Munich Security Conference: Sen. Whitehouse On Climate, NATO, & Russia

Feb 20, 2017

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse was invited by U.S. Sen. John McCain to the Munich Security Conference this weekend. One of the biggest think tanks of its kind, Whitehouse took the conference as an opportunity to discuss climate security and other security concerns.

In a panel, the senator tried to convey a U.S. commitment to slowing climate change in spite of mixed messages coming from the Trump administration.

Sen. Whitehouse told RIPR it’s important European allies know the U.S. understands they’re experiencing the societal implications of climate change.

“The crisis in Syria which has resulted in such a flood of refugees into Europe began as a drought that drove people out of the farms and into the city,” said Whitehouse.

Whitehouse added that one of his main concerns when it comes to climate security is Russia.

“Russia depends enormously on fossil fuels to keep its crumbling economy afloat, and so Russia is a determined and hostile enemy of any kind of clean energy and any kind of action on climate change,” said Whitehouse.

Whitehouse said he wanted to know if international efforts to curb carbon emissions, through arrangements like the Paris Agreement, would be enough to merit a response from Russia.

“I’m interested in finding out from our European colleagues if that effort is part of the general pressure that Russia is putting on our European friends in their elections, trying to influence their media, and other underhanded ways,” said Whitehouse.  

Climate change wasn’t all that the senators discussed. Whitehouse, McCain, and their delegation also took the weekend to send a clear signal of support to the European Union and NATO.

After a presidential campaign where Trump called NATO “obsolete” and said members were not meeting their fair share of defense spending, some allies expressed concern over the future of the North Atlantic Alliance.

“We’re not going to have a mixed message from our bipartisan delegation,” said Whitehouse. “It’s going to be a strong and solid message that NATO is very important and that the U.S. values its allies.”

Vice President Mike Pence made an appearance in Munich and backed the sentiment of NATO support, but not without raising the issue of members’ defense spending.