The US military is not going to save us or itself from the climate crisis
Bob Sheak, December 11, 2019
This post focuses on Michael T. Klare’s new book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, outlining the highlights of Klare’s analysis. The book is based on Klare’s extraordinary research, in which, as he describes, he examined “hundreds of Pentagon and intelligence community reports, studies, directive, and statements as well as the testimonies of senior military officers before assorted committees of Congress.” Additionally, Klare “spoke with dozens of retired and active military officials” and his work was “further enhanced by extensive dialogue with serving officers while delivering talks at such institutions as the National War College, National Defense University, Army War College, Naval War College, Air University, Naval Postgraduate School, and the Naval Academy at Annapolis” (p. 13).
Klare informs readers that senior officials in the Department of Defense (DoD) and at regional commands have come to accept, officially as of 2007, that they must devote more time and resources to planning for and acting on the worsening effects of climate change. (I use the term climate crisis as well.) The views of these senior officials, buttressed by various research findings, are based on two interrelated considerations. First, they accept the accumulating abundance of scientifically based evidence that validates the unfolding reality of the crisis. Second, they seem compelled to plan and act by the impacts this multifaceted crisis is having and will increasingly have on military preparedness and operations domestically and internationally.
One of the most striking revelations of Klare’s book is that the US military under the guidance of senior officials are, up to now, ignoring Trump’s policies that demand that all federal agencies disregard the climate crisis and do what they can to advance policies that favor fossil fuel interests and development, the major sources of the climate crisis. Here’s what Klare writes.
“Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2017, Donald Trump rescinded Executive Order 13653, ‘Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change,’ a measure that had been signed by President Barack Obama in late 2013. The Obama order, steeped in the science of climate change, instructed all federal agencies to identify global warming’s likely impacts on their future operations and to take such action as deemed necessary to ‘enhance climate preparedness and resilience.’ In rescinding that order, Trump asserted that economic competitiveness – involving, among other things, the unbridled exploitation of America’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves – outweighed environmental protection as a national priority.” Accordingly, all federal agencies, now headed by Trump appointees, heeded the president’s ruling (p.1).
That is, with one exception. The Department of Defense stands alone among federal agencies in ignoring this particular presidential order. Rather, Klare writes, the DoD has “continued to identify warming as a significant threat to American national security,” especially as “the military’s own bases are coming under assault from rising seas, extreme storms, and raging wildfires” (p. 3). While China and Russia remain the top DoD priorities, “climate change” is viewed as a growing threat. Klare puts it this way: “top military officials perceive climate change as a secondary but insidious threat, capable of aggravating foreign conflicts, provoking regional instability, endangering American communities, and impairing the military’s own response capabilities” – and “expected to grow increasingly severe” (p.3).
However, the ability of the DoD to define its own path is limited. Its actions are subject to Presidential intervention and reversal. According to Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militias of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” So, the generals and other senior officials are ignoring Trump’s orders but at some point could be called out for officially acknowledging and acting on the reality of the climate crisis. And, with an administration and Republican Party that are hostile to efforts to address climate change, the military’s responses to climate change is, in practice, piecemeal and limited.
While, as Klare documents, top military officials are taking steps to address some aspects of the climate crisis and doing more than other major sectors of American society, the efforts are sorely inadequate with respect to curtailing, let alone reversing, the magnitude and accelerating pace of the crisis. And the share of the overall military budget going to address the climate crisis is vastly overshadowed by the immense resources devoted to supporting the troop and their families, training operations, massive international logistical functions, while also replacing and acquiring military equipment and supplies of all kind, maintaining vast international network of deployments, and, most of all, protecting the ever-changing and expanding political conceptions of “national defense.” On the latter point, history tells a sad story. The US armed forces have been the spearhead in waging unnecessary, destructive, and very costly wars that have caused widespread civilian casualties, exacerbated ethnic and religious divisions, undermined governing institutions, crippled economies, deepened poverty, contributed to the conditions that have produced an unprecedented number of displaced people, and created out of all of this the conditions that have destabilized governments and given rise to terrorist movements. While “green” initiatives by the DoD should be welcome, what is needed is a progressive national government in the US that finds ways to reduce the military budget, to find ways to work with other countries diplomatically, while at the same time addressing the climate crisis comprehensively through a Green New Deal, rejoining and giving new life to the Paris Climate Agreement, and supporting efforts in the Global South to develop sustainable energy systems. Presently, such changes seem remote.
