Army Green

A new study ties environmental concern to military success

Green Army
A U.S. private plants spartina marsh grass on a beach near Newport News, Va., on Earth Day 2008.
Photograph by Lyna Tucker/U.S. Army

At an unspecified foreign airfield, U.S. soldiers buried several drums containing hazardous liquids that eventually contaminated soil and groundwater. In Iraq, U.S. military trucks leaked fuel and dirty dish, laundry and bath water. Instead of cleaning it up, soldiers referred to the spills as “replenishing the oil wells.”

These are examples of the Army’s environmental footprint during long-term foreign deployments uncovered by a RAND Corp. study, “Green Warriors: Environmental Considerations in Army Contingency Operations.” It’s a footprint that can be the difference between winning local support and escalating an insurgency.

The study, which analyzed Army deployments from 1991 to 2006, suggests the Army could gain tactical advantages by better managing environmental issues during and after combat.

“The Army found itself in longer deployments and more post-conflict and reconstruction activities [which] elevated the importance of environmental considerations,” said Beth Lachman, a RAND Corp. senior analyst who helped write the report.

The Army-commissioned study is part of an effort to improve an often ugly environmental record that includes spraying Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War to remove leaves from trees to uncover enemy positions. It resulted in untold environmental costs and devastating health problems for exposed Vietnamese citizens and for U.S. Vietnam veterans who have suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, respiratory cancers and chronic lymphocytic leukemia and other debilitating conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The environment is rarely considered during conflicts,” said Andrew Morton, Sudan project coordinator at the United Nations Environmental Program’s post-conflict branch. EJ reached him by phone in Vienna, Austria. “There have been a lot of examples of a lack of awareness about the connections between the environment or natural resources and conflict.”

The study said eight years of war and political instability have left poor environmental conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including unexploded land mines and hazardous wastes. Conflicts have also damaged “key water, agricultural and natural-resource infrastructures,” the study said.

War often damages or destroys basic services for a country’s citizens, said David Mosher, another RAND senior analyst who helped write the report. That can increase support for an insurgency.

“Clean water and sanitation services and life-sustaining infrastructure are very important to the locals,” he said.

Renewable energy, including a biomass research project called Tactical Garbage to Energy Refineries (TGER), can help soldiers generate energy on the battlefield, said Center for Naval Analysis researcher David Catarious. The Army sent two of the units to Iraq in April 2008 for a 60-day trial. The U-Haul-sized prototypes convert waste like paper, plastic, cardboard and food into synthetic gas or hydrous ethanol. Either can power a standard 60-kilowatt generator.

“Instead of running fuel convoys out to these remote areas, which are vulnerable to enemy attack and IEDs [improvised explosive devices], you [could have] the ability to self-sustain your electrical operations,” he said.

Renewable energy could also serve local residents.

“That’s when you can really use it to build engagement opportunities and to build relationships with the people you are operating around,” Catarious said

The Defense Department began studying the military’s environment impact in the 1970s after Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. The Army began dedicating more resources to public works and engineering to deal with hazardous waste and clean water supplies, said Michael Cain, director of the Army Environmental Policy Institute. The Army’s environmental strategy in the 1990s focused on natural resources, stewardship and pollution prevention.

Cain said the Army is training soldiers in environmental awareness.

Army engineers designed and implemented a recycling and waste-disposal system at Afghanistan’s Kandahar International Airport in 2002, according to RAND.

The military can win over local citizens by planning ahead to address environmental and public service issues, leaving them a more sustainable situation, said Steve Hearne, a senior fellow at the Army’s environmental arm. The Army’s 2007 sustainability report and its newest field manual address the environmental concerns of long-term deployments.

RAND analyst Beth Lachman said the Army should consider the environmental effects of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When you go into an operation, you make sure environmental issues become prominent in planning,” Lachman said. “It may be that from a hard-headed view certain environmental issues aren’t that important. But [if] you want the support of the population, you really need to incorporate those things the locals care about.”


