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Advancing the Science of Climate Change (2010)

Chapter: 16 National and Human Security

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Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN
National and Human Security

Over the past three decades, a number of concerns have emerged about potential interactions between global environmental change and security. Changes in temperature, sea level, precipitation patterns, and other aspects of the climate system can add substantial stresses to infrastructure and especially to the food, water, energy, and ecosystem resources that societies require. Several recent reports have argued that responding to climate change is a critical part of the U.S. national security agenda (Table 16.1). This assessment arises from concerns about how climate change directly affects military operations and regional strategic priorities, as well as the possible links between environmental scarcity and violent conflict, the role of environmental conservation and collaboration in promoting peace, and relationships between environmental quality, resource abundance, and human security.1


Questions decision makers are asking, or will be asking, about climate change and security include the following:

  • How will changes in the physical environment, natural resources, and human well-being influence human security, interactions, and conflicts among nations, and the national security of the United States?

  • Through what measures and interventions can we increase human security?

  • What are the most critical implications of climate change for U.S. military operations and their supporting infrastructure?

  • How will international GHG treaties be verified, what are the treaty provisions for onsite inspections in all signatory countries, and how will potential violations be detected and investigated in denied territories?

  • What role should the U.S. intelligence community and the remote sensing infrastructure it supports contribute to these efforts, and what can be learned from previous treaty verifications efforts?

This chapter summarizes how climate change and our responses to it may affect U.S. military operations and international relations. The chapter also outlines the role of climate science in verifying international treaties and in analyzing human security. The last section lists research needs for studying the relationships between environmental change and security.

1

Human security is defined as freedom from violent conflict and physical want (see Khagram and Ali [2006] for one recent review and synthesis).

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

TABLE 16.1 A Summary of Recent Studies Related to National Security and Climate Change Commissioned by Congress or Undertaken by Nonprofit and University Research Centers

Study

Year

Author

Synopsis

National Security and the Threat of Climate Change

2007

The CNA Corporation

A board of U.S. Military retired flag and general officers provide a perspective on the potential national security implications of climate change.

The Age of Consequences, Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change

2007

Campbell et al., Center for New American Security

A projection and discussion of three (expected, severe, and catastrophic) potential climate scenarios as viewed through the eyes of national security and foreign policy.

The Arctic Climate Change and Security Policy Conference, Final Report and Findings

2008

Yalowitz et al., Dartmouth College

Results and findings from a December 2008 conference on the subject of Arctic climate change and security policy, as addressed through an international group of academics, scientists, government officials, and representatives of indigenous peoples.

Impact of Climate Change on Colombia’s National and Regional Security

2009a

Catarious and Espach, The CNA Corporation

Projected impacts of climate change on Colombia’s natural systems and resources and potential follow-on regional effects.

Climate-Related Impacts on National Security in Mexico and Central America, Interim Report

2009

The Royal United Services Institute

An examination of potential climate change impacts in Mexico and Central America, and their projected political, social, and security implications.

Socioeconomic and Security Implications of Climate Change in China, Conference Paper

2009

The CNA Corporation

An examination of the security implications of climate change in China from Chinese, American, and British Perspectives.

National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces: Letter Report

2010e

National Research Council

First component of a study to assess the implications of climate change for the U.S. Naval Services.

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

Study

Year

Author

Synopsis

Lost in Translation: Closing the Gap between Climate Science and National Security Policy

2010

Rogers and Gulledge, Center for New American Security

Explores the gap between the science and policy communities and offers recommendations for collaboration to ensure the United States can effectively plan for the national security implications of climate change.

The following National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Research Reports are intelligence community documents summarizing the security and geopolitical implications of climate change from the perspective of a specific country.

India: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030—Geopolitical Implications

2009c

NIC-CR 2009-07 May 2009

 

China: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030—Geopolitical Implications

2009a

NIC-CR 2009-09 June 2009

 

Russia: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030—Geopolitical Implications

2009f

NIC-CR 2009-16 September 2009

 

The following NIC Commissioned Research Reports are intelligence community examinations of the security and geopolitical implications of climate change from the perspective of a specific country. Analysis includes impacts on stability of the governments and the economic vulnerability of each country.

