The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change


Any effective response to the critical climate situation would need to include elimination of the military. This is often met with derision although it was the ostensible aim of the United Nations Charter. Sara Flounders’ remarkable 2009 article on the Copenhagen climate meeting tied together the military and climate change, but delinking of the two persists. She wrote that “with more than 15,000 participants from 192 countries, including more than 100 heads of state, as well as 100,000 demonstrators in the streets – it is important to ask: How is it possible that the worst polluter of carbon dioxide and other toxic emissions on the planet is not a focus of any conference discussion or proposed restrictions? …the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.”

Overall, environmentalists pay little attention to the military, and the anti-war movement does not address the climate. Both squander precious time.   At a slow pace, industrialized countries have been “transitioning” to clean energy since the 1960s, without any specified and enforceable time frame.   Renewables remain a very small part of the energy mix and will not remedy the carbon-intensive military or industrial agriculture. Transition fuels like natural gas and biofuels have proven to be disastrous to human communities and to the climate. By contrast is the fast pace rapidly rising temperature, accelerating greenhouse gas concentration (due to amplifying feedbacks), increased military spending including nuclear weapons, and new weapons/surveillance/pacification technology.[1]   At some point recently, the climate goal shifted from elimination of greenhouse gases to mitigation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mitigation means to render more gentle, milder, to appease, mollify, to lessen the stringency of an obligation.   Naomi Oreskes identifies a strategy of distraction and delay. The option of enforceable regulation, of steep reduction or elimination of high-emitting economic sectors, remains off the table.

Much reliable information about the direct tailpipe emissions of US/NATO wars is accessible in Barry Sanders’ The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism and here.   A complete tally of military carbon dioxide emissions must also include the energy and material used in the manufacture of military equipment, high-emitting transport of military personnel and weapons systems, over one thousand of military bases, reconstruction of war-torn areas requiring the use of high-emitting cement and steel. Full accounting must also include externalities such as water depletion and contamination, and the military’s destruction of many carbon sinks: the defoliation of southeast Asia, the decimated boreal forest in sourcing tar sands bitumen destined for military use, the destruction of the soil carbon sink by war and by weapons testing.

Right now, the securitization of climate change merits urgent attention. NATO, the U.S. Navy, and the Pentagon have issued policy statements prioritizing climate change as a “threat multiplier.”     The race for global economic and military hegemony extends to the Arctic as warming opens up competition for sea lanes and resource extraction. In 2009, the U.S. Department of the Navy released a 36 page document called Navy Arctic Roadmap. “The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests. ….What the practical implementation of this policy means is the expanded penetration of the Arctic Circle by the U.S. Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) third of the American nuclear triad…”   The 2010 Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Review includes climate change as a military issue. In a memo made public on January 19th, 2016, the Pentagon affirmed that “climate change will be a constant consideration in how the Department of Defense goes about its war mission, acquisition programs, readiness plans, construction projects and security judgements….”

Assigning “security” to the military rests on two premises: that the military is the institution best prepared to handle disasters, and that climate instability and chaos will breed violence in an overpopulated, destitute world.   Military/police shock doctrine interventions, justified by the terms Responsibility to Protect or humanitarian intervention, are well known to bring further disaster, even death: Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Haiti earthquake, the current case in the Central African Republic. Certainly a First Responders Corps and a Civilian Conservation Corps could better protect life and environment and provide much employment and training.

The assumption that destitute, traumatized masses become violent is a-historical and does not distinguish between violence from above and from below.   The expectation of inevitable violence “offers an excellent platform for states to exploit authoritarian populism in the name of scarcity.”[2]   It is often posited that climate-related impacts like water depletion will be the new casus belli. “However, a closer analysis of history suggests that water issues have more often than not been grounds for cooperation, rather than conflict,” and in the 20th century 145 water-related treaties were signed. [3]   Drought and famine in themselves do not cause violence from below.

Syria is a case in point as the war is attributed to climate change-related drought.   First, the cited figures of 1.5 million internal refugees is incorrect and at most 250,000 people left rural areas.   The immediate cause of migration was not drought per se.   Critical for Syria’s rural population at the time was the withdrawal of state agriculture subsidies for diesel fuel and seeds. Prior to that the Syrian Ba’ath Party support for the agriculture sector and rural development had gradually given way to marketization, with changes to land ownership and agriculture subsidies. At the time of the Arab Spring, food prices had precipitously increased worldwide. A suppressed World Bank report estimated that 75% of the increase in food prices was due to biofuels, not drought. A further determinant of soaring food pricing was the speculative financialization of food on the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index.

The encroachment of the military into climate securitization is furthered by changes to climate adaptation funding. Countries are now able to count overseas development aid (ODA) towards the climate fund, and there are moves to allow ODA to also include peacekeeping and security funding.   Thus is whittled down the commitment made at the Cancun COP meeting to raise $100bn/year to provide adaptation funding for the periphery countries by 2020.   There remains reticence, even silence, about the human catastrophe due to the military and climate change. In 2009, the same year as Sara Flounders’ article, Oxfam and the Global Humanitarian Forum reported that climate change was already claiming 300,000 human lives/year. It was already predictable that sea-level rise would displace hundreds of millions of people and inundate rich agricultural land. Is there any justification at all for maintaining a military that so clearly threatens human existence?


[1] Halper, Jeff (2016). War against the people: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification. Pluto Press.

[2] p. 55. Hayes, Ben. “Colonising the future: climate change and international security strategies.” In Buxton, Nick and Hayes, Ben. (2016) The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the military and corporations are shaping a climate-changed world. Pluto Press.

[3] p. 195. Manahan, Mary Ann. “In deep water: confronting the climate and water crises.” In Buxton.

[4] Abboud, Samer N. (2016). Syria. Polity Press.


More articles by:

Judith Deutsch is a columnist for Canadian Dimension Magazine, former president of Science for Peace, and a psychoanalyst by profession. She can be reached at judithdeutsch0@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring