Tuesday, May 13, 2014

SHOULD WE BUILD OUR MILITARY ON ALTERNATIVE ENERGY OR REDUCE OUR MILITARY



Harry Targ

Energy can be used as a weapon. You don’t have to go further than the headlines today to see that’s true….We’re doing this to become better war fighters.” (Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, quoted in “Purdue, Navy to Unite on Energy Research,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, May 9, 2014).

At a public assembly celebrating a formal agreement endorsed by the United States Navy and Marine Corps and Purdue University, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and President Mitch Daniels extolled the virtues of future research collaboration. 

Mabus pointed out that the Navy expects that one-half of its energy consumption by 2020 will come from alternative sources of energy and a research partnership with universities such as Purdue will ensure the achievement of that goal.  All of this work, the Secretary said, would support the Navy and Marine Corps effort to remain the nation with the leading “warfare capacity” in the world. A spokesperson from the Purdue Energy Center declared that the agreement shows that the Navy and Purdue University are natural partners. Quoting Mabus again: “We’re going to benefit from the brains, research and talent of Purdue.”

The positive side of this agreement is that a multi-billion dollar defense program is committing itself to the development of alternative energy sources for its projects. What the self-congratulatory comments from the Navy and the university leave out is the alternative to research and development of new energy sources for maintaining the U.S war machine. Another approach to national security policy that should be discussed is downsizing a military machine that uses (wastes) scarce resources for purposes of global domination.

Even though pressures to cut federal budgets across the board, including defense, are great, the Obama Administration remains committed to stabilizing or increasing U.S. naval capabilities in the Pacific.  For example, in a 2013 Wall Street Journal story Julian E. Barnes reports that the Pentagon is planning to shift the bulk of its “naval assets” to Asia. Barnes quoted former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who declared that by 2020 sixty percent of “cruisers, destroyers, submarines and other warships” would be stationed in the Pacific. Barnes pointed out that the shift from a bi-ocean navy to an Asian based navy would please U.S. allies who feel threatened by Chinese hegemony in the region (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles).

In February, 2014 current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to cut defense capabilities, presumably to meet budgetary demands. However, Hagel announced that the Navy would purchase two destroyers and two new submarines. Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper wrote (The New York Times, February 23, 2014), “Although consideration was given to retiring an aircraft carrier, the Navy will keep its fleet of 11-for now.”

Jaime Fuller wrote an article in The Washington Post, (“Four Factors Shaping President Obama’s Visit to Asia,” April 23, 2014) highlighting President Obama’s visit to Asia. The article discusses the historical evolution of the “Asian pivot” policy initiated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 and endorsed by the President. A centerpiece of the shift of U.S. military policy to an Asian focus includes renewing U.S. access to naval bases in the Philippines, supporting expansion of the Japanese military, and responding to a Chinese naval buildup in the Pacific. The author asserts that “through its navy, China hopes to reshape the balance of power in Asia. The naval competition in the western Pacific will set the tone for a large part of global politics in the coming decades.”

The “liberal” media, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, are not the only purveyors of information about the need for a strong navy. The conservative newspaper The Washington Times published an article by Bill Gertz on May 7, 2014, with the title, “Inside the Ring: China’s Missile Cruiser a Major Step to Naval Warfare Buildup.” The article describes China’s development of “an advanced guided missile cruiser that represents a major component of Beijing’s large-scale naval warfare buildup.” To the chagrin of Gertz, the United States is not planning on building such cruisers.  In terms of U.S. military security, the article quotes Rick Fisher, “a Chinese military affairs analyst,” who claims that U.S. military planners are not able to fulfill “ ‘Air Sea battle’ strategies to counter China’s increasingly capable ‘anti-access’ threats in East Asia”  because of Obama’s short-sighted concern about nuclear weapons and his domestic agenda. 

These news items suggest curious connections. First, major research institutions such as Purdue University remain instrumentalities of the military. And, even if research programs are addressing fundamental human problems such as saving the environment and reducing commitments to a fossil fuel economy, they are inextricably connected with programs building “warfare capacity.” These goals are incompatible. (Research and teaching programs exist at most universities, including Purdue, to explore alternative approaches to national security that do not depend on expanding the nation’s “warfare capacity”).

Second, the occasion for the visit by the Secretary of the Navy to Purdue University was the announcement of a collaborative project to transform the U.S. Navy away from overreliance on fossil fuels. The military and the university will be collaborating to improve the environment and make war-making more efficient.

Third, the Navy/university project is designed to facilitate the Obama Administration goal of projecting more U.S. military power in Asia, to curry the favor of some allies in the region, counter-balance Chinese influence, and prepare for war with the superpower of the future.

Reflecting on these news accounts we see the paradox of the inextricable interconnectedness of education, research, environmentalism, militarism, and the pursuit of U.S. great power hegemony. As a result, progressives must increasingly develop a political program that addresses the crisis of the global environment and the war problem at the same time.