“Perhaps I’m a case study for what happens in the federal government when we start on a tough problem,” says Alice Hill, the senior director for resilience policy at the National Security Council and former senior counselor to the secretary of homeland security, in this week’s podcast.
›May 20, 2015 // By Schuyler Null
In a commencement speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy today, President Obama said “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”
›March 7, 2014 // By Kate Diamond
Earlier this week, the Department of Defense released its first Quadrennial Defense Review since fiscal cliffs, shutdowns, and spending cuts hit the federal government. Not surprisingly, “austerity” shows up in almost every chapter of the report. What shows up even more? Climate change. For the second QDR in a row, the Pentagon has called out climate change as a “significant challenge for the United States and the world at large.”
›November 14, 2013 // By Wilson Center Staff
Super Typhoon Haiyan left the central Philippines in ruins, with a staggering death toll that could climb well above 10,000. The U.S. military is leading the international response to the devastation, along with international aid agencies. The Pentagon has dispatched an aircraft carrier and five other Navy ships, plus a separate group of at least 90 marines and specially trained humanitarian relief teams to the area.
›“We are, what I would call, very non-linear thinkers,” said U.S. Navy Captain Wayne Porter about the white paper he co-authored with U.S. Marine Colonel Mark Mykelby, “A National Security Narrative,” launched by Woodrow Wilson Center President Jane Harman at the Center in April. “We’re almost incapable of restricting ourselves to defense and security in isolation from a much larger perspective,” he told Dialogue TV.
“I think maybe that’s why Admiral Mullen has kept me around – I can offer a perspective that maybe he wouldn’t get from conventional strategists or from conventional planners,” said Porter, who served three out of four tours with the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a special assistant for strategy.
Dialogue host John Milewski sat down with Captain Porter and Robert Litwak, director of International Security Studies and vice president for programs at the Wilson Center, for a discussion about the white paper – published under the pseudonym “Mr. Y” (echoing George Kennan’s seminal “X” article) – and its contention that the United States should move away from an outmoded Cold War-era model of containment, deterrence, and control towards a “strategy of sustainability.”
The narrative has been well received, Porter said: “I think there is an appreciation that it’s a very complex strategic environment that we live in now and that maybe we need to re-look at all of the tools that we could use as a nation to pursue our enduring national interest.”
Inflection Points in History
“The timing of such conversations is cyclical,” said Litwak. “The original ‘X’ article emerged from the end of the Second World War and the advent of the Soviet threat, which required a new conception of international relations that Kennan articulated, as well as the National Security Act of 1947 to line up the U.S. government with this new environment.”
There have also been periods of concern about American decline. “I think what one sees in the current era are both of those trends coming together,” Litwak said:
The system is changing – it’s a debatable proposition that the United States is in decline – but we see in the international system rising powers, notably China, as well as transnational trends that are beyond the sovereign control of any single state, which have called into question the nature of the international system…as well as a sense that…there’s something qualitatively different about this recession than the typical economic, cyclical recession and that has to do with the domestic sources of American strength.These conditions, as well as the source of argument – coming from the military – combined to give particular resonance to the piece, Litwak said.
The Information/Globalization Age
“I think the thing that has changed materially to us is that the information age has brought about an awareness that our environment is completely interconnected,” Porter said. “There’s a complexity to this that can’t be analyzed linearly, that has to have new tools applied.”
“I’d honestly characterize it as significant as the Enlightenment in the 1600s,” he said.
“Certainly we’ve thought in silos and debates have been too often compartmentalized,” Litwak said. “One of the strengths of this piece is that it is truly synthetic – working across the continuum of instruments of power – and talks in a really powerful way about how hard power…has its place, but that the non-military dimensions of American power have been neglected.”
