An NIE on climate change?

Recently Congress (including my Representative, Ed Markey) has directed the Intelligence Community (IC) to write up a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on global climate change. Michael Tanji, at Haft of the Spear, thinks this is a dumb idea for the following reasons:
First, if you trust the science the IPCC has already provided everyone with a comprehensive study of what climate change is doing to the planet. This is wheel reinvention.

Secondly, in 30 years the world’s oceans are supposed to rise what, an inch? Six? Sub-Saharan Africa gets two degrees hotter? Ten? The timeframe is too short to make effective strategic assessments (had there been an NIE from the 70s when we thought the planet was freezing that would be a nice lesson-learned to use).

Third, even if it ends up being the world’s best friggin’ study on climate change, totally free of bias and objective to a fault, someone isn’t going to like it, they’ll leak it, and it’ll become a political football that renders effective decision-making impossible.

Fourth, of all the tools of statecraft one could employ to address climate change, intel is the least effective of them all. Where is Commerce? Justice? Agriculture? HHS? HUD? These are the elements that should be working up plans to be employed (or not) by potential expeditionary forces (a’la Barnett’s Dept. of Everything Else).

Finally, we already have studies on every country, every political party, every sub-state group, every key individual in the world; we are better off injecting the impact of climate change into standing scenarios to determine how people will react/decisions will be made/events that will be spawned.
I disagree with Michael - I think an NIE on climate change is overdue. I'll answer his concerns point by point.

1) His first concern, that the IC would be re-issuing the IPCC report, is off-base because, as the text of the law says, the NIE will focus not on climate change itself, but on the geopolitical effects of climate change. The IC will prepare the NIE "using the mid-range projections of the fourth assessment report of the [IPCC]." This wouldn't be reinventing the wheel, it'd be building on it (if that metaphor makes any sense).

2) While certainly climate change exists over a period longer than thirty years, I don't think it's really plausible to try to plan more than thirty years ahead. In the last thirty years, we had five different presidents and ten different Directors of National Intelligence (counting the DCI as a DNI before the latter position existed). Given the lack of continuity in our government, plus the difficulty of predicting the different ways climate change could pan out in the future, I'd say even thirty years is optimistic.

3) All NIEs on politically sensitive issues have the potential to become political footballs, such as the NIE on Iraq's WMD programs. This is inevitable, but in my opinion shouldn't be a reason against doing the NIE in the first place.

4) An NIE really isn't a tool of statecraft the way I see it. The NIE should instead help Congress improve it's decisions when it comes to issues relating to climate change, as well as helping other departments, such as Commerce, Agriculture, etc., achieve "decision advantage"* over their competitors abroad.

5) I agree that issues like climate change need to be considered as part of country studies, etc., but when Congress is drafting legislation on climate change, they don't want to go through every single report the IC has to find the relevant bits on climate change - they want it all in one document.

All in all, I guess I really don't see anything wrong with the IC helping the President and Congress make better decisions when it comes to foreign policy even if those decisions aren't directed against other states or hostile organizations. Some will always say that climate change issues aren't the IC's "core competencies", but that ignores two things - a) in a constantly changing world, the IC's core competency (as far as analysis goes) should be learning rather than specific technical or analytical areas of expertise, and b) when the world changes, the IC needs to keep up; when one of the biggest threats to peace and security might be climate change, the IC needs to develop expertise in that area rather than hyping Chinese fighters 30 years behind our own.

* "Decision advantage" comes from this idea:
"‘Intelligence’ is best understood as the collection, analysis and dissemination of information by parties in conflict or competition. What turns the simple pursuit of information into the business of intelligence is its purpose: gaining competitive advantage over adversaries. This goal fuels the desire for specific, urgent and often secret knowledge as well as a systematic way of obtaining it in time to win the contest. Given that the context is competition, such ‘decision advantages’ can be acquired in two ways: by getting better information for one’s strategy than one’s opponents gain for theirs, or by degrading the competitors’ decision-making through denial, disruption, deception, or surprise." Jennifer Sims. "Intelligence to counter terror: The importance of
all-source fusion
."

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1 comment:

Harry said...

Your point one is good. I suppose there will be an increase in environmental refugees as the seas rise.