Army's Intel Officer: Climate change growing threat for Army, partners

Army’s Top Intel Officer: Climate change growing threat
File photo of then-Maj. Gen. Laura A. Potter speaks during the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence change-of-command ceremony at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Photo credit Karen Sampson/US Army

As the operational strategic environment grows more complex, the Army’s top intelligence officer said another threat must be considered: Mother Nature.

Climate change and natural disasters have increasingly become factors in the operations of the Army and its partner nations. From rising seawaters in the Artic that make waterways more navigable to violent storms that threaten the security of foreign allies, the Army must evaluate the impacts of natural phenomena, said Lt. Gen. Laura Potter, Army deputy chief of staff, G-2.

In the Arctic, temperatures of permafrost have risen above air temperatures and could potentially release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Potter said the melting of permafrost, which comprises 24% of land mass surfaces in the northern hemisphere according to the Arctic Institute, could impact military operations of allies.

“We consider that a national security problem,” Potter said during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report Wednesday. “You look at the impact of the changes to the permafrost and an increasingly navigable waterway, or if you look at the archipelagos and the threats of rising water levels, those become potential security challenges for those countries. And they certainly impact how the [U.S.] Army would have to operate.”

Potter said strengthening ties with allies and partners is one of four areas of focus for the Army, and discussed how obstacles that impact allies could possibly affect Army interests.

The other areas of focus are readiness, people and modernization. The general announced G-2’s new mission statement, which states that it delivers to the Army “a modern, ready and sustained intelligence and security enterprise through executing transformational change during competition, crisis and conflict as part of the joint force.”

Potter said the new statement reflects how G-2 mans, trains and equips the Army’s intelligence force as well as merges intelligence and cybersecurity elements.

Potter acknowledged that Iran, Russia and China will continue to remain threats to the Army and that international collaboration will grow increasingly important to defend against those nations. But the Army must also consider the potential dangers of transnational criminal organizations and terrorism in the host nations of overseas installations.

“This is part of a long, enduring challenge that our nation is going to have to face and our allies and partners are going to have to face,” Potter said. “Even though they have made advances as we have in developing our counterterrorism capability, those are threats that aren't going to go away.”

Seeing the impact of COVID-19 on partner nations helped the Army gain an understanding of how a pandemic can affect an already-vulnerable partner nation, Potter said. She said that the Army should remain mindful of how a nation’s stability could potentially change quickly.

“I think what we're going to see are countries that we assume are stable and then sort of trend towards that fragility dynamic, if we're not careful,” she said.

In its focus on people, G-2 will prioritize building unified, cohesive teams competent in each of their specialties, as the Military Intelligence Corps often deploys in such units. Potter said that analysts must become skilled in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Finally, she said G-2 must grow in its diversity in regards to race and gender.