Climate security can help bring the United States and France closer together

After the UKUS Defense Pact strained ties between Washington and Paris in September, Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron appeared to make concrete progress in fixing things in Rome last month. Today, there is new momentum to foster cooperation where the two countries share mutual interests – and one area worth exploring, but so far overlooked, is climate security. It has the potential to both reduce tensions and make concrete progress on bilateral cooperation. As the French Ambassador to the United States Philip Etienne said when speaking of AUKUS: “Every crisis is an opportunity.

Often deployed side-by-side, the two countries are well aware of the challenges posed by climate imbalance, both in terms of adaptation and mitigation, and their armies are among the few to take this increasingly into account in their strategic thinking, their operational planning and capabilities. building. While the US Department of Defense last month released its Climate Adaptation Plan and Defense Climate Risk Analysis Report – along with a sustainability report and upcoming implementation plan – the France has published several strategies in recent years related to green defense and climate security, more recently the defense energy strategy and a plan to preserve biodiversity. In 2015, it launched the Defense and Climate Observatory to analyze the geopolitical and security issues generated by climate change. However, France does not have a comprehensive strategy encompassing all dimensions of climate security. The next bilateral strategic dialogue between France and the United States could thus address this issue. This would send the political signal that climate security is a high-level priority and lead to bilateral expert working groups. This would be an opportunity to share assessments on the impact of climate change on threat analysis in order to foster a common understanding. These kinds of discussions would feed strategic thinking in the two countries, influencing the future national defense strategy of the United States and helping the French Ministry of the Armed Forces to finally produce a real climate defense strategy.

The two countries took a step in the right direction to foster cooperation this month at the Paris Peace Forum, where they signed a “joint declaration on climate change and the armed forces” with twenty-three others. country by recognizing the need “to play our part in the fight against climate change as well as to prepare our forces for the impacts of climate change and the energy transition. Indeed, the two parties recognize the need for cooperation: in 2015, France organized the first international ministerial convention on climate and defense, while a role soon to be created within the US Department of Defense will oversee the response to climate change and could be particularly engaged. to engage its partners around the world. It is now necessary to translate these declarations into concrete actions.

While the two countries stand ready to engage their partners in building the capacity needed to jointly address the dangers of climate change, they must coordinate through regular dialogue to ensure that these investments are allocated in the way. the most efficient.

Any enhanced bilateral cooperation should also include other partners, be they NATO, the European Union (EU) or other regional bodies. France and the United States are already participating in the Pacific Environmental Security Forum, which brings together military, civilian agencies and non-governmental organizations from Pacific countries to forge environmental solutions. The US and France should prioritize increased climate cooperation between the EU and NATO, and right now the two organizations are accelerating (with the EU’s climate change and defense roadmap and plan action on climate change and security, for example). In this joint effort, the EU could be seen as a strategic partner of NATO. The United States and France are also expected to formally support Canada’s proposal to host a NATO Center of Excellence on Climate and Security. This center could be conceived as the Hybrid Center of Excellence based in Finland, which is a platform for both NATO and the EU.

At the same time, adapting their missions, infrastructures, equipment and training to the effects of climate change is another challenge for the American and French armed forces. Here’s how they can improve on each point:

1. Missions: The French and American armed forces often conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and will do more in the future. To do this effectively, each country must know what capabilities the other has (and where they are) to provide military assistance in fires, hurricanes or other natural disasters. The difficult coordination of operations between the Netherlands, France and the UK after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean in 2017 led to the creation of the Multinational Caribbean Coordination Cell, aimed at streamlining air efforts and maritime to deliver aid. Wherever the need arises, France and the United States, along with other partners, could foster such flexible cooperation to better coordinate their capabilities. France and the United States could lead such an effort in the South Pacific, for example, an opportunity for renewed cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in the post-AUKUS context.

2. Infrastructures: Infrastructure risk assessments are a priority for both countries. France is particularly concerned about its overseas operations in the South Pacific and West Africa, where the effects of climate change are more significant. For its part, the United States will also complete a climate exposure assessment of all of its major overseas facilities by April 2022. There is much to be gained from increased dialogue on how to conduct such analyzes, in particular on how to limit the vulnerability of critical infrastructures.

3. Equipment: On this challenge, taking into account the impacts of climate change must play a more important role in the design and modernization of key equipment, from soldiers’ clothing to sonars. While the French Directorate General for Armaments is currently examining this issue, the US Department of Defense also recognizes that the success of the mission “will depend on … forces, equipment and capabilities designed to adapt to and withstand adverse effects. more extreme environments “. The two countries could thus find synergies in industrial cooperation.

4. Training: The French army has already participated in five exercises with Arctic countries in extremely cold conditions, and it was the second participant (excluding host countries, Sweden, Finland and Norway) in exercise Arctic Challenge 2019 The United States, which trains regularly in such conditions, was the most important. In May, the Pentagon also hosted the first edition of its climate and environmental security simulation exercise, Elliptic Thunder. Future exercises should include greater involvement of allies and partners, according to Annalize Blum, senior climate advisor at the Pentagon.

The United States and France are determined to move forward after AUKUS by strengthening cooperation. They are also already committed to tackling climate change at the security level, bearing in mind that operational efficiency must be maintained at all times. Cooperation on climate security, while being beneficial for their strategic thinking and future operations, can strengthen this essential bilateral partnership.


Marie Jourdain is a guest researcher at the European Center of the Atlantic Council and previously worked for the General Directorate of International Relations and Strategy of the French Ministry of Defense.

Further reading

Image: US President Joe Biden shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland on Monday, November 1, 2021. Photo via Reuters.

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