14 November 2023

Event Summary: Implications for NATO of Climate Security Scenarios in the Balkans

The following text is an event summary of a scenario exercise on climate security in the Balkan for a class of the Halifax Peace with Women Fellowship. It was written by Lily Boland and published by the Council on Strategic Risks on 13 November 2023.

On October 30, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) led a scenario exercise on climate security for the new class of the Halifax Peace with Women Fellowship, which convenes senior female military leaders from NATO and partner countries for a 3-week executive tour of the political and technological capitals of the United States and Canada. The exercise sought to socialize a better understanding of how climate change hazards shape security risks in a region of importance to the NATO alliance (in this case, the Balkans) and help identify ways in which NATO, partner countries, and their militaries can better prepare for and prevent these risks. Participants included the fellows class along with officials from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Force Education & Training and Office of Arctic and Global Resilience.

A “Perfect Storm” for NATO

The Balkans region–which consists of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia–will experience significant climate change-related hazards, including droughts, heatwaves, Mediterranean cyclones, wildfires, and intense flooding. Given the region’s precarious climate situation and its position as a zone for increased migration, these climate impacts could result in cascading security risks. 

This scenario exercise began with a scene set in 2027 where multiple climate extremes have adversely impacted the Balkans including an extended torrential rain, historic floods, and various climate change-induced regional and geopolitical tensions (Read the full scene setter here).

Given this scene setter, exercise participants identified a range of drivers of future insecurity in the Balkans across six categories: Socio-political, technological, demographic, diplomatic, military, and economic. The group selected two drivers as both the most important, or diagnostic, and the most uncertain in combination with climate impacts to create security risks. The first driver was the level of physical resilience among countries in the region and the second was the health of the information environment. 

Physical resilience: This driver considers the preparedness level of countries across the Balkans to both respond to and recover from a disaster. Taking into account whether states have robust climate resiliency planning and infrastructure in place to physically address risks allows consideration of how crisis/disaster management can influence security. Additionally, this driver includes whether a country has the ability to recover after a disaster and return to its original (or a better) pre-disaster state. 

The information environment: This driver considers the health of the information environment. The Department of Defense (DOD) defines the information environment as the “aggregate of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information—consisting of physical, informational, and cognitive dimensions.” With this definition in mind, a healthy information environment might translate to higher trust in state institutions necessary for addressing and preparing for climate disasters. At the other end of the spectrum, an unhealthy information environment would create societal distrust in institutions, uninformed citizens, and a space ripe for disinformation during a crisis. 

Participants developed four potential futures for Balkans countries: 

  • “Limited Window” – Low physical resilience, Healthy information environment
  • “Resilient Balkans Weathering Risks” – High physical resilience, Healthy information environment
  • “The Glass House” – High physical resilience, Unhealthy information environment
  • “Six Feet Under” – Low physical resilience, Unhealthy information environment
Source: Council on Strategic RisksPhoto credit: Flickr/ Iasserbua