What does a treaty proposed to prevent human-caused global warming have to do with the U.S. military? More than you think.
It turns out that the federal government is the United States' largest consumer of energy. And 73% of the federal government's energy use goes to the Defense Department.
Most of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels, which generate potentially heat-trapping greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases have been blamed by some environmentalists, scientists, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for causing global warming and all manner of catastrophes, such as hurricanes, floods and maybe even El Nino.
To avert an environmental apocalypse, environmentalists say we must reduce the use of energy. But because energy use is critical to the effective functioning of the military, Sherri Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security, and the leaders of the four branches of the U.S. armed forces asked for a national security exemption from emission reductions for the Pentagon.
Before the negotiations in Kyoto, the White House agreed it would demand a military exemption in any greenhouse gas treaty. But what officials promised and what they delivered are two different things. The Kyoto treaty exempts only multilateral military operations sanctioned by the United Nations.
The military engagements the U.S. undertook in Grenada, Panama, Libya and, more recently, in Sudan and Afghanistan were not U.N.-sanctioned. Nor were humanitarian relief operations, such as those providing aid to a flooded Bangladesh shortly after the Gulf War. Given the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, who can say what future U.S. military operations would be given Security Council approval?
In addition, day-to-day operations, training and war games are not ''multilateral operations pursuant to the United Nations Charter,'' as defined in the Kyoto treaty, and so they aren't exempt.
The Pentagon estimates that a 10% cut in its fuel use, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, would reduce tank training by 328,000 miles per year, flight training and flying exercises by 210,000 flying hours, and the number of steaming days - days on board ship in port and at sea for training and naval exercises - by 2,000.
These reductions would substantially hamper military readiness -adding as much as six weeks to the time air forces and tank corps need to deploy in a time of crisis. What would our enemies be doing while our troops got up to speed? And a 10% emission cut would be only one-third of the military's share of the cuts needed to meet our commitments under the treaty.
Another option to reduce energy use is to increase vehicle fuel efficiency. However, electrically powered vehicles aren't realistic options for the military, since refueling during combat is usually impossible and operations often take place far from electric power supplies. Solar-powered vehicles are underpowered, too dependent on weather for long-term operation and too expensive.
The only realistic way of boosting fuel efficiency is to reduce vehicle weight. How do you do that? By providing fewer armaments or stripping protective armor. Obviously, that would only put American soldiers in harm's way. Even if U.S. tanks, planes and ships are still better armed and armored than our opponents, improving fuel economy would reduce the gap between the effectiveness of our military equipment compared to theirs.
Congress is aware of the national security implications of the Kyoto treaty. ''If we were to undertake . . . a completely unilateral operation, we do not need an international treaty to tell the United States how to operate unilaterally. That is a matter of United States sovereignty,'' Secretary Goodman testified recently.
Well said. But such strong language didn't make it into the treaty. So, in effect, we are admitting to the world that when the treaty doesn't suit us, we'll break it. This puts us in the unenviable position of being a rogue nation. Or other nations might follow our example, in which case the treaty becomes merely a public relations ploy. So why sign it in the first place?
Finally, if the Pentagon does get a blanket exemption, that just means the private sector will have to make even deeper cuts to make up for it. Harming the U.S. economy would not seem to be any more in our interests than hog-tying the U.S. military in case of a security threat.
None of the three options, weakening national security, flouting treaties or harming the economy is an attractive policy stance for a presidential candidate. Will Al Gore get the message?
H. Sterling Burnett is an environmental policy analyst with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas.
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