Weather and War: A Perfect Storm

People attend a silent march of remembrance in Amsterdam for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash.

Phil Nijhuis/AP

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People attend a silent march of remembrance in Amsterdam for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash.

Three recent airline tragedies turned the world’s spotlight on collateral damage’s innocent victims—changing the idea of international security into one of personal security as well. By Tara Sonenshine

For the hundreds of people who lost their lives this week in airlines disasters on three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe, the conditions that led to tragedies in the sky will not change the facts on the ground. The lives of human beings were lost in twists of fate. Left behind are families, friends, and futures from Taiwan to Mali. Searing images of charred remains in a faraway field in eastern Ukraine haunt all of us as do the grief-stricken faces of the families of missing Malaysian Flight 370—which we can’t even count as part of this week’s convergence of horror stories.

Most of us watching events are simply stunned and scared.

The “conditions” of flight do matter to those left wondering and worrying about stowing our luggage and buckling our seats. Most importantly, the conditions surrounding these air disasters are critical to policymakers everywhere—especially those who work on war and weather.

For the foreign policy professionals—wars are worrisome, especially when civilians find themselves caught in the crossfire of conflict. In eastern Ukraine, evidence points to Putin and his policies. What began as a hostile takeover of Crimea has become a messy war. The conflict between Moscow and Kiev is no longer limited in scope and seriousness. Russian separatists are going beyond the pale.  They are arming themselves with mini weapons of mass destruction in the form of missiles with deadly range and reach. 

The shooting down of a civilian aircraft is a policy and human disaster. That means that America and Europe have no choice but to ratchet up more sanctions and prepare to press Mr. Putin harder to reign in the thugs that roam freely within a sovereign nation next door to his own. 

Beyond war there is weather. Within the foreign policy community of experts are climatologists who will also have work to do to figure out why bad weather seems to be getting worse around the world and the degree to which airlines are paying close enough attention to Mother Nature. Any local weather reporter will tell you that the storm coverage in the past two years has included more disasters than previous years. We see the images of floods and rains that bury cars and people. Now we are left wondering if the weather woes may be causing havoc way above us.

International security has become personal security. We all must demand answers and solutions that make the chances of collateral damage from war and weather smaller. In the end, we all rely on human judgment, experience and expertise. Let’s put all of that to work.

Tara Sonenshine is Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

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