Pentagon Faces A Battle On Climate Change (?)

So say John Podesta and Peter Ogden, I, however, heartily disagree. This opinion piece in Financial Times is one of the strangest reads I’ve had in a long time, and displays a profound misunderstanding of both the purpose of the military and its real-world commitments and tasks. So here we go:

There are five key areas in which effective military planning can be undermined by uncertainty over when and how the major carbon-emitting countries combat climate change.

First, climate change poses a threat to fragile states that lack the capacity to adapt to environmental shifts. The Pentagon needs to know if the military will be called upon to operate more often in countries that have collapsed or are on the brink of doing so. The risk of a regional conflagration sparked by global warming is particularly severe in east Africa and south Asia . How urgently should the Pentagon begin planning for such contingencies?

Planning for ops in third world backwaters is nothing new, and it is something the military has become adept in executing. That is why we have methods of circumventing infrastructure problems by using staging areas, airlift, and convoys. As far as a risk of a regional conflagration in east Africa , I’m more concerned over the current conflicts there that are driven by ethnicity, religion and a struggle for resources and political power. If you want to play the six degrees of Kevin Bacon here, and link those four major issues I outlined to global warming, have at it, but the Janjaweed militias in Sudan aren’t upset over Darfur ’s carbon emission levels. Next point here, about Pentagon planning: I agree, someone should form some sort of command, and put it in charge of Africa . I’ve even got a great name picked out for it…

OK, sarcasm off, moving on:

Second, the US military needs to know how significantly to expand its capacity to act as a first responder in times of natural disaster. Climate change will increase the frequency of large-scale disasters over the next three decades. But the scope of this threat will vary depending on what action is taken to minimise emissions. Although some of the emergencies created or exacerbated by climate change may be managed by the UN, the US military has an unrivalled capacity to act as a first responder in these situations.

This is an interesting shift of focus: the military should be a global first responder to earthquakes and hurricanes? I agree that in extraordinary conditions, if we have available forces we should help in recovery efforts, but that cannot be a primary mission of the force as a whole. There is no doubt that our response to the tsunami in 2006 and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 engendered some good will, but the mission of the Army is to serve the American people, to defend the Nation, to protect vital national interests, and to fulfill national military responsibilities. We shouldn’t parachute in an airborne division wherever there is a natural disaster. Using the military as a first responder –and making that a primary mission– detracts from combat readiness and ignores current force commitments in Iraq , Afghanistan , and elsewhere. NGOs and ad-hoc coalitions are the best way to handle disasters, and the military helps out when and where it can, but it does not sit on a tarmac, wait for a landslide in Nepal , and spring into action.

Third, the US military will have to conduct traditional missions in increasingly adverse weather conditions.

That’s why they issue us ponchos and sun glasses. Skipping forward:

Fifth, the roles of the army and National Guard will need to evolve according to the degree of global warming. National Guard troops are responsible for responding when necessary to domestic natural disasters, but this may not be viable if their deployment overseas leaves the US short of troops and equipment at a time when extreme weather occurs more often at home. The Pentagon might need to begin helping to create a state-level home guard to take over domestic disaster duties from the National Guard.

Two points here: first a veiled Katrina reference, which we have refuted time and time again here: the military response to Katrina was fast, efficient, organized, and saved lives. By the beginning of September, 2005, there were so many troops in the area that the Mississippi ordered most of the out. Just because the Louisiana-based 256th BCT was in Iraq , people lined up to make hay out of this “the Guard is short of troops and equipment” line. Next, we need a “backup” National Guard to fill in for the real National Guard? Huh? Most states have volunteer “defense forces” already, but the Guard is more than able to handle disaster response duties as it is currently arrayed.

While these challenges may seem far off, they are not. It is not too soon to begin factoring them into US security calculations. President George W. Bush knows today whether the US will build the national and international frameworks needed to forge a low-carbon future. The business, scientific and political community has failed to coax that information from him. Perhaps if the Pentagon asks, he will answer.

John Podesta is president of the Center for American Progress and was White House chief of staff from 1998 to 2001. Peter Ogden is senior national security analyst at the centre.

OK. I hope we all learned something here. Thanks, for reading, and don’t let the global warming hit you on the way out.


  1. Lugo says:

    "Center for American Progress" is a holding tank for the folks who will staff the next Democratic administration. Thus, this is exactly the kind of drivel we will hear from OSD in the Obama administration. DoD is not about killing people and breaking things – it's about saving the planet! For the children! Dear God, think of the children!

    Can the Pentagon combat climate change in addition to everything else it does? Yes, we can!

  2. Eagle1 says:

    Oddly enough, I was just reading up on the coming "global cooling" as the sun's sunspot activity seems to be sowing down.

    Can't wait to hear the hand-wringing wimps deal with a cooler earth "crisis."