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EJ Magazine

Hot Planet, Hot Spots

ej-mag-fall-2008Why U.S. intelligence takes climate change seriously 

By Steven Davy


    The United States military and intelligence community have moved beyond debating the existence of global climate change and are planning for the worst. Alarming them is climate change’s potential to further destabilize fragile nations, causing mass migration and providing a breeding ground for widespread acceptance of extreme, potentially violent ideologies.


    The change in climate caused by the burning of fossil fuels and by other human-related emissions has wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, told Congress last June.


    “We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect U.S. national security interests,” Fingar testified.


    Some of the top minds at the Defense Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, like Finger suggest that climate change is a potent threat to national security. Impoverished regions in Africa, Asia, Central America and elsewhere are already experiencing negative effects from climate change. Increasingly hotter and longer summers are drying precious water supplies. Water shortages reduce the capacity of weak governments to sustain agriculture, leading to famine.


    Center for Naval Analyses Research Analyst David Catarious said radical ideology can become more attractive when countries fail to address people’s basic needs. 


    “When these conditions exist, people begin to feel disenfranchised and can become susceptible to the arguments of extremists,” Catarious said in a phone interview.


    In May 2007 the Center for Naval Analyses gathered 11 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals whom collectively advised a report titled “National Security and Climate Change.” It was among the first publications from the military connecting global climate change to U.S. national security. In addition to creating conditions that favor terrorism, the report says climate change multiplies other threats.


    “Unlike the challenges that we are used to dealing with, these will come upon us extremely slowly, but come they will, and they will be grinding and inexorable. But maybe more challenging is that they will affect every nation, and all simultaneously,” retired Navy Vice Adm. Richard Truly wrote in the report.


    The grim assessment doesn’t have everyone convinced. Fears that water and food shortages could destabilize countries and mobilize terrorists are misguided, said University of Texas Assistant Professor of Public Affairs Joshua Busby.  


   “It’s helpful to maybe get the attention of high-level decision makers by making the claim that climate change is going to contribute to Islamic radicalism in sub-Saharan Africa, but I don’t believe it,” Busby said.


    The Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, commissioned Busby to write the report “The Climate Security Connection: What it Means for the Poor,” which says an increasing number of natural disasters could necessitate more use of military forces for security and humanitarian aid. Climate change should be considered in terms of opportunity cost, Busby said in a phone interview.


    The U.S. military’s increased role after an extreme weather event reduces its ability to deploying units for other missions.


   The military’s expanded humanitarian role was seen most recently following Cyclone Nargis in May, or after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. While these were strict aid-delivering missions, Catarious noted harsh climate conditions have also resulted in the U.S. military deploying to regions for stability operations. Though not related to climate change, an acute example was Somalia during the 1990s where a drought destroyed farming, causing widespread starvation.


    The environmental factors combined with years of civil war prompted the United Nations Security Council in 1992 to authorize a peacekeeping operation in Somalia.  Escalating violence threatened U.N. humanitarian operations, prompting the U.S. to organize the Unified Task Force charged with securing southern Somalia to allow humanitarian operations to safely continue.  


     Somali rebels viewed the ongoing peacekeeping operation as a threat and attacked. The ensuing violence included the famous Black Hawk down incident, where a U.S. helicopter crashed in Mogadishu causing an intense battle between U.S. forces and local militants.


    Researchers say a possible powder keg could be fermenting in Haiti. The Caribbean nation suffers from extensive environmental degradation that has exacerbated terrible health conditions and seriously weakened Haiti’s economy. Additionally Haiti is governed by a weak state and has become a transit stop for transnational criminal elements trafficking narcotics, according to the U.N., which recently renewed a peacekeeping mandate there through October 2009.


    “If you see climate change negatively affecting things like agriculture productivity, that then affects the food supply and compromises food security,” said Andrew Price-Smith, a Colorado College professor of environment, health and political science. “The knock-on effects of compromised food security may include radicalization.”


