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Foreign Policy Analysis
Disaster Risk Reduction: The Roles of Diplomacy and the Intelligence Community – Dr. Chad Briggs

Disaster Risk Reduction: The Roles of Diplomacy and the Intelligence Community – Dr. Chad Briggs


I’d make a distinction, first of all, between the intelligence community and the military community. The intelligence community had very good tools to deal with issues such
as climate change and climate security and were one of the first groups in the US to address this seriously. In large part, that was because there is a red line
between doing the assessment and prescribing policy, meaning that the
intelligence community could give warnings but would not be responsible
for giving policy prescriptions. I think that’s actually useful distinction
because too often, if people want to be influential in policy, they may backtrack
and then water down the warnings because they want to make sure there’s a clear
link between what they’re warning and what they’re able to accomplish. And just
looking at the most likely scenarios, we end up underestimating how bad it’s
going to be. The reason for that is because if we base most probabilities on
historical records, we’re outside of the historical records, we’ve shifted all the
boundary conditions of environmental systems. We find that disasters are now
coming up that we’ve never found before. And what the what the intelligence and
military communities can do is to give a very realistic assessment of: here are the
vulnerable points in the system, here are the critical nodes we have to protect
somehow. And we need to focus on those critical nodes for not only where things
will get overwhelmed but we need to be able to identify the early warning
signals. So are there bits of information, are there other sorts of weak signals
ahead of time that we can interpret? Otherwise it might just pass by in a
scientific journal or a news article – well, that doesn’t seem very important. So, specifically for disasters, we can define these either as discrete disasters, like typhoon high on, which then overrun certain cities in the Philippines
and the US then has responsibility to send in the 3rd Marine Expeditionary
Unit. Those are the traditional sorts of responses. But we can also have complex
disasters in which we have multiple things happening at once. And we need to
ensure that our allies, that our friends are not overwhelmed by these issues,
that they can understand that someone will come to help them, but
also to work in advance. These are projects that for example the US Pacific
Command have worked on for years where they’ll do disaster scenarios in advance, link it perhaps to things like climate
change and then have everyone from across the Pacific work together to game
these issues so that ahead of time everyone knows: ok, if we have a disaster
here in Samoa who gets called, if you pick up the phone who are you
actually gonna call and who has the capabilities to respond. And we don’t
think that it’s always going to be the US – why not China, why not the US
and China both intervening in a place like Indonesia. Those sorts
of discussions in advance, they not only help increase our disaster response
capabilities but they also have these diplomatic benefits as well, of countries
actually talking to one another about technical benefits so that we think of
climate security not just as something that’s going to destabilize and cause
conflict but if we start ahead of time we can create this dialogue in which we
form these structures, we form these networks, we form this understanding and protocols so that these conflicts don’t occur in the first place. And for the US
military, they see themselves of warfighters first. Of course, if they are ordered by the
President to go to disaster response, they will do this because they have the
capabilities but what they would prefer to see is advanced warning so they can go to the State Department, they can go to US Aid, they can go to other international
organizations and say: Here are the things that you need to do to strengthen
governance to come up with, whether it’s trans-boundary water agreements between China and India, whether it’s agreements for intervention in airfield use in
Vietnam. These are the things we need to do in advance and only the diplomatic corps
or related agencies can do this. The military may have a role in warning
about what might happen in the future but ultimately I think the
confidence-building, the diplomatic networks – those have to be held by the
other agencies such as the Foreign Ministries, the US State Department and so forth.

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