Pentagon Prepares For Century of Climate
Emergencies and Oil Wars
By afeez Ahmed
August 08, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "MEE"
- The US Army is preparing for a new era of
war for oil.
While energy has always played
a role in military conflicts, US military experts believe the
geopolitics of energy, land and water is increasingly central to who
rules, or ruins, the world.
Two research documents published in recent months
by the US Army reveal the military establishment’s latest thinking
in startlingly frank terms. The research not only lends credence to
environmental warnings about how climate change will fuel political
instability, but also vindicates concerns about how looming resource
shortages could destabilise the global economy.
In June the US Army published its
report to the Department of Defence (DoD), outlining a new
energy security strategy. Future US Army operations, it says, will
be shaped by “increased urbanisation, rising populations, young
adult unemployment, and a growing middle class that drive resource
The report also flags up “climate change, rapid
technology proliferation and shifts in centres of economic activity”
as major forces of change:
“Global resource constraints will also undermine
the integrity of the Army’s supply chain… We can no longer assume
unimpeded access to the energy, water, land, and other resources
required to train, sustain, and deploy a globally responsive Army.”
The report therefore sets out a blueprint for how
the US Army intends to sustain operational effectiveness, based on
minimising its resource footprint, maximising efficiency, as well as
securing resources critical to the military’s global supply chains.
Sustainability and national security
Many of the proposed changes draw extensively on
new scientific research on environmental sustainability. The
blueprint calls for integrating “resource considerations and cost
management” into the core of US Army decision-making processes,
including “total life-cycle costs” and even “enhanced resource
Business processes, acquisition strategies,
management of technologies, and even the very conduct of military
operations will be redesigned to incorporate new principles of
“resilience” and “sustainability”.
While the corporate and private sector is often
criticised for using such concepts as public relations "buzzwords"
without applying them fully, the new US Army strategy is
The report to the Pentagon shows that the US Army
sees “resource stewardship” not as a fluffy concern of hippy
tree-huggers who want to save the planet, but as a fundamental
national security imperative.
For the US military to maintain its capabilities
into the future, it must be prepared to face the new age of resource
shortages with hard-nosed realism: the result vindicates scientists
and activists urging governments to reduce dependence on traditional
energy sources and improve our ability to manage access to water and
The future is green
Much of the vision would work well in a Greenpeace
handbook. For instance:
“The Army can use energy more efficiently by
purchasing energy efficient products, modernising buildings and
utility systems, purchasing energy efficient vehicles, and using
more renewable/alternative energy sources. We can use water more
efficiently by purchasing water-efficient products, matching water
quality to use, maximising opportunities for water reuse, and
increasing water recharge.
"The Army will build on its Sustainable Range
Programme, integrated natural resource management plans, and real
property master plans to optimise land use requirements, while
protecting the natural and cultural resources entrusted to our care.
Additionally, the Army can support resource sustainability by using
building materials or products that are derived or manufactured
within a region.”
The lessons for industrial-era technologies in
fossil fuel production, transport, infrastructure and so on, are
Many technologies widely used today started life
for narrow military purposes. The US Army’s concerted decision to
spearhead a rapid transition to sustainable energy, land and water
systems sounds the death knell for the old, industrial-era systems.
Protecting US interests from ‘disruption’
The plan is not perfect. The US Army’s
understanding of “resilience” – the capacity to anticipate, prepare
for, withstand and adapt to “natural or man-made disruptions” and to
“recover rapidly” from them – is based on the unquestionable
assumption that US-dominated global capitalism must be protected.
This notion of resilience is not about
transforming the system that generates disruptions, but about
increasing the US military’s ability to withstand disruptions to
capitalism, thus keeping the system rumbling along:
“Resilience is essential for a responsive Army
force posture and an effective network of installations and
capabilities at home and abroad to protect US interests and those of
The Army must become more resource-efficient so
that “US interests,” tied to ongoing resource exploitation
elsewhere, can continue.