China: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030

2009b

NIC-2009-02D

 

India: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030

2009d

NIC-2009-03D

 

Russia: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030

2009g

NIC-2009-04D

 

Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030

2009h

NIC-2009-06D

 

North Africa: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030

2009e

NIC-2009-07D

 

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CLIMATE AND NATIONAL SECURITY

Identified concerns about climate-national security linkages, and associated research areas and needs, can be divided into two categories.


First, both climate change and efforts to respond to it may have significant effects on the operations, assets, and missions of the U.S. military. Many U.S. bases are located in areas that may be affected by sea level rise and tropical storms, and some future military operations may take place in areas subject to extreme high temperatures and droughts, compounding logistic problems. U.S. military operations are also substantial consumers of fossil fuels and thus will be affected by shifts in fuel prices and availability, as well as new technologies intended to displace fossil fuels.


Second, the impacts of climate change on specific assets and resources of international significance may affect multiple issues in bilateral and multilateral relations, shifting national strategic interests or perceptions thereof, or providing new bases for international conflict or cooperation. For example, declines in sea ice thickness and extent could result in increased access to and conflict over offshore resources in the Arctic Ocean associated with the opening of the Northwest and Northeast passages. Other examples include the effects of sea level rise and extreme events on coastal ports, navigable waterways, runways, roads, canals, or pipelines of international significance; changes in precipitation regimes that affect international river systems and ground vehicle mobility; and increases in humanitarian aid/disaster response stemming from changes in climate extremes (NRC, 2010e).

Military Operations

Climate change and responses to it may affect the U.S. military in several ways. The Department of Defense (DOD) was directed in 2009 by the U.S. Congress to include the potential impacts of climate change in their 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR is a legislatively mandated review of DOD strategy and priorities that sets the long-term course for DOD by assessing the threats and challenges the nation faces and rebalancing the Department’s strategies, capabilities, and forces to address today’s conflicts and tomorrow’s threats. The QDR recognized climate change as one of many factors that has the potential to impact all facets of the DOD mission:

The rising demand for resources, rapid urbanization of littoral regions, the effects of climate change, the emergence of new strains of disease, and profound cultural and demographic tensions in several regions are just some of the trends whose complex interplay may spark or exacerbate future conflicts (DOD, 2010).

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

The QDR focused on four specific issues where reform is imperative: security assistance, defense acquisition, the defense industrial base, and energy security and climate change. It stated the need for “incorporating geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and acquisition processes.”


Climate change may affect military assets and operations directly, for example through physical stresses on military systems and personnel, severe weather constraints on operations due to increased frequency and intensity of storms and floods, or increased uncertainty about the effects of Arctic ice and ice floes on navigation safety both on and below the ocean surface. U.S. military bases and associated infrastructure both inside the United States and overseas, particularly in coastal areas, will face risks from continuing sea level rise, extreme weather events, and interactions with other environmental stresses. For example, low-lying military bases in South Carolina, Guam, and Diego Garcia are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Changes in energy supply systems, including both fuel and electricity, as a result of either climate change or policies to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, would also have major impacts on military readiness and operations since the military is a major energy consumer and many military bases get their electricity from the national grid. In 2009, the Chief of Naval Operations directed the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change to assess the Navy’s preparedness to respond to emerging requirements and to develop a science-based timeline for future Navy actions regarding climate change.


Sea level rise, reductions in sea ice, and changes in precipitation patterns may also affect key navigation routes of military as well as commercial importance, such as the Panama and Suez canals. Summer melting of Arctic sea ice will also make the Arctic Ocean more navigable, albeit with considerable seasonal ice floes, and the U.S. Coast Guard currently has just three commissioned icebreakers, only two of which are active (Borgerson, 2008; NRC, 2007g). Congress has asked the military to assess its preparedness for climate change, and the assessment process is now under way (e.g., Dabelko, 2009); the military has also requested input from a number of outside organizations, including the National Research Council (NRC), to gauge its preparedness for climate change and provide advice on prudent adaptation strategies. The Navy in particular, as directed by the Chief of Naval Operations, chartered the NRC’s Naval Studies Board to conduct a study to explore the potential climate change impacts on naval forces (NRC, 2010e).


In general, there is substantial overlap between military and civilian needs with regard to climate change planning, such as the need for expanded and more interdisciplinary impact and vulnerability assessments and improved observation and modeling capa-

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

bilities; hence, expanded collaboration between the defense, intelligence, and climate change research communities may yield benefits to all.


