The four-star admiral — who in the past publicly declined to back defense-treaty ally Japan in its increasingly testy dispute with China over the Senkaku islands — said there is a real potential that nations in Asia would be displaced by rising sea levels in the near future.
A defense official said pro-China advocates in and out of government are pushing the climate-change priority because they are opposed to toughening U.S. security posture to deter an increasingly aggressive China. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others want the administration to use climate change in arguing for unrestricted engagements and as a rationale for not pressing China on its nuclear and conventional forces buildup, support for rogue states and missile- and nuclear-proliferation activities.
Pacific Command spokeswoman Lt. Theresa L. Donnelly said the headline on The Globe story was “slightly misleading” but that “climate change is a primary concern of Adm. Locklear but by no means exclusive in its importance.”
The commander is also concerned with regional territorial disputes, the North Korean threat and “actions in cyberspace,” she said.
Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center warned that the admiral’s comments on climate change in the face of real threats “may undermine confidence in U.S. leadership.”
“With North Korea threatening nuclear war against South Korea, and China threatening to invade the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands, our allies look to [the commander of U.S. Pacific Command] for evidence of immediate American concern and leadership, understanding that the White House is always preoccupied,” Mr. Fisher told Inside the Ring.
Asserting that climate change is the most serious regional threat also undermines the Pacific Command’s first mission to deter wars or win them, he added.
Former State Department official John Tkacik, an Asia specialist, said Adm. Locklear also appears to be misinformed.
“It is a bit puzzling that the commander of our forces in the Pacific seems so agitated about sea-level rises — especially in Kiribati — because he, of all people, should be well-versed in the latest Pacific oceanographic research.”
A 2010 study of sea levels in the Pacific Ocean nation showed that Kiribati’s three major islands actually increased in area by substantial percentages over the past 19 years.
“The U.S. Navy, of all organizations, must know that only 14 percent of the Pacific Islands surveyed showed any area loss at all due to sea level rises in the past 20 years, while the rest either experienced no change (43 percent) or expanded their surface areas (43 percent),” Mr. Tkacik said in an email.
Climate change may be a problem by 2100, but “there really is no evidence that sea-level rises in the Pacific will impact America’s national security, even in Admiral Locklear’s ‘long term’ — that is, before 2030,” he said.