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“Refugees and Climate Change: A Cause for Hope?” - Part IV: Climate Change, Refugees, and National Security

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“Refugees and Climate Change: A Cause for Hope?” - Part IV: Climate Change, Refugees, and National Security


J. David Thompson


This is the fourth paper in a five-part series. Part I: Introduction can be found here. Part II: Case Studies can be found here, and Part III: Climate Displacement and Economic Policy can be found here.


Climate Change, Refugees, and National Security


The 2015 National Security Strategy cited climate change as one of the major threats to the United States. It was right up there with aggression by Russia, challenges in cybersecurity, and outbreaks of infectious diseases.[i] It even listed climate change as one of the most significant risks facing the U.S.[ii] Other risks on that same list included: catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland, attacks against U.S. citizens abroad, global economic crisis, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global infectious diseases outbreak, energy market disruption, and effects of weak and failing States.[iii] “Climate change” appeared fourteen times in the 2015 National Security Strategy. For reference, “terrorism” appeared seventeen times, “Russia” fifteen times, “China” twelve, and “Iran” eleven. 


In 2014, the Department of Defense released the 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. It referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier.”[iv] Former Republican Senator and Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, stated, “[r]ising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.”[v] The first sentence stated, “[c]limate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.”[vi] Clearly, climate change constituted a national security threat, recognized at the highest levels in the U.S. Government.


Even though climate change was such a key tenet of national security and awareness continued to grow after 2015, “climate change” appeared exactly zero times in the 2017 National Security Strategy. Comparatively, “Russia” appeared twenty-five times, “China” thirty-three times, “Iran” seventeen, and “Islamist” nine. Between 2015 and 2017, major threats to the world did not change too much, but those in charge did. Many of the things identified in 2015 continued to pose significant threats. Failing to address them does not make them go away.


An interesting aspect is that climate change is recognized as a global issue that threatens all countries to varying degrees. However, security is something that each country views through a national lense. There are a number of multilateral organizations to address global or regional issues—United Nations, NATO, European Union, etc. Some States claim an inability to take climate change without full participation of every country. Yet, States always rely more heavily on their own when looking at security. This is not really surprising, but it is interesting.


In recent years, politicians—domestically and abroad—sought political points by making allegations that refugees pose a national security threat. There is a rise in domestic, nationalist movements across the globe: Italy’s Five Star movement, Hungary, Austria, Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland, Brexit, Marine Le Pen in France, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Donald Trump, and more. These parties spout misinformation, seeking to synomize “refugee” with “Muslim” and “Muslim” with “terrorist.” The problem with misinformation is that people think they are informed. People generally realize when they are uninformed and acknowledge such.


The threats around refugees come despite arguments in favor of greater refugee response from senior national security personnel. In response to President Trump’s refugee ban, over 115 senior national security officials published a letter against the ban.[vii] These officials include: Susan Rice (former National Security Advisor), Michael Hayden (former Director of National Intelligence, Director of Central Intelligence, Director of National Security Agency, and retired General of the Air Force), Madeleine Albright (former Secretary of State), Janet Napolitano (former Director of Homeland Security), and more. One of the main points was that it provides people and organizations malign to U.S. interests with a recruitment narrative. Another argument presented is that refugees undergo the toughest screening to enter the United States.


Public comments aside, the United States continues to be the largest single donor to the United Nations Refugee Agency. These statements hold true through both Republican and Democratic administrations. The U.S. is currently eighth in per capita contributions to UNHCR. The chart below shows voluntary contributions from the U.S. Government to UNHCR from 2012 to 2018:[viii] [ix]


Further, until recently, the U.S. resettled more refugees than all other countries combined. From 2003 to 2018, there has been 1,011,126 refugee resettlements globally.[x] Of these, the United States resettled 641,452 refugees.[xi] A per year breakdown is:[xii]







Yet, in the U.S., resettled refugees committed zero terror attacks. The chance of a U.S. citizen being murdered by a resettled refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion.[xiii] The chance of a U.S. citizen of being murdered by an illegal alien is 1 in 10.9 billion.[xiv] Meanwhile, the chance of a U.S. citizen being murdered by a person on a B visa is 1 in 3.6 million.[xv] The facts clearly indicate that refugee response is one of the safest programs that the U.S. Government has to promote its interest.


End Notes


[i] United States, and Barack Obama, National Security Strategy of the United States, introduction.

[ii] Id at 2.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Department of Defense, 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, Foreword.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id at 1.

[vii] Albright, M. et al, Letter to Secretary Kelly, Acting Secretary Yates, and Acting Secretary Shannon.

[viii] Information derived from UNHCR Donor Profiles,

[ix] Private citizens are quite generous to UNHCR, too. In 2017, the U.S. contributed the second highest amount to UNHCR in private sector income.