In the absence of a radical change in US politics and government, military policy will continue to reflect the interests of the military-industrial complex and a foreign policy that gives priority to protecting US corporate interests abroad, to winning the international competition for increasingly scarce vital resources, and generally to preserving a geopolitical order that revolves around the goal of maintaining the preeminence of US power in world affairs despite arrangement’s deleterious effects on the climate.
The US military belatedly acknowledges the reality of the climate crisis
The DoD’s acknowledgement of the climate crisis is recent. Klare traces the Pentagon’s awakening concern with global warming to the 2007 publication of the “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” carried out by the CNA Corporation, a “Pentagon-funded think tank.” This was “the first major study to view global warming as a security concern.” They study predicted that in coming decades there would increasingly be “extreme weather events, drought, flooding, sea level rise, retreating glaciers, habitat shifts, and the increased spread of life-threatening diseases,” that is, these events would be amplified by rising temperatures accompanying climate change, that is, in the terms of the report, a “threat multiplier” (pp. 20-21). Naomi Oreskes points out that “Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the late 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/11/greatest-scam-history-how-energy-companies-took-us-all-in).
Subsequent reports sponsored or authored by the Pentagon and CIA then doubled down on the concerns about the unfolding climate crisis. In 2008, the National Intelligence Council, an arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, released a report titled “National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030.” Klare highlights two points from this report. One, “climate change could undermine the stability of US allies, especially those already suffering from resource scarcity and internal friction, and, two, it “could threaten domestic stability in some states….contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources” (22).
In 2010, the Pentagon offered its first official recognition of the growing climate crisis and its implications for the US military in the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), reiterating many of the points raised in the 2007 CAN study and a 2008 NIC report and adding that “climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments,” which in turn “will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration” (p. 22).
A 2014 report revealed more about how the DoD’s view of the climate change had risen to a new level, viewing the effects of climate change as posing “immediate risks to US national security,” the meaning of which is clarified in the 2015 National Security Strategy. That is: “it means they [US military forces] must be trained and equipped to engage in a wide variety of military missions that could arise as a consequence of it [climate change], including diverse emergencies occurring simultaneously in several areas of the world” and involving “adapting troops, bases, and military equipment to a hotter planet with more extreme weather conditions” (p. 23).
Threats to military bases in the US
One major concern has been about how military bases in the US and around the world needed to prepare and adapt to the growing climate crisis. In 2015, during the Obama administration, “Congress directed the Department of Defense to conduct a full-scale assessment of climate-related threats to all U.S. military bases. In response to that congressional directive, the DoD commenced a detailed survey of such risks to every one of its major domestic facilities – a total of over thirty-five hundred installations” (p. 5). In January of 2018, the DoD released an interim report that found over half of the bases and installations “reported exposure to at least one climate-related impact, and many identified multiple effects” (pp. 5-6). However, under pressure from the Trump White House, Pentagon officials “scrubbed the report of numerous references to climate change and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.” Klare refers to a Washington Post investigation that had obtained an earlier, uncensored, version of the report, and found that it “referred to climate change twenty-three times, while the text released in 2018 mentioned it only once; instead it substituted terms like extreme weather or simply change.” Klare continues: “Discussions of rising sea levels and the melting of Arctic sea ice were also removed” (p. 6). Forty-four members of Congress, including ten Republicans, “wrote to [then] Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and insisted that the final survey report provide an accurate account of warming’s potential impacts, with ‘candid assessments’ of base vulnerabilities.”
Despite these maneuvers by Trump’s administration, the bottom line is that the “armed forces…will be called upon more frequently to provide emergency relief and assistance at home” (28). And there will be growing climate-related threats abroad that will stretch the capabilities of the military, including all six of the DoD’s regional commands: the Pacific Command, Central Command, Africa Command, European Command, Northern Command, and Southern Command. The Pacific Command has been renamed the Indo-Pacific Command (in May 2018) (p. 24).
The crises abound: The ladder of escalation
Klare organizes much of his book around the military’s concept of “the new ladder of escalation” and how at each level the changing climate is exacerbating the threats and challenges that confront the military. His detailed analysis illuminates not only the climate-related challenges that military officials identify but the extent of the large and growing problems stemming from the climate crisis. Klare’s extensive analysis of the myriad and proliferating threats identified by senior military officials confirms what climate scientists have long been telling us.
Klare identifies five levels in the “new ladder of escalation” that call for large and rising military resources. They include (1) humanitarian disasters (climate disasters, civil disorder, and US military relief operations) , (2) states on the brink of failing or already failing states, where “humanitarian aid needs to be combined with counterinsurgency missions, (3) “global shock waves” spanning multiple countries(food shortages, energy crises, pandemics, and mass migrations), (4) great power clashes stemming from international competition and potential military conflict rooted in the melting of the arctic and associated opportunities for trade routes and the extraction of oil and minerals, and (5) “the homeland at risk” (increasing domestic climate disasters and the military’s strategic predicament in coping with them). I’ll review the highlights from Klare’s analysis that reveal the great extent to which the climate crisis has already caused harm and disruption in the US and around the world.
Level 1 – Humanitarian disasters
Humanitarian operations have become more challenging as climate-related disasters have become more frequent, complex, hazardous and long lasting. In such circumstances, military forces are frequently having to remain for longer periods of time and devote considerable resources to support humanitarian efforts and to supply the troops involved more than ever before.
As one example, Klare describes events around Super Typhoon Haiya that struck the eastern Philippines in November 2013. There were “sustained winds exceeding 95 miles per hour and gusts up to 235 mph. The storm killed 6,293 people, injured 28,689, damaged or destroyed 1.1 million homes, and displaced 4 million individuals (p. 40). Survivors sometimes resorted to looting and, in one case, “a Red Cross aid convoy being stampeded by hungry survivors seeking food and water, with police killing some of them” (42). Obama responded on November 9, announcing “a full-scale response” and “promising a substantial donation of humanitarian aid, as “he ordered the Department of Defense to employ all available resources in assisting civilian agencies in the delivery of emergency relief” (43). Over the duration of the catastrophe, 14,000 US military personnel “plus sixty-six aircraft, the George Washington carrier group, and a dozen other surface vessels” were deployed to the disaster areas (44). The US military personnel were “used to clear roads and airstrips, deliver food and water supplies to hard-hit areas, restore water and power lines, provide emergency medical assistance, and evacuate those in extreme danger” (44). By the time the relief efforts ended, the US military had “conducted more than thirteen hundred flights in support of relief operations, delivered over twenty-five hundred tons of relief supplies to devastated areas, and evacuated more than twenty-one thousand people” (44).
In 2017, the Department of Defense mobilized a vast array of forces to provide emergency assistance, a task that involved both Southcom and Northcom,” in response to the devastation caused by hurricanes Havey, Irma, and Maria. The hurricanes pummeled the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and the US mainland (60). Earlier reports by the National Research Council (2013) and the 2008 National Intelligence Assessment on climate change and US national security anticipated such disastrous situations and worried that “The demands of these potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax US military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased depth for combat operations” (61).
Level 2: States on the Brink
In 2012, National Intelligence Council published Global Water Scarcity, the first official document on the subject that included inputs from the CIA, NIC, NSA. This report guaged “how water scarcity and related problems would impact US national security over the ensuing thirty years” (74). According to Klare, the publication warned than water scarcity will grow in many countries in Asia as rainfall diminishes and mountain glaciers in the Himalayas shrink major river systems such as the Ganges, Indus, Mekong, and Yangtze. This will mean that “an ever-greater share of the world’s population…[will be] destined to live in areas of severe water stress, with insufficient supplies to meet minimum daily requirements,” conditions that are bound to increase social and political tensions. Growing water scarcity will reduce the availability of food, which will in turn contribute to social unrest and conflict in “places where government authorities are widely considered corrupt or overly beholden to privileged elites. Sudden “jumps in food prices can provide the spark that sets off anti-government protests and so-call food riots” (75). Such faraway problems cannot be ignored because they involve countries that are important to the US because “of their size, location, natural resource endowments, contributions to US-led military operations, or some combination of all of those factors” (78). Consequently, “each of the Pentagon’s geographic combatant commands is required to maintain reasonable up-to-date contingency plans as the regional (‘theater’) and national level within its areas of responsibility” and, as Klare emphasizes, “global warming has been specifically factored into these blueprints” (89).
Klare gives examples to how climate-related effects like drought and desertification are compounding the ability of governments in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, all of which are involved with the US in important geopolitical relations and/or pose particular threats to international stability. I’ll just review Klare’s points on Pakistan.