That stance is not surprising given that the Army
can only plan within the framework of the Pentagon’s directives.
The imperative to protect business-as-usual is
reflected in a separate report published by the US Army’s institute
for geostrategic and national security research.
report, New Realities: Energy Security in the 2010s and
Implications for the US Military, forecasts a bold new century
of conflict over global energy supplies, due to dramatic shifts in
the way energy is produced and consumed in key regions.
Released earlier this year, the document is a
collection of papers from a US Army War College Strategic Studies
Institute (SSI) conference on energy security, edited by John R
Deni, a former political adviser and strategic planner for US
military commanders in Europe. Currently a research professor in
security studies at SSI, Deni was also a national security
consultant for the Departments of Energy, Defence and State.
The US Army War College report argues that the
global energy landscape is undergoing a major transformation due to
the dawn of the shale revolution in the US, the declining power of
Middle East oil and gas producers, rising demand from China, India
and the “developing world,” as well as Russia’s mismanagement of its
domestic energy arrangements.
It also specifically warns that US energy
interests – including the need to regulate the global oil supply and
price system – may lead to more US military interventions across the
Middle East and Africa, especially in the context of proliferating
“Evolving energy-based US national interests in
Africa or the Middle East may shape the degree to which the US
military becomes involved in political or humanitarian crises in
those regions. Tightening energy supplies may alter fundamentally
the way in which the United States wields military force in a
Reports published by the US Army’s SSI do not
“necessarily” represent official government policy – but they do
“use independent analysis to conduct strategic studies that develop
policy recommendations” relevant for “the Army, the Department of
Defence, and the larger national security community,” and
particularly “in support of Army participation in national security
Fossil fuels are here to stay
The SSI report contains significant tensions with
the US Army’s proposed energy security strategy. A paper by Karen
Smith-Stegan, Professor of Renewable Energy and Environmental
Politics at Jacobs University in Bremer, Germany, warns that there
are major risks with an energy strategy centred on renewables,
largely due to China’s monopoly on rare earth minerals critical for
solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and batteries.
The report does, however, take note of ongoing US
Army and Pentagon efforts to increase resilience and efficiency,
while reducing the military’s energy and resource footprint.
But this is against the backdrop of protecting US
interests in a global system that, the report presumes, will remain
heavily dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.
“Burgeoning demand in China, India, and across the
developing world may cause oil prices to remain stubbornly high,
increasing the cost of fuel-intensive military operations in remote,
austere environments,” the report warns.
It predicts not just continuing, but intensifying
dependence on fossil fuels across the global economy.
Demand in poorer, developing countries will be met
mostly with fossil fuels, “exacerbating human-induced climate change
and potentially intensifying the effects of natural disasters.
Additionally, as fossil fuel production in the Western hemisphere
expands exponentially, there will be corresponding increases in
global fossil fuel movements.”
Increased vulnerability to terrorism and natural
disasters will accompany “more traditional state-versus-state
security competition over limited fossil fuel resources,” especially
among poorer countries.
Eastward military expansion
In some areas, declining oil production could
reduce US regional engagement:
“Decreasing oil production in Sub-Saharan Africa,
coupled with reduced saliency of those same resources in America’s
energy import mix, may severely limit US interests in the region
while simultaneously increasing the risk of socio-political
instability in Africa due to decreasing state revenues.”
More broadly, though, the continued centrality of
oil to the global economy will underpin the need for an active US
In his contribution, Michael Klare, Professor of
Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, highlights
America’s self-appointed role as vanguard of the world’s oil
transshipment routes. The largest flows of oil “pass from perennial
conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East to Europe and
East Asia, often travelling through narrow ‘chokepoints’ that have
proved powerful magnets for insurgents, terrorists and pirates.”
This is why, despite the shale revolution in the
US, there is a continued need for US military forces to police these
crucial regions to keep the world safe for capitalism. In Klare’s
words, “the stability of the global economy rests, to a considerable
degree, on the uninterrupted flow of oil shipments from the Gulf.”
