jones, and CEO, Vice Admiral (Ret.) Mike LeFever, were joined by esteemed colleagues Michèle Flournoy and Lieutenant General (Ret.) Phil Jones. Michèle Flournoy is currently co-founder and managing partner of WestExec Advisors, and former co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from February 2009 to February 2012. She was the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations. Lieutenant General Jones served for 36 years in the British Army, with three secondments to the United Nations and two to NATO, and is now the managing director of Othrys Ltd.


Background Information

The timely and relevant discussion ran parallel to the first day of a climate summit hosted by President Biden in which 40 world leaders participated, including China and Russia. With the increasing threat of climate change, the need for collective action is obvious. On average, about 23 million people per year are displaced by weather-related storms, fires, and floods, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Hundreds of billions of tons of snow and ice are lost each year. Sea level rise is accelerating. In the last Paris Climate Accord, leaders set two goals to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) and, if possible, to limit it to no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) compared with pre-industrial temperatures. However, the world has already warmed almost 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius). With the recent change in US Administration, the US is resuming its position at the helm of the climate initiative. But not only are we late to the party, the US cannot set back the impacts alone, which means that this is going to require collective effort.


Has NATO ever been enacted before?

Article 5 of NATO has only been enacted once before in response to the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the US. Since 2001, the common enemy has transitioned to an “actor-less threat,” such as disinformation campaigns or cyber-attacks. At what point could we include climate change on the same level, as it exists as a risk to all?


Summary of expert opinions and recommendations

All panelists quickly concluded that while combating climate change will require a collective effort, and there are certainly parts of NATO that should be deeply involved in any initiative, Article 5 is not the right solution as it infers a more militaristic approach. Articles 2-4 were also discussed as they pertain to NATO resilience and preparedness, but the panelists concluded that while lessons can be learned from NATO collaboration and initiatives and NATO needs to be inherently involved in the push, a larger collaborative approach that involves both incentives and disincentives would be most advantageous.

Roderick Jones made the point that while the universality of climate change impact effects countries around the world almost equally, we only need to look to our recent past to see that universal problems to not infer universal solutions nor even collaboration. The COVID-19 vaccine deployment is a perfect example of a leveling problem that required immediate and comprehensive response that has, instead, turned into a nationalistic approach.

“We’ve just seen what has happened with vaccine nationalism, you would think because it’s a global emergency everyone would open source the data around that, so that everyone can have the same advantages, but it’s been tripped over by this nationalistic moment in the world,” Jones said. This is not to say that we could not utilize this as another opportunity for collaborative effort. He continued, “There’s only really collective action and alliance structures that help to deal with a global problem. You can see the areas we don’t have that, like cyberwar and cybercrime, and other issues that we face collectively. The only way around it is an actually substantial treaty and a kind of almost throwback to the kind of work done by the United States post Second World War.”

Mike LeFever brought his personal experience with NATO response in Pakistan to bear: “Back in 2005 when the devastating earthquake in Pakistan that had killed 78,000, injured 177,000, and left 3.5 million people homeless with winter coming, there was a time that NATO actually came together and sent forces outside the NATO area to support a humanitarian disaster relief scenario. I would propose that as we see climate change effect the different regions, this might be a potential model that would trigger NATO to look at the ability to influence and use its resources to assist.” Considering climate change in a similar vein that would require a similar response from NATO and could present the same comprehensive and collaborative effort that Vice Admiral LeFever experienced in Pakistan.

Michèle Flournoy stated that although NATO is traditionally a military response, there are military efforts that could be conducted that would significantly impact the industry and raise the level of standards to one that is “green.”

“The Department of Defense is the largest real estate owner in the country, it’s the largest operator of fleets of vehicles, it’s the largest owner of facilities and housing, and it has one of the largest research and development budgets in the government. If you were to take the DoD as part of a broader platform and say, ‘I want to accelerate the creation of a market for electric vehicles, green construction, or green electricity’, it’s such a large platform and it basically can be controlled by executive order, if you can get Congress to go along with some of the funding.”

Phil Jones, with his extensive NATO experience, readily admitted that “US is at least 75% of NATO,” meaning that when US takes the initiative on a mission, NATO is bound the follow. While “NATO is not the answer to the question entirely, it can help.” Lieutenant General Jones emphasized the amount of insight NATO can provide from not only collective response efforts in its history, but also the nature of collaborative efforts. “…There needs to be the underpinning architecture behind these climate treaties to allow the implementation to succeed,” he said.

Our elite panelists were eager to offer tangible solutions. Michèle Flournoy specifically stated that first, government scenarios need to revolve around the prospect of climate change so that policy makers can be better informed and second, “one of the most powerful things you can do to align incentives is to put a price on carbon.” Roderick Jones agreed that it is a natural progression to add a “carbon label” to certain countries that produce things with carbon and make it more expensive.

What was left up in the air, however, was the approach the collective “we” should take in regard to green technology. “Do we maintain the competitive market advantage, or do we share these technologies worldwide?” Flournoy asked. Roderick Jones agreed that the most realistic solution is applying the market to the problem, but expressed remorse that it would “cut away the opportunity for a more global solution.”

All panelists expressed relief that the US had not only returned to the discussion but was prioritizing bipartisan and cross-nation collective response. After 4 years of the US ignoring and belittling the problem, we have work to do in resuming our active participation in the solution, which includes putting solutions in effect that are irreversible if the next Administration decides on different priorities. As Roderick Jones stated, we need to “keep America in the debate of our time.”

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