[x] Information derived from UNHCR Resettlement Data Finder,

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Nowrasteh, A., Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis. 

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

About the Author(s)

J. David Thompson is a Civil Affairs Major. He has a Juris Doctorate from Washington Lee School of Law. He also holds a BS in Economics and MBA-Leadership from Liberty University. Outside the military, he's worked at the UN Refugee Agency, Department of Defense, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. Follow him on Twitter @jdthompson910


If we start with the premise attributed to President Trump -- to wit: that "economic security IS national security" ( ), then we must come to understand that:

a.  Such things as immigration and refugees are to be understood as "good things."  And that, accordingly,

b.  President Trump has an agenda which, in fact, seems to be relate to something other than "economic security." (And, thus, something other than "national security?")

In this regard, consider the following re: our nation's Supreme Court (expanded from my initial offering at Part III of this series):

BEGIN QUOTE (Here, see the section at the end of Page 698) 

Even more telling than its use of elite opinion in "Lawrence" was the Court's unembarrassed reliance on elite views to determine the scope of a highly contested constitutional antidiscrimination norm in "Grutter." Relying extensively on amicus briefs submitted by elite corporate, military, and educational authorities, Justice O'Connor, writing for the majority, asserted the following:

"[M]ajor American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed though exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints. What is more, high-ranking retired officers and civilian leaders of the United States military assert that, "[based on [their] decades of experience," a "highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps ... is essential to the military's ability to fulfill its principle mission to provide national security." The primary sources for the Nation's officer corps are the service academies and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), the latter comprising students already admitted to participating colleges and universities. At present, "the military cannot achieve an officer corps that is both highly qualified and racially diverse unless the service academies and the ROTC used limited race-conscious recruiting and admissions policies." 

Moreover, universities, and in particular, law schools, represent the training ground for a large number of our Nation's leaders. Individuals with law degrees occupy roughly half the state governorships, more than half the seats in the United States Senate, and more than a third of the seats in the United States House of Representatives.

In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity. All members of our heterogeneous society must have confidence in the openness and integrity of the educational institutions that provide this training."  ... 

(Next: See section at the end of Page 702) 

"Grutter" reflects the Court's deference to elite concerns in yet another way: not so much in forming a national elite that possesses "legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry" as in meeting the business needs created by competition in "today's increasingly global marketplace." The Court seems to have accepted the elite judgment that in order to remain vigorously competitive in the international arena, American business must select its leadership cadres from the entire range of racial and ethnic backgrounds found within the Nation's population, so that the increased diversity within those cadres would at least roughly match the diverse population of the "global marketplace" at large. Elite formation would still be conducted in terms of "merit"-based selection principles, but "merit" would now be defined in terms of a competitive advantage in an expanded, more thoroughly globalized, market. Thus, affirmation action, understood and applied in this manner, has fundamentally different goals from the Court's Cold War-era project of desegregation. Desegregation served the needs of a Nation State that was attempting to be "the provider and guarantor of [individual] equality." In large part, desegregation was an effort to assimilate minorities into the dominant national group, thus forging a national people that could meet the external Communist enemy with a united front, and so denying that enemy any opportunity to exploit potentially dangerous rifts within the Nation. Affirmative action, as upheld in "Grutter", is also thought to serve the Nation's strategic needs, but in an international environment that is markedly different from the Cold War. No longer does the Court feel a need to foster a national unity that transcends racial consciousness or to further the assimilation of racial minorities . Such strategic needs have passed, together with the passing of the Cold War's chief external threat. Thus the "Grutter" Court could view the prospect of multiculturalism with equanimity despite the fact that, as Bobbitt correctly perceives, multiculturalism makes it "increasingly difficult" for a Nation State "to get consensus on public-order problems and the maintenance of rule-based legal action." Rather than regarding the rise of multiculturalism as a liability that had the potential to weaken or even fracture the Nation, the Court saw it as an asset to be exploited for all the advantages it could bring American businesses in their international transactions.


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

If "economic security" is, indeed, "national security" today -- as President Trump seems to suggest -- then it would seem that we must go in much the same direction -- re: such things as immigation and refugees -- and for much the same reasons -- as has (a) the U.S. Supreme Court of late and, this, (b) in consulation with American "elites" (or, should we say, our "experts" -- see "corporate, military and educational" leaders above). 

If, however, "national security" is no longer our concern or focus today -- but rather the security of certain esconced ethnic, cultural and/or religious groups -- then, indeed, we may be able to (a) disregard the recommendations of America's national security "elites"/"experts"/"stakeholders" and (b) place our economy (and thus our national security) in the non-competitive "toilet"/"trash bin" accordingly?