Climate Security, Great Power Competition, and Adversarial Geopolitics in Southeast Asia

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Project Details


This project explores the two strategic challenges identified in the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Security Strategy: strategic competition and shared security challenges – climate change being the most critical. 

Over the past 10 years, Southeast Asia has witnessed the deterioration of democracy, evocative geopolitical and economic pressure from China, and increased vulnerability to climate change. The mutual interactions of these compounding predicaments and asymmetric threats are at the heart of emerging security challenges in new domains across Southeast Asia. Considering Southeast Asia is critical to U.S. national security and economic well-being, the negative consequences of climate change from increased food, water, and energy insecurity to sizable climate migration are likely to resound globally, serving as a strategic challenge for the U.S. and its allies. 

We know climate change is reshaping geostrategic, operational, and tactical environments with significant implications for U.S. national security and defense. So navigating Southeast Asian climate security challenges requires an enhanced understanding of the consequences of current regional geopolitical shifts and environmental trends. As a threat multiplier, climate change can exacerbate existing social, political, and economic tensions. Our goal is to map the relations of these tensions as they play out against a backdrop of intense strategic rivalry between China and the US.

Our aim, then, is to demonstrate how the broader geopolitics of climate (in)security in Southeast Asia might be made more visible and begin to consider what types of indicators, measures, and scientific practices can be used to understand its complex relations.

  • Objective #1: Investigate geopolitical discourses that are called upon to stabilize and legitimate political and military projects of authoritarian state (re-)making in Southeast Asia to better understand how democratic backsliding impacts regional climate security.
  • Objective #2: Advance adversarial geopolitics as a framework to explore the ways GPC either reinforces or weakens Southeast Asian states’ capacity and capability to respond to the near-future asymmetric threat of climate change.  
  • Objective #3: Advance environmental geopolitics as a theoretical framework to better understand how the increasing stress of climate change will affect food-energy-water systems and human security in Southeast Asia. 
  • Objective #4: Examine the role of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a strategy in GPC in Southeast Asia and its impact on the regions’ decision-making related to economic development and climate change mitigation goals.
  • Objective #5: Investigate alternative geopolitical discourses that promote the role of the environment in peacebuilding and inter-state cooperation, not just as an accelerant of instability.

Exercising a mixed-methodology, we will combine participatory qualitative research, which includes initial desk research, key informant interviews with climate security experts, fieldwork to engage local participation and collaboration in data collection and analysis, and an international workshop to connect key stakeholders with a vested interest in analyzing climate security and strategic competition.

Our resulting deliverables will produce a diverse, rigorous analytical tool kit for making meaningful investigations into geopolitical trends and climate change across spatial scale – from state-level geostrategy to everyday lived experience.

Additionally, we will employ geospatial analysis and cyber-cartography, to create an open-source climate security geospatial atlas demonstrating how geospatial methods can be applied to study and analyze climate security.

Our innovative approach begins to consider what types of indicators, measures, and scientific practices can be used to understand the ways climate change, strategic competition, and democratic backsliding intersect and co-produce climate security challenges, which we intend to replicate elsewhere around the world where similar trends are occurring, like West Africa and Central America, in future project iterations.


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