The U.S. military is also a major user of fossil fuels. Consequently, the military could play an important role in reducing the U.S. contribution to global GHG emissions, both through direct reductions and by providing a large market and consumer base for low-emission technology. Since supply chains that provide fuel to military equipment are a point of vulnerability during military operations, there are obvious co-benefits to strategies that increase the energy efficiency of the U.S. military and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Research to advance this goal will have many points of overlap with the broader research agenda to reduce emissions from transportation and energy use (see Chapters 13 and 14).


Climate change may also affect the U.S. military through new and changed missions. The military has substantial logistical, engineering, and medical capabilities that have been used to respond to emergencies both in the United States and abroad (for example, the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2008 Burma/Myanmar typhoon, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake). Because climate change is expected to increase the severity and possibly the number of storms, floods, droughts, and other climate-related natural disasters in many parts of the world, military preparedness planning and the role of the military in responding to such disasters needs to be considered as part of adaptation planning (NRC, 2010e). Again, much of the research that will be needed to support analysis of military involvement in disaster support overlaps with that needed for impact and vulnerability studies in other sectors.

International Relations

While most discussions of climate change and security have examined the role of general environmental stress and resource scarcity on vulnerable populations and the risk of conflict, climate change also has the potential to disrupt international relations and raise security challenges through impacts on specific assets and resources. Such effects may arise as climate change increases or decreases the strategic value of resources of international significance, disrupting the basis for existing arrangements of ownership, control, or benefit sharing, or changing perceptions of national interests and threats to those interests. Perhaps the most obvious example is the loss of Arctic sea ice and the resultant increased value of Arctic navigation routes and offshore Arctic resources. Both the Northwest and Northeast passages will shorten major navigation routes during summer—for example, the Northwest passage through the Canadian Arctic archipelago would shorten the voyage from Rotterdam to Yokahama by 40

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

percent—and new orders will double the global fleet of ice-capable ships able to take advantage of these routes during other seasons (Borgerson, 2008). Other implications of an ice-free Arctic include increased tourism, expanded operating demands on the U.S. Coast Guard, and changes in the operating environment for surface and subsurface naval vessels. The legal status of the Northwest Passage in particular has long been contested, but the prospect of its becoming more widely usable raises the stakes substantially (NRC, 2010e).


Similarly, the prospect of substantial mineral reserves under the Arctic Ocean has prompted new offshore claims in the region by Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia. The U.S. Senate has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, so the United States cannot formally assert rights associated with the roughly 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline in U.S. territory. Climate change will also affect shorelines and in some cases “exclusive economic zones” and baselines used for projecting national boundaries seaward (Paskal, 2007). This may create or revive conflicts over resources in the offshore exclusive economic zone. Areas that may be affected include boundaries in the South China Sea and the boundary between the United States and Cuba. Changes in precipitation may also affect flow regimes in international river systems, risking new or intensified conflict in cases where claims over flows are already disputed or are subject to agreements not sufficiently robust to accommodate the flow changes that will occur. These and other challenges associated with climate change have been hypothesized but have not yet received thorough analysis (e.g., Liverman, 2009; Salehyan, 2008).

TREATY VERIFICATION

The prospect of binding international agreements with specific targets for GHG emissions from signatory countries will require methods and protocols for treaty verification and compliance. Whereas the measurement of GHGs has previously been in the research domain, the advent of climate treaties will require operational monitoring to meet the needs of verification and compliance. Remote sensing systems and other DOD and National Intelligence Council systems could play an important role in providing coverage of large regions of the globe and in monitoring local or point sources in remote or hostile locations.


This operational monitoring may require onsite visits to signatory countries by international observers with the ability to take direct in situ measurements to characterize, quantify, and validate sources and sinks of GHGs. Historical precedence for robust and potentially intrusive verification regimes can be found in the START I and START II trea-

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

ties. START I Provisions included data exchanges, notifications, inspections, national technical means, and cooperative measures. The START II agreement built upon the START I verification regime and added several in situ inspection protocols to address issues that could only be verified through onsite inspections.


