Effects of Climate Change can Complicate the Politics of Military Bases, Study Finds


Greenland’s vast ice sheet has long been home to Project Iceworm, an abandoned Cold War-era U.S. Army initiative designed to deploy ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads against the Soviet Union. When the project was shuttered in 1967, military planners expected that any materials left on site would be safely frozen in ice and snow in perpetuity.

Now, melting ice in a changing Arctic has remobilized some toxic waste at one Project Iceworm site and threatens to do the same at other project sites. The consequences, a new study finds, could extend far beyond those to the environment — creating unexpected cleanup costs or costs for compensating local inhabitants affected by environmental problems as well as political and diplomatic conflict between the U.S. and countries hosting the bases. Environmental problems at U.S. bases can also cause political conflict between the U.S. and countries neighboring base-hosting countries if toxic wastes migrate beyond the boundaries of the host country. Contestation over responsibility for such costs at the Project Iceworm sites has already led to the ouster of Greenland’s foreign minister.

Jeff D. Colgan, an associate professor of political science and international studies at Brown University, details the consequences of Project Iceworm in a new study published in Global Environmental Politics. Lessons learned from this case, he says, can create a framework for understanding the political, diplomatic and financial impact of environmental problems at U.S. military bases.

Read more at Brown University

Image: A U.S. Army photograph of the nuclear reactors at Camp Century in Greenland. (Credit: U.S. Army)