NATO’s southern flank is under attack – by forest fires

NATO allies on its southern flank are battling the wildfires raging in member states including Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and Croatia, posing a new challenge for their security. The current phase of climate change shows just how dangerous it could be.

The Mediterranean is one of the regions most affected by climate change and has been a hotspot of forest fires since the end of July. Although climate change and global warming are not the only causes, they remain important contributing factors. The number and scale of new environmental challenges such as forest fires is increasing every year and becoming more difficult to fight. Extreme heat waves, high winds and wild storms make extinguishing fires an almost insurmountable task for firefighters.

Forest fires damage ecosystems, which could exacerbate the effects of climate change. They also have devastating effects on economies and tourism sectors in the Mediterranean; many villages and seaside resorts have been evacuated in recent weeks. In addition to the environmental and economic impacts, these forest fires have an impact on the security of NATO‘s southern flank.

NATO has actively adapted its planning and operations to the future security environment, recognizing that military might will not be the only source of new emerging threats. Climate change is one of the challenges that NATO Heads of State have highlighted as a major constraint that will further shape the future security environment in areas of NATO interest.

NATO’s Agenda 2030 ensures that the alliance remains ready to face present and future challenges, including climate change and related natural disasters. Climate change is defined as a threat multiplier that impacts the security of the alliance. NATO protects the territories and peoples of its allies against any attack or threat to Euro-Atlantic security. Resilience is essential for credible deterrence and defense and for the effective performance of NATO’s core tasks.

Climate change is testing resilience and civilian preparedness.

It can affect the resilience of military installations and critical infrastructure by creating more difficult conditions for operations.

NATO aims to become one of the leading international organizations focused on the impact of climate change on security. The Allies have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their military and political structures. Member State leaders have also launched a regular high-level climate and security dialogue to coordinate future actions. NATO leaders reiterated their commitment to strengthen NATO’s ability to deal with threats and challenges emanating from the south, including the Mediterranean, by improving the preparedness of their forces for any threat.

NATO’s readiness and training to deter potential threats across the region is critical. NATO must be prepared to operate in all conditions, including extreme heat and cold, rising sea levels and natural disasters.

The forest fires are a climate catastrophe that has caught some NATO allies off guard.

NATO’s support for combating forest fires could help its allies become more resilient in the face of these new threats and security challenges. It could also help build the resilience of NATO’s southern flank.

NATO is no stranger to relief operations after extreme events, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) provided medical, logistical and food supplies to the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. NATO also provided food and medical care, deployed engineers and medical units, and participated in relief operations after an earthquake in Pakistan in 2005. NATO’s EADRCC played a role. crucial in the coordination of supplies among NATO allies battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to EADRCC-led NATO relief operations, NATO could play an important role by deploying fire extinguisher helicopters, firefighting planes and other related equipment such as fire trucks and tankers to his allies in need. These forest fires broke out in many different places at the same time, making aerial response difficult with a limited number of fire planes and helicopters and other equipment. NATO should consider purchasing more of these essential vehicles and tools to help its allies in need.

NATO urgently needs to adapt to new challenges and prepare plans to help its allies most exposed to natural disasters due to climate change.

The reality is that in the decades to come, extreme heatwaves will continue and climate-related disasters will occur more often than expected, leaving people less time to recover in between. NATO’s southern flank in the Mediterranean will likely be the hardest hit. NATO can and must play an important role in tackling the current crisis and helping its allies plan more concrete actions to become more resilient in the future. This seems essential to ensure the security of NATO’s southern flank.

Aylin Unver Noi is a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network and Associate Professor in International Relations at Halic University in Istanbul. From 2014 to 2018, she was a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University SAIS.

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