National Security Network

Tackling a National Security Challenge

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Report 21 July 2010

Energy Energy climate change national security


The news is full of catastrophes brought on by our energy and climate troubles: a continued heat wave across America, news from NASA that 2010 is on course to be the hottest  recorded year, continued destruction in the Gulf of Mexico, record flooding deaths in China and water now at the center of India and Pakistan's nuclear standoff.   National security experts agree that these and other climate and energy issues are not theoretical or abstract, but real national security threats we face today.  Yet the future of the Senate's energy and climate legislation remains in question.  America's national security institutions, from the CIA to the Pentagon to the National Intelligence Council have all put in place mechanisms to monitor, respond and adapt to the changing climate.  Experts agree that it is time for meaningful, comprehensive clean energy and climate action that reduces our dependence on oil, cuts pollution and creates millions of American jobs.  Yet, conservatives have offered no ideas, only obstruction.  On questions of our security and economic future, Americans can't take "no" for an answer.

Energy and climate risks to American national security are in the headlines today.  Oil is fouling the Gulf of Mexico.  India and Pakistan are training their nuclear weapons on each other over water from melting Himalayan glaciers.  China's massive energy consumption has just surpassed our own.  Analysts write that, in South Asia and elsewhere, climate change should be seen not as a cause but as a "threat multiplier" for conflict.  National security leaders are calling for a response:

Brigadier General Steven Anderson (Ret.), Chief of Logistics in Iraq under General David Petraeus, warns of the dangerous costs of our addiction: "Our troops are getting killed moving fuel we wouldn't need if our military was more efficient - and our enemies know we're hooked on their oil.... That's why breaking our addiction must not only be a military priority, but America's mission, and why the Senate needs to pass a clean energy climate plan."

Thirty three retired generals and admirals write:  "America's billion-dollar-a-day dependence on oil makes us vulnerable to unstable and unfriendly regimes. A substantial amount of that oil money ends up in the hands of terrorists. Consequently, our military is forced to operate in hostile territory, and our troops are attacked by terrorists funded by U.S. oil dollars, while rogue regimes profit off of our dependence. As long as the American public is beholden to global energy prices, we will be at the mercy of these rogue regimes. Taking control of our energy future means preventing future conflicts around the world and protecting Americans here at home."

A Pew report with Senator John Warner states:  "Such effects [of climate change] also could increase U.S. military missions as troops are called on for support domestically and internationally." 

Thomas Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and Gary Hart, co-chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, recently wrote: "We understand it can be difficult to feel urgency about long-range national security threats spotted by military and intelligence analysts - though it is vitally important to do so."  

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) writes, "Scientists now warn the Himalayan glaciers, which supply fresh water to a billion people in India and Pakistan, will face severe impacts from climate change. India's rivers are not only vital to its agriculture but also critical to its religious practice. Pakistan, for its part, depends on irrigated farming to avoid famine.  At a moment when our government is scrambling to ratchet down tensions across that strategically vital region, climate change could work powerfully in the opposite direction. Failure to tackle climate change risks much more than a ravaged environment: It risks a much more dangerous world and a gravely threatened America." 

NSN's Senior Advisor Major General Paul Eaton (Ret) recently pointed out the that even the Taliban has taken advantage of going green: "In mountainous regions of Afghanistan, oil can go for hundreds of dollars a gallon," but the Taliban has started using solar panels to power its communication networks. 

[Steven Anderson via Climate Progress, 7/20/10. John Kerry, 5/20/10.  Foreign Policy, 6/7/10. Thomas Kean and Gary Hart,5/10/10. Truman Project Letter, 4/29/10. Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, 4/20/10. Paul Eaton via NMPolitics, 6/28/10]

Meaningful action needed to address twin challenges of climate change and energy security. New York Times business columnist David Leonhardt observed: "the most efficient way to begin attacking the global swelter is no mystery. It involves raising the price of carbon emissions, which are warming the planet, and then letting the private sector find innovative ways to use less dirty energy." Military leaders join liberal and conservative economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Gregory Mankiw in supporting this approach.  Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (Ret) agrees: "It should put a price on carbon, allowing market forces to steer users away from carbon-based fuels toward green energy sources. It should also provide energy independence, by increasing investment in domestically produced power sources, which should include renewables, biofuels and nuclear power. And it should impose strong energy efficiency standards that will reduce demand for energy. That will require Congress to work with the regulatory agencies to develop and enforce standards that will make a difference."

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Dan Weiss outlined an outcome that will work for consumers, workers, jobs, and the climate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced on July 13 that he plans to bring comprehensive clean energy legislation to the floor of the U.S. Senate..." with  "'four parts: an oil spill response; a clean-energy and job-creation title based on work done in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; a tax package from the Senate Finance Committee; and a section that deals with greenhouse gas emissions from the electric utility industry.' He indicated that Senate leaders would spend the next week putting together a bill with these four titles... Senators should ... [contribute] their most effective clean energy ideas to the comprehensive energy bill that Sen. Reid plans to offer... If they work together, Americans can anticipate a feast of more jobs, less oil use, a more secure nation, and less pollution." [NY Times, 7/20/10. Dennis McGinn, Portland Press Herald 7/11/10. Dan Weiss, 7/16/10]

Obstruction will have direct effects on our security, our military, and our economic future.  In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman strongly criticized conservatives for failing to offer or support any plans meant to deal with this national security issue.  He writes, "Nothing would improve our economic and national security more, yet Republicans won't lift one finger to make it happen.  They would rather we send more Americans to fight terrorism in the Middle East, let petro-states hostile to our interests get richer and let China take the lead in the next great global industry than ask Americans to pay a little more for the gas they use or the carbon pollution they put into the air. If OPEC, China and Russia could vote, they would be 100 percent supportive of the Republicans." [Thomas Friedman, 7/20/10]

What We're Reading

More than 1,000 people have died or disappeared in severe flooding in China so far this year, the highest death toll since 1998.

Water is quickly becoming the biggest flashpoint in the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir.

The Obama administration announced that it will strengthen existing sanctions against North Korea and impose new restrictions on its weapons trade and trafficking in counterfeit currency and luxury goods.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told his Fatah movement he wants a more specific U.S. commitment on the borders of a future Palestinian state before agreeing to direct talks with Israel.

A GAO report says aid to Mexico to fight the drug war is suffering from slow implementation and poor oversight.

Iran's ability to ship vital goods has been significantly curtailed as some of the world's most powerful Western insurance companies cut off Iranian shippers out of fear that they could run afoul of U.S. sanctions.

Intense clashes in Mogadishu between U.S.-backed Somali government forces and Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda killed at least 53 civilians and wounded scores over the past week.

U.S. Special Operations Forces have begun venturing out with Pakistani forces on aid projects.

Cuba is ready to release more political prisoners after announcing this month it would free 52, and they could remain on the island if they wished.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama met to talk about a wide-ranging accord between their two nations, but in public the conversation was dominated by talk of the Lockerbie bomber and the Gulf oil spill.

Commentary of the Day

David Hoffman explains why Republicans should embrace the New START treaty.

David Ignatius says President Obama should tame the intelligence community, using the Office of Management and Budget as a model for how central management should work.

Peter Lee argues that increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington reveal the contradictions inherent in attempting to shoehorn an authoritarian, mercantilist and suspicious nation into a refurbished world system that ostensibly promotes democracy, open markets and multilateralism.