Pakistan is of strategic importance because it is “a partner in the war on terror” and “it possesses a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons” (p. 79). Amidst considerable social and ethnic conflict, its stability is affected by climate change, among other factors. The agricultural sector is a principal economic activity and depends on having access to water for the irrigation of crops, the main source of which is the Indus River. The population is expected to grow from 189 million in 2015 to 310 million in 2050 while the glaciers in the high Himalayas that feed the Indus “are losing mass and will eventually disappear.” The water problem is exacerbated by prolonged draughts, by monsoons that lead to flooding and the loss of valuable topsoil, and by government corruption and in the military as well. According to Klare, the US military is mainly concerned that the instability of the government could open opportunities for extremist groups to gain access to the country’s nuclear arsenal. The US military has been attuned to such an eventuality. “If the nuclear weapons were at risk, the US military ‘would respond with decisive force” (81). Bear in mind that nuclear weapons policies under Trump (and in some ways under Bush and Obama) increased the overall threat of nuclear war. The US nuclear bomb arsenal is being modernized, treaties with Russia are being ended, US military exercises and deployments occur on the border of Russia and in the sea off the southern China coast, while Trump periodically threatens to use nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea, encourages countries like Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons, and wants to weaponize space.
Level 3 – Global Shock Waves – Disruptions to Global Supply Chains
At this level, “the prospect of large-scale ‘climate shocks’ that trigger a succession of failed states and mass migrations” (33), resulting from “food shortages, energy crises, pandemics, and mass migrations” (91). Klare recounts how drought and rising food prices were important factors in the rise of the Arab Spring, first in Tunisia, then in Libya, Jordan, and other Arab nations (95). One concern of the US military is these popular movements opened opportunities “for the expansion of terrorist organizations and produced vast waves of human migration” (96). The Arab Spring, Klare writes, “exemplified a new type of security threat from global warming: one arising not from a single natural disaster limited in time and space, but from a compound series of events spreading quickly across the planet. Such events – call them climate shock waves – are far more threatening than the dangers discussed earlier…as they have the capacity to destabilize numerous states simultaneously rather than just one at a time” (96). Such multinational crises “can also imperil the world-spanning trade and logistical systems upon which the international economic order” on which American prosperity rests (97).
American military analysts are particularly worried about how climate change will disrupt the world’s vital energy systems. For example, all but a handful of countries are self-sufficient in oil and natural gas, while “most industrial powers – including Japan, the United States, and the EU countries – depend on imports for at least some of their energy needs. In 2018, for example, Japan relied on imports for nearly 100 percent of its petroleum requirements, the EU countries for 89 percent, and the United States for 25 percent” (101). Klare adds that China imports 65 percent of petroleum; India 82 percent (102). Citing facts from British Petroleum, “on an average day in 2018, some seventy-one million barrels of crude petroleum and refined fuels – approximately 75 percent of daily world output – were being shipped from one country to another for natural gas, the share of world output in transit was about 24 percent.” Even though the US no longer relies on Persian Gulf oil, “US leaders continue to worry about the safety of the global oil flow, given its critical importance to the world economy” (104).
As global warming widens the geographic extent of hot, moist breeding areas, the range of many virus-bearing mosquitoes will grow as well,” leading to outbreaks of malaria, Zika virus, dengue fever (107). Furthermore, the conditions for pandemics are facilitated as people travel internationally by air and sea travel, “possibly carrying the pathogens with them and so igniting fresh outbreaks of contagion” (108). Klare gives the example of the Ebola epidemic of 2014-2015 that “ravaged Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and affected several other countries.” The public health systems in these countries became overwhelmed. Amidst this health crisis, President Obama declared a “national security priority” and turned to “turned to the US African Command. Africom announced in September 2014 [that it] would establish a ‘military command center in Liberia to support civilian efforts across the region,’ with General Darryl Williams, commander of the Africom’s US Army contingent, overseeing the operation.” The US military “undertook a massive logistical effort in West Africa, establishing emergency hospitals and clinics in each of the three most heavily affected countries and providing support services for a bevy of doctors and other health workers flown in from the United States and other countries. At least three thousand US military personnel participated in this extraordinary effort, dubbed Operation United Assistance” (111).
