November 2009 Navy
by Meg Giles, Special Assistant AUSN
How do climate change and our approach to energy impact national security? What is the military currently doing, and what should its role be in the future, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, practice sustainability, and deal with the effects of climate change? These are some of the questions addressed at the National Security, Energy, and Climate Forum: Challenges and Solutions for the Future, held on 30th of September and hosted by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate; the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA); and CNA. Among the speakers were Senator John W. Warner; VADM Norbert R. Ryan, Jr., USN (Ret), President of MOAA; VADM Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret), member of the CNA Military Advisory Board; and senior representatives from the four services. Carol Browner, Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, delivered the keynote address.
The overriding theme throughout the conference was that the country’s energy posture and climate change, each inextricably linked to the other, pose grave threats to our national security. The military, it was argued, should take the lead in changing our approach to energy and global warming. Our need for oil has in many ways shaped our foreign policy and been the source of our involvement with corrupt and unstable regimes, which has serious consequences for our national security. For example, our dependence on oil has often determined U.S. policy in the Middle East, fueling anti-Americanism and making the U.S. a target for terrorism. Furthermore, the world market for fossil fuels will become increasingly volatile as demand increases and supply dwindles. The economic consequences of relying heavily on such an unstable market will lead to additional security risks.
The military, in particular, has been adversely affected by our dependence on fossil fuels. For example, substantial numbers of troops are required to secure fuel supply lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a May 2009 report of the CNA Military Advisory Board (MAB), “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security,” presented at the conference, points out, while logistics has always been a major component of military operations, the fuel-intensive missions of today mean that “more combat troops and assets must divert to protect fuel convoys rather than directly engage enemy combatants. This reduces our combat effectiveness, but there is no viable alternative: our troops need fuel to fight.”1 Conference participant Elmer W. Ransom, Senior Environmental and Climate Policy Advisor, Commandant of the Marine Corps, said that ninety percent of what the Marines deliver in Afghanistan is either fuel or water, and that these operations are extremely costly in terms of money but more importantly, in terms of Marines’ lives. Therefore, the military would embrace technologies that would reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to support its operations.
Whatever one’s opinion on climate change, it is now generally accepted within the scientific community that carbon emissions contribute to global warming. The military is taking this issue seriously. In fact, as numerous speakers mentioned, the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), due in February 2010, is including in its agenda strategies the armed forces can incorporate to deal with climate change. Climate change is expected to affect national security indirectly, acting as a “threat multiplier.” It is argued that the effects of global warming—including drought, rising sea levels, the spread of disease, and extreme weather—will cause tremendous instability in already volatile parts of the world, leading to humanitarian disasters, mass migration, and conflicts over scarce resources. The resulting chaos will overwhelm fragile governments, and we will increasingly see failed states. Such catastrophic events will lead to a rise in militancy and terrorism, threatening national security and placing a greater burden on the U.S. military. Vice Admiral McGinn has said, “Climate change differs from traditional military threats. It is not a well-defined enemy or a specific crisis spot with a fixed timeline for response. Rather, it is a threat multiplier that magnifies instability in the most volatile places in the world and increases a variety of threats across the board.”2
Many of the conference speakers emphasized the need for a cultural change within the military ... to instill in its members the value of energy conservation and sustainability, as well as recognition of the effects of climate change. Michael F. McGhee, Acting Deputy Asst. Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health, spoke of the need for a “paradigm shift” in how the Air Force, and the military in general, deal with energy. Tad Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health, said the military has opened a “third front against global warming.”
The services have already taken significant steps to practice sustainability and conserve energy, particularly in their use of alternative technologies, and have also placed greater importance on the environment and dealing with climate change. One of the largest solar electric plants in the world is at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas.3 The Marine Corps also uses solar energy at some of its bases in California. In September of last year, the Army’s first annual Sustainability Report (for 2007) was released, outlining the current status of the Army in relation to sustainable practices and its future goals.
The Chief of Naval Operations has also created Task Force Climate Change to address the challenges the Navy will face as a result of global warming. Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, RDML Dave Titley, Director of the task force, was also present at the conference and discussed in particular the effects global warming has already had in the Arctic, where ice is retreating and sea lanes are opening up. As he said, the only effective government of the Arctic region is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the United States has yet to ratify. Advocacy for UNCLOS is a particular concern for his task force and the Navy in general because, for the United States to have any leverage in the Arctic, it will need to be a UNCLOS member. Titley said in a recent interview, “As the climate changes and the sea lanes start to open, the United States Navy has a role to play in maritime security, working with our Coast Guard and international partners to ensure the sea lanes remain open and navigation is free for all.”4
Over the last couple of years, the military has been increasingly concerned with energy security. Climate change is becoming less of a theory and more of an accepted fact, with the real potential for dire consequences. Tad Davis said that it is vital for us to move beyond acceptance of the “inconvenient truth” and take real action to face the challenges created by climate change and overdependence on fossil fuels – our national security depends upon it.
- CNA Corporation, Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security, 2009, pg. 7.
- Operation Free, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn calls Energy Independence a “Silver Bullet,” 18 September 2009, http://www.operationfree.net/2009/09/18/viceadmiral-dennis-mcginn-calls-energy-independencea-silver-bullet/.
- U.S. Air Force, Obama touts solar power at airpower hub, 27 May 2009, http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123151297.
- U.S. Department of Defense News, Navy Task Force Assesses Changing Climate, 31 July 2009, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=55327.