Klare’s chapter provides a candid history of the
evolution of US military expansionism as a function of diversifying
and protecting access to global energy supplies. The search for new
sources of energy has led US military operations to extend far
beyond the Middle East, to areas like the Caucasus, the Caspian and
As global energy demand shifts further eastwards,
the report warns, there is a worsening risk of the US and China
clashing in their determination to enhance their respective
capacities to defend critical energy shipping lanes, across the
Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific.
As the old cheap sources of oil and gas have
depleted, there is an increasing shift to more expensive
unconventional energy forms permitted by new extraction
technologies, in challenging environments like the Arctic:
“As reserves in older production areas have become
depleted – a natural consequence of the intense production we have
witnessed over the years since World War II – energy firms are being
forced to rely on ever more remote and hard-to-exploit deposits.”
The problem of nationalist democracies
Elsewhere, the report advocates a far more
interventionist approach to Latin America, described as “potentially
rich in unconventional oil and shale gas resources, as well as
renewables. These resources can fuel domestic growth” as well as
make-up for the declining significance of Middle East oil resources.
According to Professor David Mares, a Latin
America energy specialist at the James Baker III Institute for
Public Policy, the countries most favourable to US interests are
Colombia and Peru, as they “encourage exploration and production”.
He fails to acknowledge, though, that the openness
of both countries to foreign investment has been enabled by
extensive US military interference involving colossal human
In contrast, Mares singles out Venezuela, Brazil,
Argentina and Mexico for raising “significant obstacles” to oil
investment and production. Such democracies must be “crafted” until
they adopt political stances favourable to US interests:
“The essential challenge for Latin America to meet
its hydrocarbon potential is crafting stable domestic political
coalitions that see the benefit of providing incentives for foreign
investors to bring the requisite capital, skill, and technology to
the region. Historically, Latin American democracies do not have a
stellar record in providing such incentives when they perceive that
they have an asset that others desire.”
The observation is a telling one, given the
implication that the US sees its mission as countering regional
democracies if they insist on too much “resource nationalism,” by
resisting the intrusion of foreign corporations.
Mares laments that such stubborn democratic
nationalism in the region would forestall the desired “bonanza for
Latin America and a shift in the geopolitical centre of energy
toward the Western Hemisphere”.
Resurgence of the oil empire
That shift to the West, according to former State
Department official Robert Manning – whose most recent post in the
Obama administration was as a senior strategist in the office of the
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) – is being driven by the US
Manning, along with most other contributors to the
US Army’s SSI report, agree that shale will contribute to the
“resurgence” of the American economy into the 2020s, while weaning
off its immediate dependence on conventional energy resources in
Of course, the US Army’s recognition of the
urgency of transitioning to more resilient and sustainable ways of
using energy, land and water is heartening. It shows that
environmental concerns are not merely the province of green
activists, but are increasingly acknowledged at the highest levels
of military power.
But the geopolitical context of the US Army’s new
energy strategy highlights the chronic short-sightedness of US
military planners. The Army’s sustainability strategy is ultimately
about maintaining US military dominance despite resource scarcity,
while safeguarding the wider fossil fuel system – not changing it.
The unswerving commitment to protecting
business-as-usual, the fatalistic capitulation to a future of
expanding oil dependence, and the blinkered belief that global
economic health is tied to endless resource exploitation, all show
that US policymakers still have their heads in the sand.
If Pentagon officials really want to defend US
national security, they must wake up to the fact that the global
system itself must undergo a fundamental transformation, in which
economic stability is no longer dependent on the unlimited
consumption of fossil fuels.
Nafeez Ahmed PhD is an investigative
journalist, international security scholar and bestselling
author who tracks what he calls the 'crisis of
civilization.' He is a winner of the Project Censored Award
for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian
reporting on the intersection of global ecological, energy
and economic crises with regional geopolitics and conflicts.
He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning
Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic,
Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New
Internationalist. His work on the root causes and covert
operations linked to international terrorism officially
contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s