Level 4 – Great Power Clashes
The ice is melting in the Arctic region and around Greenland as temperatures rise there at twice the rate of the global average. Klare tells us that “the extent of winter sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean was an astonishing 43 percent less in 2017 than it was in 1979, and its summer reach had shrunk by an equivalent amount; the ice cap is expected to shrink even more in the future, and could disappear entirely in summers soon to come.” This is region that is rich in natural resources, where in many other parts of the world resources are dwindling or insufficient to satisfy demand. (Klare has discusses this issue in his books, Resource Wars; Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet; and The Race for What’s Left). Klare cites evidence from a US Geological Survey that found “the area north of the Arctic Circle possesses approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources along with 30 percent of its remaining natural gas.” There are also deposits of “iron, copper, uranium and rare earths, especially around Greenland. Additionally, there are “many valuable fish species that reside or migrate through the region. But, while “many of these resources are in areas under the undisputed control of one or another of the Arctic powers… others are located in contested areas or in the polar region itself….” (131-132).
As the ice melts, countries in the region are gearing up militarily to take advantage of the consequent opening of sea lanes to commercial and military traffic and for a race to control access to the oil and other minerals at the bottom of the surrounding seas. The region is “encircled by Russia, US, Canada, Denmark (responsible for Greenland’s defense), Iceland and Norway” (124), and China “has expressed interest in the region” (125). Klare points out how “…the Arctic could prove to be the first region of the world in which climate change plays a direct role in provoking conflict among the major powers” (124). It is becoming another hotspot and one in which there are nuclear powers involved. This is certainly true, but it is also true that the DoD is devoting its resources in the arctic region to military and protecting US commercial interests, not to climate change itself.
For example, in March 2016, “some three thousand American military personnel joined twelve thousand soldiers from other NATO countries in Exercise Cold Response, the largest multinational maneuvers conducted in Europe’s Far North since the end of the Cold War (123). And: “…the US Department of Defense is storing vast quantities of military material in climate-controlled caves in Norway’s mountainous interior for potential use by American forces. This program, initiated during the Cold War, was substantially expanded in 2014, when the Norwegian government gave the DoD the right to store advanced M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks in the caves, along with other heavy combat systems. The cave complex now contains enough tanks, artillery pieces, and other equipment to sustain a Marine Corp Air Ground Task Force for some fifteen thousand combatants for thirty days of intense combat….if Norway were to be invaded, American troops would be flown into the area and use those weapons to help defend the country” (122). Russia has also undertaken a major military buildup in the region, expanding its northern fleet at Murmansk (123).
Level 5 – The Homeland at Risk – Domestic climate disasters and the military’s strategic predicament
The US military officials recognize that the effects of global warming will have an increasingly damaging impact on the US itself as well as elsewhere. It doesn’t take an expert to see the effects of rising temperatures everywhere on sea levels and on “more frequent and severe storms, protracted droughts, and catastrophic wildfires” with the probability that they will be accompanied by “more frequent and more complex civil disasters” (p. 35). Beginning in August and September of 2017, the Northern Command, as referred to earlier, was forced to respond to the devastation from tropical storms Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The long-range concern among military planners is that such storms will more regularly occur and that “the Pentagon could reach a point where requests for disaster relief and reconstruction at home consume such a large share of the military’s assets and personnel that they imperil its ability to sustain an invincible forward presence abroad” (158).
Superstorm Sandy struck the northeast in 2012, leaving 8 million people without power in severe cold and “major transport disturbances due to inoperable ferries and flooded tunnels; severe disruptions of the East Coast fuel distribution system, including 2,500 inoperable gas stations; and regional commerce at a near standstill due to the closure of the Port of New York” (162). Over 14,000 DoD personnel were mobilized “to provide direct support, and at least an additional 10,000 who supported the operation in various capacities in the areas of power restoration, fuel resupply, transportation infrastructure repair, water and meal distribution, temporary housing and sheltering, and debris removal” (161). In 2013, Secretary of Defense “Leon Panetta directed the armed services to prepare for an entirely new category of disasters,” events he labeled ‘complex catastrophes,’ later defined by the DoD as “cascading failures of multiple, interdependent, critical, life-sustaining infrastructure sectors,” resulting in “extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, environment, economy, public health, national morale, response efforts, and/or government functions” (162).
The US military’s “green” initiatives
Klare completes his analysis by on how senior military officials are attempting to lower their operational carbon footprint.
Steps to reduce reliance on fossil fuels
The DoD has taken steps to reduce the military’s dependence on fossil fuels by the Navy, on the battlefield, and on US military bases.