Reliable measurements of GHG concentrations and emissions are needed to effectively inform national and international policy aimed at regulating emissions, to verify compliance with emissions policies, and to ascertain their effectiveness. A system of measurement that is the basis for international agreement or financial transactions (e.g., carbon trading systems) needs to meet a higher level of scrutiny than a system used exclusively for research because of its legal, liability, and compliance implications. Consideration must therefore be given to data security, authentication, reliability, and transparency. In addition, as noted in Chapter 15, concerns about the possibility of unilateral implementation of solar radiation management schemes or other geoengineering approaches raise the need for improved monitoring of both GHG emissions reduction efforts and other climate intervention methods.


At present, there is no single U.S. agency that has the lead responsibility for operational GHG monitoring, and recent experiences with joint civilian and military satellite design and operation (e.g., the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System; see NRC, 2008d) have highlighted some potential pitfalls of attempting to merge research and operational applications across multiple agencies. However, the defense, intelligence, and diplomatic communities have considerable experience with designing both technology and institutional arrangements to monitor treaty compliance. It would be valuable to complement this experience with the knowledge of the scientific community in designing and building monitoring and verification systems that have the appropriate resolution and accuracy to fulfill treaty verification requirements (NRC, 2009h). Improved interaction and engagement between the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and scientific communities would also be expected to advance the pace at which the science of monitoring evolves and enhance decision making around international treaties.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CLIMATE AND HUMAN SECURITY

Climate changes are part of a set of interacting stresses that affect human welfare. Climate change may decrease human security and increase risks of domestic and international conflict in many parts of the world over the next several decades. The fact that climate change impacts may increase the probability of conflict has become

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

a prominent argument for considering climate change in security analyses (e.g., Busby, 2007; Dalby, 2009; DOD, 2010).


As global changes and their potential consequences are becoming more evident, both in the United States and internationally, and as the global sustainability agenda has expanded (Brundtland, 1987; UN, 2009), the security agenda has been broadened (Sorensen, 1990). For example, a 1994 United (UNDP) report argued:

The concept of security has for too long been interpreted narrowly: as security of territory from external aggression, or as protection of national interest in foreign policy or as global security from the threat of a nuclear holocaust. It has been related more to nation-states than to people (UNDP, 1994).

As threats associated with sustainable human development and global environmental changes became more prominent, UNDP’s formulation of human security began to include “safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease, and repression, [as well as] protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life—whether in homes, in jobs or in communities” (UNDP, 1994). The concept of “human security” continues to gain prominence in both academic and policy arenas and is expected to be featured in the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2009).


While these developments have been intended to encourage an integrative conception of security and threats that reflect the lived realities that individuals and communities face, there are still multiple ways of thinking about human security and no agreement on a policy agenda (Dalby, 2009). Most scholars understand human security as some combination of freedom from fear, want, harm, and violence. To some it is simply the converse of “vulnerability” (e.g., Barnett, 2001; Brauch, 2005; Dalby, 2009; Khagram and Ali, 2006; O’Brien et al., 2009). The International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) core project on Global Environmental Change and Human Security has stressed the complementary nature of security threats and people’s capacity to respond, focusing on “the ways that environmental changes contribute to (or exacerbate) pervasive threats and critical situations, while at the same time undermining the capacity to respond to these threats” (IHDP, 2009).


Human security scholars have examined the potential impacts of many types of environmental change, including food and water security, disaster vulnerability, land use and land degradation, urbanization and migration, the spread of infectious disease, and the associated challenges of building sustainable economic pathways out of poverty and deprivation. Insecurity can result, for example, when infrastructure developments (such as hydroelectric dams) put in place to meet other needs result

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

in dislocations and displacements (Khagram, 2004), or as a negative consequence of rapid urbanization and the associated pollution, intergroup struggles, and crime (Evans, 2002). Through myriad interregional and international linkages, via political, economic, financial, sociocultural, military, public health, and environmental systems, human insecurities in one part of the world will affect the security of communities and economies in other parts (e.g., Adger et al., 2009b).


Research on human security and the environment has highlighted issues of equity, fairness, and human dignity, and especially the condition of women, because interacting socioeconomic and environmental stresses are experienced most severely by those who are most vulnerable (e.g., Adger et al., 2006; O’Brien et al., 2008). Related research has helped advance understanding of barriers and limits to adaptation (e.g., Adger et al., 2009b). Efforts are currently under way to synthesize a 10-year research effort on Global Environmental Change and Human Security (IHDP, 2009). Already this effort has identified conditions needed to maintain or restore human security, including effective governance systems, healthy and resilient ecosystems, comprehensive and sustained disaster risk-management efforts, empowerment of individuals and local institutions, and supportive values. Existing scientific insight is available, and further use-inspired social science research is needed, to inform the establishment of international mechanisms for effective, verifiable, accountable, and just efforts to limit and adapt to climate change. Such mechanisms have been found to be critical to the ability of communities anywhere to pursue sustainable livelihoods, meet fundamental human needs, secure human rights, and ultimately to ensure that climate change does not disrupt the natural environment so severely that it can no longer support the adequate and safe provision of ecosystem goods and services essential to human life and well-being (MEA, 2005).

