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MILITArY TUrNS UP THE HEAT The impact on global warming from armed forces is not on the COP agenda. It should be, writes Oliver Belcher

As with most conferences where leaders are pressed to make big commitments, the COP goals are open to interpretation, leave considerable wiggle-room and say more about what is left off the agenda.

Two ma j o r omi s s i on s s t a nd ou t . The c onference agenda is silent when it comes to the relationship between country emissions and their economic growth. And nothing is said of the connection between global warming and global warring – that is, the outsized role of militaries as climate actors.

These two omissions are not mutually exclusive. Carbon-intensive militaries usually play an important role in the economic development of any country. This is especially true for three of the world’s biggest carbon polluters – the United States, China, and Russia – and most developing states.

COP negotiations risk overlooking both the connection between emissions and growth and the role of militaries in driving that growth, and therefore emissions.

Consider the US military. It is difficult to exaggerate the role it has played within America’s domestic economy over the past years – from its influence in car and aero-space production and design, defence spending for public and private sector R&D, its formative role in Silicon Valley and its long-standing contractual relationships with big tech companies.

Given its symbiotic relationship with many local industries across the states, every congressional district is keen to preserve the extraordinary defence budget, which stood at $ billion this fiscal year.

In North Carolina alone, the home of Fort Bragg, military installations support , jobs, generating $ billion in personal income and $ billion in gross state product. That amounts to about per cent of the state’s overall economy.

The role of the US military within the country’s economy entails a significant carbon footprint. In , the US military

Since the war on terror began, the US military has emitted 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases bought more than , barrels of oil a day and emitted more than , kilotons of carbon dioxide in burning those fuels.

Two y e a r s a g o , I wa s p a r t o f a t e am o f r esearchers who found that if the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Since the War on Terror began in , the US military has emitted . billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases, the ‘equivalent to the annual emissions of million passenger cars, more than double the current number of cars on the road in the US,’ according to Professor Neta Crawford, of Boston University.

To account for how a single institution can have such an effect on the climate, it is necessary to look at the sprawling character of the contemporary US military. There are three main facets to it that affect the climate: infrastructure, innovation and military occupation.

The first one is easily measured. There are more than military installations within the US, and more than military bases in over countries and territories around the world. Each of these bases and installations requires energy, not to mention the carbon footprint of defence employees, civilian and military, just showing up to work. Moreover, the Defence Logistics Agency runs a sophisticated yet carbon-intensive global supply chain to keep military bases and war zones stocked with essentials, including fuel delivery. Due to the exorbitant fuel demands of the US military, the DLA-Energy, a sub-agency within the US Department of Defence, is a powerful actor in global fuel markets.

Beyond infrastructure, developing weapons systems is the heart of military innovation. Despite pronouncements to ‘green’ the US military, every major weapon system – from fighter jets to the aircraft carriers landing them – is extremely carbon intensive.

Crucially, carbon consumption is ‘lockedin’ over the duration of a weapon system’s lifecycle. The lifetime of the $ . million

F- jet programme is set to end in , and burns nearly twice as much fuel as an F- fighter jet.

To say that war is environmentally destructive is to state the obvious. The carbon-intensive dimensions of military occupation are perhaps less obvious.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US adopted a counterinsurgency strategy that sought to wed security and economic development. With every male of fighting age employed in work, the thinking went, there was one less fighter joining the insurgency. Often, that proved to be wishful thinking. Men working during the day would often fight for the insurgency at night.

To maintain s ecur i t y, a rmy and po l i ce forces needed reliable roads. Hence, a hefty amount of economic aid went to building and maintaining roads, such as Afghanistan’s Highway ring road. Roads create long-standing ‘path-dependencies’ as they are used extensively by the military and civilian cars. Any road maintenance in war zones is itself carbon intensive.

The coming months will see much ink spilled on whether we are witnessing the decline of the post-Second World War American imperium.

To be su r e , Pres i dent Biden’ s endorsement of a foreign policy focused on ‘counter-terrorism’ and the Pacific ensures a pronounced US international presence for years to come.

Unlike his predecessor, Biden has consistently underscored climate change as a national security threat. That will not be enough. Whatever Biden understands the existential danger of the climate crisis to be, little headway on the issue will be made until the American political establishment, and world leaders generally, confront the climate elephant in the room. More attention needs to be paid to the disproportionate roles played by militaries in environmental change. Oliver Belcher is Associate Professor at the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University




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