The Navy has begun using a blend of petroleum and liquified beef fat to fuel some of its ships. One of the Navy’s fleets, the John C. Stennis Strike Group, is being fueled in this manner and has been named the Great Green Fleet” (205). The USS Stockdale, a guided-missile destroyer is, as of January 20, 2016, is motored by the blended fuel. However, Klare notes, the “alternative fuel’ consumed by the Stockdale and other vessels of the 2016 fleet was composed of only 10 percent animal fat, with the remainder being ordinary petroleum” (210).
The Marine Corps has introduced energy efficiency and renewable energy equipment for combat troops in Iraq, beginning in 2006. They introduced “a project to swap gas-guzzling power generates at forward operating bases with energy-efficient replacements,” generates fueled by “a mix of solar and wind power to augment diesel energy” (212). They also introduced a pilot project to test the Solar Portable Alternative system, involving “a flexible solar panel that can be carried by an individual Marine and used to recharge radio batteries, and PowerShade, a larger solar tarp that fits over a standard Marine Corps tend and provides enough energy to power the tent’s lighting system. Additionally, the Marines introduced “a portable 300-watt photovoltaic battery setup to deliver all electricity needed for a platoon-size command center” (212-213)
The US Army is testing its transportation requirements “advanced vehicle power and technology including fuel cells, hybrid systems, battery technologies and alternative fuels” (215). As a result of these innovations, the DoD could report in its Fiscal Year 2016 Operational Energy Annual Report that the DoD’s “total petroleum consumption by the DoD’s operating forces declined by nearly 20 percent over the preceding five-year period from approximately 112 million barrels in FY 2011 to 86 million in FY 2016.”
Getting off the commercial grid in the US
The DoD officials are also concerned about how “most domestic military installations rely on the commercial grid for their electrical suppl and, as climate change advances, those networks have suffered more and more breakdowns from demand overload and intense storm activity” (218). Over 500 installations are tied to the commercial grid for their electrical supply while “the number of extended disruptions to the electrical grid has skyrocketed in recent years.” The goal set forth by the DoD was to replace 20 percent of all electricity with renewables by 2020. Already by the end of 2015, they had made “substantial progress.”
A few concluding thoughts
The US military’s main objectives, certainly over the past 60+ years, have been to protect the national interest, and this is an “interest” defined by the President, often with the bipartisan support of the US Congress. That overriding objective has been to protect the foreign economic interests of US corporations, to protect corporate supply chains, to keep the resources of “developing countries” available to corporations, to support countries that are viewed as allies, and to counter any forces that seek to challenge these goals, whether they be groups identified as “terrorists,” extreme Islamists, or nation states such as Russia, China, North Korea, Iran. And, like other institutions in the US capitalist system, the military and military contractors want to keep growing. This is so although the US already spends more on the military than any other country in the world, far more than Russia and China. The US Congress is about to buttress the DoD base budget by over $20 billion for FY2020. Overall, military-related expenditures exceed $1 trillion. It has huge military force levels, including more than two million personnel, 11 nuclear aircraft carriers, and the most advanced military aircraft. And, despite its humanitarian efforts, the US has been continuously at war since late 2001 and have combat or counterterror operations in more than 80 countries.
Now Klare has authoritatively documented how the varied and mounting effects of the climate crisis have forced the DoD to plan for and respond to the climate crisis. But when all is said and done, dealing with the climate crisis is not among the high and immediate priorities of the US government and therefore will not be one of the military’s.
A report written by Neta C. Crawford for Brown University’s “Costs of War” project draws attention to the contradictory position of those in the military who take the climate crisis seriously. The title of her article is the “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Crawford_Costs%20of%20War%20Estimates%20Through%20FY2019.pdf).
Crawford offers this insight. “In sum, the DOD assumes that climate change will be a disaster for the institution and the planet no matter what they do, even as they believe that they must continue to protect access to Persian Gulf oil so that the US and the rest of the world can burn as much oil as it wants at as low a price per barrel as possible. The Pentagon focuses their efforts on adapting to climate change and preparing for climate caused insecurity, even as they continue to ensure that Americans continue to have relatively inexpensive access to imported oil.” And, further, “Although the Pentagon has, in recent years, increasingly emphasized what it calls energy security – energy resilience and conservation – it is still a significant consumer of fossil fuel energy. Indeed, the DOD is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.”
The lesson: The US military is not going to save us or itself from the increasingly cataclysmic and accelerating climate crisis.