But, Porter said, it’s important to focus on being proactive, rather than reactive:
The thing that bothered us most about the strategies that we see every day in our jobs on our side of the river and across the river is that they are almost universally based on anticipating and countering known risk and threat, and our sense is that we have entered an age in which we need to overcome that sense of fear and seize the opportunity to shape the environment of the future as opposed to simply being resilient to it.As Litwak points out, Secretaries Gates (now former) and Clinton – in the form of the Quadrennial Defense Review, Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and numerous speaking engagements – have both called for closer integration between State and Defense, more resources for non-military levers of power, and more holistic concepts of security. But unfortunately the greater integration called for in these documents remains unrealized.
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The 2010 Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review (QDDR), the first of its kind, was recently released by the State Department and USAID in an attempt to redefine the scope and mission of U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. Breaking away from the Cold War structures of hard international security and an exclusive focus on state-level diplomacy, the QDDR recognizes that U.S. interests are best served by a more comprehensive approach to international relations. The men and women who already work with the U.S. government possess valuable expertise that should be leveraged to tackle emerging threats and opportunities.
›May 6, 2010 // By Schuyler NullAs the crippled Deepwater Horizon oil rig continues to spew an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of Defense has been asked to bring its considerable resources to bear on what has become an increasingly more common mission – disaster relief.
British Petroleum has requested specialized military imaging software and remote operating systems that are unavailable on the commercial market in order to help track and contain the spill.
In addition, the Coast Guard has been coordinating efforts to burn off oil collecting on the ocean’s surface and thousands of National Guard units have been ordered to the Gulf coast to help erect barriers in a bid to halt what President Obama called “a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,” as the oil slick creeps towards the coast.
As shown by these calls and the ongoing earthquake relief effort in Haiti, the military’s ability to respond to large-scale, catastrophic natural (and manmade) disasters is currently considered unmatched. The first Air National Guard aircraft was on the ground in Haiti 23 hours after the earthquake first struck, and DOD’s Transportation Command was able to begin supporting USAID relief efforts almost immediately. The Department of Defense also spearheaded American relief efforts after the 2004 tsunami and played a critical role in providing aid and security in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The Pentagon’s four-year strategic doctrine, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released earlier this year, predicts that such humanitarian missions will become a more common occurrence for America’s military, as the world grapples with the destabilizing effects of climate change, population growth, and competition over finite energy resources. Some experts see this expansion of the military’s portfolio as an essential part of a “hearts and minds” strategy, while others are critical of the military’s ability to navigate the difficulties of long-term reconstruction.
The QDR also highlights DOD’s efforts to reduce the need for oil – and thus deepwater oil rigs – in the first place.
The DOD as a whole is the largest consumer of energy in the United States, consuming a million gallons of petroleum every three days. In accordance with the QDR, Pentagon leaders have set an ambitious goal of procuring at least 25 percent of the military’s non-tactical energy requirement from renewable sources by 2025. The Air Force – by far the Pentagon’s largest consumer of petroleum – would like to acquire half of its domestic jet fuel requirement from alternative fuels by 2016 and successfully flight-tested a F/A-18 “Green Hornet” on Earth Day, using a blend of camelina oil and jet fuel.
At a speech at Andrews Air Force Base in March, President Obama lauded these efforts as key steps to moving beyond a petroleum-dependant economy. However, at the same event, he announced the expansion of off-shore drilling, in what some saw as a political bone thrown to conservatives. Since the Deepwater Horizon incident, the administration announced a temporary moratorium until the causes of the rig explosion and wellhead collapse have been investigated.
Cleo Paskal, associate fellow for the Energy, Environment, and Development Programme at Chatham House, warns that without paying adequate attention to the potential effects of a changing environment on energy infrastructure projects of the future – like the kind of off-shore drilling proposed for the Gulf and Eastern seaboard – such disasters may occur more frequently.
In an interview with ECSP last fall, Paskal pointed out that off-shore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were a prime example of how a changing environment – such as increased storm frequency and strength – can impact existing infrastructure. “Katrina and Rita destroyed over 400 platforms, as well as refining capacity onshore. That creates a global spike in energy prices apart from having to rebuild the infrastructure.”