    Price-Smith participated in a March 2007 conference organized by Duke University’s Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C. The conference resulted in a 454-page report titled “Global Climate Change: National Security Implications,” which recommended greater multinational cooperation, “military to military and state to state, on environmental issues.”


   Price-Smith argues that climate change alters weather, redistributing diseases to regions with debilitating effects on people. He has proposed studying the variability of El Niño on diseases in places like Bangladesh, Peru and in sub-Saharan Africa. Price-Smith suggests that El Nino, fluctuating surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean’s central tropic region, could act as a model for projecting climate change’s effects. While the Bush administration’s hands-off policies on climate change are widely criticized, the U.S. is a leader in countering infectious diseases and other public health concerns.  Price-Smith argues that climate change and the spread of such diseases are connected.


    “It seems odd to me to be such a sideline actor in terms of the environment,” Price-Smith said. “These two things aren’t disconnected. Global climate change directly affects human health outcomes whether through disease distribution or agricultural productivity and food security.”


    The reports from Center for Naval Analyses and Army War College prompted the National Intelligence Council’s June 2008 classified assessment, “The National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030.”


    Fingar said in testimony about the assessment that the conditions exacerbated by the effects of climate change could force vulnerable populations to migrate to neighboring nations with potential destabilizing effects.


    “Many likely receiving nations will have neither the resources nor interest to host these climate migrants,” he said. “Receiving nations probably will have increased concern about migrants who may be exposed to or are carrying infectious diseases that may put host nation populations at higher risk.”



    The intelligence assessment also said some parts of the United States could be significantly affected by extreme weather events. The damage by climate change to complex infrastructure like naval facilities, ports, oil refineries and nuclear power facilities would come at a high cost, said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Engel, director of the Climate Change and State Stability Program at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.


    “We could have valuable infrastructure put at risk,” Engel said. “We found that it is the developed world that has a greater vulnerability because the developed world has more valuable infrastructure located along the coasts.”


    Gas, steel and minerals like magnesium for high-technology goods largely come from regions in Africa, the Middle East and former Soviet block countries in Central Asia, said Kent Butts, director of the National Security Issues branch in the Center for Strategic Leadership at the Army War College. All of these regions are likely to suffer adversely from an altered climate. Many already contain fragile governments.


    “It’s been portrayed that the U.S. interests in Africa are only strategic, that we are interested in the minerals and we are interested in the petroleum and we are interested in the terrorist threat, as if those were not valid reasons,” Butts said. “Those strategic issues are very real.”


    Butts said countries strategically valuable to the United States could be destabilized because of an inability to deal with climate change-related issues like storms, floods or new precipitation patterns that spread new diseases. Migrants carrying infectious diseases that would put host nation populations at higher risk. A destabilized strategic ally would prompt U.S. intervention.


    The military has also been keeping a close eye on south Asia. China, Pakistan and India are all nuclear states that depend on the conditions of the Tibetan highlands where glaciers store water for the region’s rainy season. Climate change has depressed monsoons and receded highland glaciers, resulting in what could become a serious competition for water. Couple those conditions to those countries’ nuclear arsenals and experts say there is plenty of reason to worry about regional stability.


    Another region of possible conflict stems from warmed conditions in the Arctic Circle. Russian, Canada and the United States are all keenly aware of the potential abundance of resources like oil in the region. Already chilled relations between the West and Russia over the conflict in Georgia could escalate with competition in the Arctic.


    Butts and his colleagues in the military and intelligence communities suggest the only real way to counter the security threats posed by climate change is for the United States government to stop denying and begin understanding climate change implications.


    “Climate change is an important issue,” Butts said. “The rest of the world agrees that it is and if the U.S. became more involved it would be beneficial. It would help us in our relations with other countries and it would help us address existing threats to our national security interests.”