RESEARCH NEEDS

Many plausible mechanisms of environment-security interaction have been proposed, but few have been carefully tested through research. Security scholars have cautioned against facile assumptions of cause and effect, and suggested that more focused and critical research into causal links between climate and environmental stresses and human conflict is needed (e.g., Barnett, 2003, 2009; Dabelko, 2009; Dalby, 2009; Liverman, 2009). Research in the following areas would help to solidify understanding of these linkages and project the future security implications of climate change with greater confidence.

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

Research on the relationship between climate change and national security. There has been little detailed scientific research on the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on national, international, or human security. Such research will require broadly interdisciplinary efforts, enhanced understanding (through observations and modeling) of the effects of climate change around the globe, empirical studies of impacts on both natural and human systems, and analyses of effective mechanisms for developing response strategies—in short, virtually all of the research that is needed to support other aspects of improved understanding discussed in previous chapters. To connect this improved understanding of general climate change impacts with security-specific concerns, research will also be needed on the relationships among environmental changes, social instability, and other threat multipliers. Such research is methodologically challenging because data are often limited in quality and quantity and the analysis needs to take account of thresholds, nonlinearities, and contextual and interaction effects. Nonetheless, given the prominence of climate change in recent discussions of national security and vice versa, it seems appropriate to dedicate additional resources to develop a coordinated program of research in the area.


Development of improved observations, models, and vulnerability assessments for regions of importance in terms of military infrastructure. There is an opportunity for considerable cooperation and synergy between the climate change research and national security communities. Improved regional climate projections and riskmanagement approaches are two important needs that these communities could work together to address. The needed research ranges from hydrological cycles at high latitudes and their implications for military operations to “war game” scenarios with climate-related crises.


Research on monitoring requirements for treaty verification. While considerable progress has been made in monitoring GHG emissions for climate research purposes, less is known about the operational observation standards that may be needed to meet treaty monitoring and verification requirements, and this is an active area of assessment, research, and planning (NRC, 2009h). Additional research and cooperation among communities is needed to determine the optimal mix of in situ and space-based civilian, military, and intelligence assets and the best data assimilation and analysis techniques to translate collected data into robust and reliable verification tools.


Identification of potential human insecurity in response to climate change impacts interacting with other social and environmental forces. Vulnerability analyses and better metrics are needed to identify people and places that might be expected to suffer the greatest harm from climate-related impacts—both individually

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
×

and collectively. Of particular value would be metrics or observational approaches that can provide leading indicators of areas at risk, to help support preventive measures or anticipatory provision of humanitarian aid, or contribute to increased resilience. Moreover, new methods are needed to understand and predict interactions of climate change impacts, associated environmental changes, and social vulnerabilities, and how they are linked across regions.

Suggested Citation:"16 National and Human Security." National Research Council. 2010. Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12782.
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Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for--and in many cases is already affecting--a broad range of human and natural systems. The compelling case for these conclusions is provided in Advancing the Science of Climate Change, part of a congressionally requested suite of studies known as America's Climate Choices. While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never closed, the book shows that hypotheses about climate change are supported by multiple lines of evidence and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.

As decision makers respond to these risks, the nation's scientific enterprise can contribute through research that improves understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change and also is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international levels. The book identifies decisions being made in 12 sectors, ranging from agriculture to transportation, to identify decisions being made in response to climate change.

Advancing the Science of Climate Change calls for a single federal entity or program to coordinate a national, multidisciplinary research effort aimed at improving both understanding and responses to climate change. Seven cross-cutting research themes are identified to support this scientific enterprise. In addition, leaders of federal climate research should redouble efforts to deploy a comprehensive climate observing system, improve climate models and other analytical tools, invest in human capital, and improve linkages between research and decisions by forming partnerships with action-oriented programs.

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