In 2007, CNA Corporation wrote, "climate change is a threat multiplier in already fragile regions, exacerbating conditions that lead to failed states -- the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism." In 2010, the Pentagon followed suit, writing in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that global warming impacts and disasters will "act as an accelerant of instability or conflict." In fact, the Pentagon has already started war-gaming climate change, to prepare for the effect it will have on our commitments around the world if that instability comes to pass.
Now, this summer, we are seeing the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg of what's to come, with the flooding in Pakistan. The catastrophic floods that hit the country this year have killed more than 1,500 people, left 4 million homeless, millions more displaced, and left one-fifth of the country under water. As organizations begin to set up aide efforts, the threat of terrorists groups capitalizing on the disaster for recruitment purposes increases, potentially putting America's mission in Afghanistan in peril.
According to Reuters, "Islamist charities, some with suspected ties to militants, stepped in... to provide aid for Pakistanis hit by the worst flooding in memory, piling pressure on a government criticized for its response to the disaster."
That's right. As thousands of people flee Pakistan's most populist areas because of the flooding, terrorists could be stepping in where the government has not -- winning chits with the public that they could cash in at a later date.
Think terrorists can't pretend to be nice people when it suits them? Look no further than the Palestinian territories, where for years, Hamas has taken care of many social services, and provided for the families of suicide bombers and other terrorists. The result? Hamas won open elections in the territories, and now controls Gaza.
So, yes, that's happening right there in Pakistan. Reports CNN, "An official with Falah-e-Insaniyat, a group widely believed to be the charity wing of a Pakistani terrorist group, said Shah, the USAID administrator, visited a camp the group was running. Kuaateeb Ullah, Falah-e-Insaniyat's leader in Sukkur, said the charity is running five camps in the Sindhi city and providing food and medicine to 3,500 flood survivors. He told CNN that Jumaat Ud Dawa, banned by the United Nations and the Pakistani government as a terrorist organization, was helping fund the relief missions."
Not a good development in a country where the US is already seen as the enemy by every 6 out of 10 people.
Now, imagine global climate change hitting places like Pakistan again and again and again. Floods in some regions. Abnormally hot temperatures in others, killing vegetation and spreading disease. General misery among the people. A perfect place for al Qaeda and groups connected to it to step in and help, winning sympathy -- if not outright converts. At a time when we need Pakistan to put the squeeze on al Qaeda, the terrorist group could easily be gaining breathing room.
Further, the potential for regional conflict expands greatly. What if Pakistanis have to move further and further towards India, a country with an already itchy red-button finger? Or if Bangladeshis do? It's a nuclear powder keg that is in our own national security interest to contain. That means an even greater commitment of troops to the region, just to try to keep the peace.
Yes, we were warned. At VoteVets.org, those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan joined the fight, running ad after ad after ad supporting a Clean Energy Climate Change plan -- one that gets serious about reversing global climate change. The forces of the status quo (read: "Big Oil") won the most recent battle, by successfully delaying consideration of the bill in the Senate.
Unfortunately, for them and for us, no amount of campaign cash and lobbying will stop the coming humanitarian and national security catastrophe we're getting a glimpse of this summer.
The question now is: Do Washington politicians even give a damn?
Follow Jon Soltz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonsoltz