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Climate Victims Violent? Klare’s Paean to the American Military

Michael Klare’s new book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, is an uncritical paean to the American military. He credits the Pentagon with taking climate science seriously. But he does not question, bring contradictory evidence, or analyze the military’s self-appointed role as global manager of climate-related human disorder. Klare’s work is detailed and comprehensive and merits a close reading. I will briefly summarize the book, address omissions, and conclude with a psychoanalytic perspective

Klare’s is a military institution-centric framing with no regulatory or normative roles for local, national, regional, or international institutions. The book’s present tense title is telling: what’s just a possibility (hell breaking loose) is taken as reality. This is a closed system, and it is sealed against inquiry and challenging facts.

The unquestioning endorsement of the American military is especially significant in view of his previous critical work on America’s energy wars and politics. He is the defense expert for the Nation magazine and is a frequent contributor to Counterpunch, Tomgram, and Democracy Now. His new book is acclaimed by Bill McKibben (founder of 350.org) and human rights historian Adam Hochschild, and it was uncritically featured in the New York Times and U.K. Guardian.

His primary source material includes the Quadrennial Defense Review, the 2007 National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, Obama’s executive orders, DoD report 2013 Strategy for Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities, the 2018 Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure: Initial Vulnerability Assessment Survey, Joint Operating Environment report (JOE), Initial Capabilities Document (ICD), the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), the navy’s “Climate Change Installation Adaptation and Resilience Planning Handbook”.

The military is a tightly managed system of controls and includes: Pacom (U.S. Pacific Command), Southcom, Africom, Centcom, MIL-to-MIL collaboration (military-to-military), JTF-MIOPS (Joint Task Force Migrant Operations), HA/DR (Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief), Area of Responsibility (AOR), Theater Security Cooperation Plans, Great Green Fleet, Green Warrior Convoy. The military is integrated with the NIC (National Intelligence Council), the NSA , CIA, and Customs and Border Security.

The military sees climate as a “threat multiplier” causing disorder, “hell”. The military intervenes to restore order in “stability operations”, “ungoverned spaces”, “uncontrolled spaces”, Mass Migration Event, Failed State Syndrome.

The military sees its primary professional obligation as defending the U.S. against Russia, China and the Islamic State. But the military must now prepare for permanent combat on a climate-altered planet, with inevitable breakdown, violence and conflict: genocide and terrorism; racial, ethnic, religious and tribal conflicts; large scale atrocities; mass migration; violent resistance; outbreak of infectious diseases that could spread rapidly in crowded, unsanitary urban environments that produce widespread mayhem; danger for aid workers and tourists; looting and mob violence. The U.S. military will be called upon to deal with complex emergencies involving “dueling ethnic militias, disintegrating governments and desperate refugees provoking new bouts of violence.” Missions in remote and contested areas “will not prove bloodless.” The United States may need to use its full combat and weapons capacity to preserve order.

The least developed countries are seen as resource-poor and plagued with ethnic discord and with corrupt and authoritarian leaders. Simmering political, racial, ethnic, religious, and tribal differences will erupt into violence and mass uncontrolled migration.

Klare cites military and defense officials[1] who view national security as a sacred obligation. Anything that might undermine institutional integrity is an existential threat. Above all else they are loyal to the unfailing integrity of the military services which they view as the ultimate bulwark against America’s adversaries. “They see climate change as ratcheting up global chaos, which in turn means a greater likelihood of US involvement in ugly foreign wars.” Storms “will impact the ability of our armed forces to fight and win our nation’s wars…”(Lt. General Norman Seip). “The United States is a compassionate, generous and caring nation with a long history of aiding those around the world who are impacted by disasters”(Admiral Kurt Tidd). Military men act out of professionalism: “It’s not an altruism thing…. There are mission reasons to do these kinds of things…” (John Conger). Humanitarian assistance displays the military’s compassion for victims and American military prowess, and demonstrates to allies and adversaries its ability to quickly mobilize massive resources.

Although most war casualties are civilians, women’s voices are absent. Women’s names are associated with (Hurricanes) Katrina, Sandy, Irma, Maria, and Haiyan (a Chinese feminine name).

To See or Not to See

After the Holocaust, there was much discussion about knowing and not knowing. Germany’s death machine had been entirely knowable.

Not asked: how is it that the most powerful and lethal organization in human history could prevent human collapse? The U.S. has just instigated a new nuclear weapons race and could easily end all life in minutes. The U.S. military perpetrates scorched earth wars which cast entire regions back to the stone age. The military defoliates vast forests and strategically destroys vital infrastructure. It commits war crimes against trapped civilian populations and justifies unconventional weapons and torture. The military terrain now includes surveillance, border security, and outer space. But vital public services are defunded: California paid prisoners only $1/hour to fight climate-related forest fires.

For Klare and military officers, the military is professional and unassailable, even retrospectively. Klare writes that Fort Leavenworth is “a legacy of the Indian Wars, when the U.S. military established bases on (what was then) the frontier to help protect newly arrived settlers from Native American attacks….” Not mentioned is the legacy of colonialism and genocide.

The military’s disaster relief/humanitarian assistance (DR/HA) missions project an image of the military rapidly mobilizing soldiers and equipment. The full-scale response to 2013 Typhoon Haiyan involved 1300 flights and the evacuation of more than 21,000 people. Obama deployed the military in the 2014 Ebola West Africa crisis, saying “Our Department of Defense is better at that, our Armed Services are better at that, than any organization on Earth.” According to Jeffrey Sachs Obama chose not to appoint a world expert but appointed “somebody who obviously lacks the necessary knowledge and experience to head an Ebola effort. This was politics.” Sachs said that the afflicted West African countries spend more on debt than on health care which could have stopped Ebola before it started, and the U.S. could have abolished the debt.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was a “complex catastrophe”. It was compounded because relief was delayed by the U.S. Jones Act which required that aid ships depart only from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke awarded a $300 million contract for reconstructing Puerto Rico’s energy sector to Whitefish Energy, a small company located in his Montana hometown. The Electric Power Union in Puerto Rico succeeded in lawfully breaking the contract Here, here and here.

Klare writes about the “migratory impulse” and the “anti-migrant” duties of the military (p. 171). “Like it or not, [the military] will be called upon to reinforce the border and repel climate refugees” in violation international laws. In January 2020 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled in a landmark decision, based on an individual’s inherent right to life, that refugees cannot be sent back home.

Klare writes only of Russian and Chinese aggressive claims in the Arctic. The IPCC warning about the climate emergency would contraindicate any Arctic offshore drilling. There is no mention of U.S. military encirclement of both countries. Putin is characterized as “detonating” “global system shocks” (p. 98) by halting Russian wheat exports when much of the harvest was lost due to heat and drought.

Defending agribusiness, “land grabs” is derisive terminology for the transfer of “poorly documented tribal lands” to large American agribusinesses as they are able to boost productivity. Agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and weapons manufacturers are economically linked in mega-mergers and government contracts.

Klare warns of water-wars in the climate-impacted world of water-shortages. Water conflicts are generally not desperate people vying with each other for life-saving water but ordinary people vs. corporations backed by states and financial institutions.

Disasters and resource poverty do not generally cause breakdown. There is a long historical record of communal organizing in the face of disasters to ensure food and shelter: in Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, Sandy, the displaced 20 million flooding victims in Pakistan, the Haiti earthquake, and the Sri Lanka tsunami. Military interventions in the Middle East aggravated violence and breakdown where people previously co-existed and where there had been public services.

The military’s green initiatives are inflated. The Great Green Fleet demonstrates “U.S. leadership in the development of advanced energy systems and their application to military purposes.” “We are transforming our energy use to make us better warfighters…” There is no exact accounting of the military’s life-cycle emissions, including war-fighting technologies, data centres, military bases, destroyed carbon sinks, reconstruction.

The military/climate nexus was first publicized in the 2003 Pentagon Report, commissioned for $100,000 by DoD planner Andrew Marshall. He had worked for RAND, Kissinger, Nixon and subsequent presidents and was a proponent of Missile Defense, the Project for a New American Century, and Full Spectrum Dominance. The world view of the co-authors: “humans fight when they outstrip the carrying capacity of their natural environment. Every time there is a choice between starving and raiding, humans raid.”[1]

Psychoanalytic treatment often reveals a pathogenic belief underlying a person’s difficulties, around which character is formed.[2] Working groups can function with a relatively objective view of reality or on the basis of various pathogenic beliefs. In Klare’s sources, there is an unquestioned, consistent conviction that disorder and chaos will erupt with climate change and that only the American military can bring about any order. There is no inquiry into causes. The military fears climate change especially as it can impair military operations. It fears that the majority world is inherently disorganized, uncontrolled, corrupt, tribal, dirty, violent, ignorant, resource-poor, and backwards. This core belief implies that the military itself is not violent or disordered; even the first nuclear weapons test which risked vaporizing the planet, or Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of cities, were apparently not seen as frightening or disordered because they were under the control of the military. In response to chaos, the military is rigidly hierarchical, obsessively manages minutia, and fosters omnipotent weapons and omniscient intelligence technology.

Omniscience and omnipotence allay helplessness and fear, but defenses interfere with the capacity to realistically observe oneself and the outside world.[3] Military omniscience involves a belief that everything can be known about other people’s minds through surveillance and torture, AI, algorithms, games theory, neuroimaging. Soldiers themselves become appendages of tools: U.S. forces “rush into the country, cross borders, rappel down from helicopters, parachute out of airplanes” to secure known or suspected nuclear storage sites. The Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is testing a “knee harvester” that collects kinetic energy from each stride to provide instant power generation on long-range missions. Instead of being able to think, soldiers even need instructions to drink and rest in hot weather conditions. The religious terms “sacred” and “mission” suggest a supra-human calling.

It is instructive to read Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control about the spectacular failure of elaborate fail-safe plans when an accident at a nuclear missile silo came close to triggering a nuclear apocalypse but for the ability of a worker to think in a terrifying situation and to care about the life of a fellow worker.

About war, Tolstoy wrote: “all their passions, desires, remorse, humiliations, sufferings, outbursts of pride, fear, and enthusiasm” – how all that can be lost in one brief battle. The experienced General Kutuzov knows about war and has the capacity to feel upset, dissatisfied, depressed, and humbled by uncertainty. There is no sense of omniscience or omnipotence[4].

The military’s pathogenic belief is a delusion centered on a fear that is not reality tested against evidence. Their fear powerfully motivates action. Rivetted attention is on order and control, not on an examination of the fear itself. What is particularly dangerous is that this delusion is not kept as a thought but is acted out by the increasingly totalitarian military. Interventions aim to be “quick in/quick out”, or as long as it takes to restore order. The ensuing disorder becomes a call for grander efforts at control. Their world is frightening: even the most advanced weapons systems can dysfunction in the face of sandstorms and extreme weather.

The military is embedded and sanctified in a nation wealthy enough to attempt the folly of full-spectrum global dominance. Facts about the military are known and easily accessible, so the silence about the climate/military nexus is alarming when fascistic militarization is increasingly globalized. The military is not essential; historically, militaries generate and augment disorder. In reality, non-military socialized organizations and communities are well able to provide essential regulations, disaster relief, and protections for all people.


[1] Dave Webb. “Thinking the Worst: The Pentagon Report” in David Cromwell and Mark Levene, eds. (2007). Surviving Climate Change: The Struggle to Avert Global Catastrophe (London: Pluto Press), pp. 59-81.

[2] Joseph Weiss and Harold Sampson and the Mt. Zion Psychotherapy Research Group. The Psychoanalytic Process: Theory, Clinical Observations, and Empirical Research. (1986). (New York: The Guilford Press).

[3] Novick, J. Novick K.K. (1996). A Developmental Perspective on Omnipotence. J. Clin. Psychoanal., 5(1).129-173.

[4] Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace. (1869). Book Three, Chapter 10.

Among them: General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Gerald Galloway, Lieutenant General Norman Seip, Rear Admiral David Titley, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, formerly Marine General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, General Gordon R. Sullivan, General John F. Kelly, Admiral Donald L. Pilling, Marine General Anthony C. Zinni, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, Admiral Philip S. Davidson, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, Admiral Kurt Tidd, Marine Corps General Robert Neller, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

More articles by:

Judith Deutsch is a member of the Socialist Project, Independent Jewish Voices, and  former president of Science for Peace. She is a psychoanalyst in Toronto. She can be reached at:   judithdeutsch0@gmail.com.

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