Is the Global Warming Treaty a Threat to National Security?

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

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 nation's largest user of energy. And, seventy-three percent 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, some scientists and President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for causing global warming and all manner of catastrophes (like hurricanes, floods and maybe even El Nino). On this theory, to avert environmental apocalypse, we must reduce the use of energy.

However, 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 military requested a national security exemption from emission reductions for the Defense Department.

Before the negotiations in Kyoto, administration officials agreed they would demand a a military exemption in any greenhouse gas treaty. But what they promised and what they delivered are two different things. The Kyoto treaty exempts only multilateral military operations sanctioned by the United Nations.

Neither the military engagements the U.S. undertook in Grenada, Panama, Libya and, more recently, in Sudan and Afghanastan nor humanitarian relief operations like providing aid to a flooded Bangladesh shortly after the Gulf War were U.N.-sanctioned. And with the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, future military operations - against Iraq or Yugoslavia, for example - would be unlikely to get Security Council approval. In addition, day-to-day operations, training and war games are not "multilateral operations pursuant to the United Nations Charter," and so are not exempt.

Has President Clinton truly decided that global warming poses a greater threat to the U.S. than foreign aggressors like Saddam Hussein. Should the U.S. military really be nothing more than a branch of the U.N.'s peace keeping forces?

The military has estimated that a 10 percent cut in 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 military exercises) by 2,000.

These reductions would substantially hamper military readiness - adding as much as six weeks to the time the air force 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 percent emission cut would be only 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 are not 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 exorbitantly expensive.

Thus, the only realistic way of increasing vehicle fuel efficiency is to reduce vehicle weight -- by providing fewer armaments and/or less protective armor. Either would increase the combat danger faced by U.S. military personnel relative to their prospective opponents. 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. In response to congressional pressure, Secretary Goodman testified that, "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." Well said! But, this strong language did not make it into the treaty, so in effect we are admitting to the world that when the treaty does not suit us, we will 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 Defense Department does get a blanket exemption, that just means that 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?