The Department of Defense has demonstrated – in policy, with the QDR, and in action – that it can marshal its considerable resources in the service of renewable energy and disaster relief. But given the scope of today’s climate and energy challenges, it will take much more to solve these problems.
Photo Credit: “Deepwater Horizon,” courtesy of flickr user U.S. Coast Guard. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joe Torba of the 910th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, which specializes in aerial spray, prepares to dispatch aircraft to a Gulf staging area.
›May 5, 2010 // By Schuyler NullReenergizing America’s Defense: How the Armed Forces Are Stepping Forward to Combat Climate Change and Improve the U.S. Energy Posture.
The military as a leader and catalyst for renewable energy was a key focus of the recently released Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which for the first time included consideration of the effects of climate change and excessive energy consumption on military planning:
Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.
According to the Pew report, the Department of Defense has set a goal of producing or procuring at least 25 percent of its non-tactical electric energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. Highlights of the service’s efforts include:
The Pew report offers a generally favorable appraisal of the military’s response to the “twin threats of energy dependence and climate change” and the progress made towards reaching federal energy mandates. However, the authors let slide that the overwhelming amount of DOD energy usage is tied to tactical consumption, which has been given inadequate attention thus far (consider that the senior Pentagon official overseeing tactical energy planning was only just appointed, although the position has existed since October 2008).
- The U.S. Navy’s “Great Green Fleet” carrier strike group, which will run entirely on alternative fuels and nuclear power by 2016;
- The construction of a 500-megawatt solar facility in Fort Irwin, California by the U.S. Army which will help the base reach ‘net-zero plus’ status;
- The goal of acquiring 50 percent of the U.S. Air Force’s aviation fuels from biofuel blends by 2016;
- The U.S. Marine Corps’ 10×10 campaign to develop a comprehensive energy strategy and meet ten goals aimed at reducing energy and water intensity and increasing the use of renewable electric energy by the end of 2010.
Interest in this field has grown quickly, as evidenced by the more than 400 people gathered at the launch of the latest report from the Center for New American Security (CNAS), Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces – a big increase from the 50 or so at CNAS’ first natural security event in June 2008.
The CNAS study, much like the Pew report, breaks down the military’s efforts by service, but the study’s authors – including U.S. Navy Commander Herbert E. Carmen – thankfully provide more specific recommendations for what could be done better.
Based on research, interviews, and site visits, the study offers geographically specific recommendations for each of the Unified Commands, as well as seven broad recommendations for DOD as a whole:
“While we believe there is still much work ahead, there is a growing commitment to addressing energy and climate change within the DOD,” said USN Commander Carmen in the report:
- In light of its implications for the global commons, ensure that DOD is included in the emerging debate over geoengineering.
- Urge U.S. ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to provide global leadership and protect U.S. and DOD interests, especially in the context of an opening Arctic sea.
- Eliminate the divided command over the Arctic and assign U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) as the supported commander.
- The U.S. government should make an informed decision about constructing nuclear reactors on military bases and provide clear policy guidelines to DOD.
- Congress and DOD should move away from the “cost avoidance” structure of current renewable energy, conservation, and efficiency practices in order to reward proactive commanders and encourage further investment.
- All of the services should improve their understanding of how climate change will effect their missions and capabilities; e.g. migration and water issues may impact Army missions, a melting Arctic, the Navy.
- The Air Force should fully integrate planning for both energy security and climate change into a single effort.
Indeed, in our conversation with officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, it was clear that, in developing the climate change and energy section of the 2010 QDR, the Department of Defense has developed a nascent, intellectual infrastructure of civilian and military professionals who will continue to study the national security implications of climate change, and, we hope, will continue to reevaluate climate change risks and opportunities as the science continues to evolve.A holistic view of national security that includes energy and environment, as well as demographic and development inputs, continues to gain traction as an important driver in DOD policy and planning.
Photo Credit: “Refueling at FOB Wright” courtesy of Flickr user The U.S. Army.
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