A “precariously unprepared” Pentagon? Climate security beliefs and decision-making in the U.S. military

Mackenzie Burnett, Katharine J. Mach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing evidence suggests that climate change poses direct and indirect threats to national and human security. However, the degree to which such knowledge of the risks informs decision-making remains poorly understood for key security communities, including the U.S. Department of Defense. Here, through document analysis and interviews with climate security researchers and practitioners from the U.S. military community, we evaluate perceptions about and the degree to which (i) these individuals believe climate change is a threat to U.S. national security interests, and (ii) the U.S. Department of Defense integrates climate security science into its decision-making. Our research suggests a complex answer. Public statements and reports indicate U.S. Department of Defense leadership considers climate change a security threat of strategic importance, and most researchers interviewed believe the U.S. Department of Defense prioritizes climate security as a near-term threat. However, evidence of climate security threats is only selectively integrated into planning and decision-making. Interviews suggest several barriers and enablers to evidence-based decision-making within the U.S. Department of Defense. Barriers include mixed beliefs in the near-term urgency of the threat, changing political environments, and insufficient co-production of actionable science across the levels of war, including issues of data collection, sharing, and analysis. Enablers include increased awareness after climate-related impacts, strong leadership support, and knowledge transfer and convening forums. Improved insight into the production and use of climate security knowledge is crucial for the task of safeguarding human and national security in a changing climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102345
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Actionable knowledge
  • Climate change
  • Co-production
  • Decision-making
  • National security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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