A war machine, like any mechanism, needs fuel in order to run. When that war machine is operating in an environment where the necessary fuels are sparse, a person has two options: 1) Get it there somehow, or 2) Give up. The current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, as their architects have elected to go with option one, are fed by often-long convoys transporting supplies (fuel and water) for both man and machine.
Convoy, released by C.W. McCall in 1975, follows the journey of truck driver Rubber Duck, within an ever growing convoy on the way to its destination. Due to the high value of its cargo, the convoy is convinced that “Ain't nothin' gonna get in our way,” despite the fact that they come under fire from, “armored cars, and tanks, and jeeps, and rigs of every size. . . And choppers filled the skies.”
Unlike at the finale of this country classic, however, sometimes the most protected convoy can end in ambushed disaster, resulting in astronomical costs for the operation (in time, dollars and blood). The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) states that resupply casualties historically account for 10-12 percent of total Army casualties, the majority being water and fuel related, making this, quite literally, a deadly issue.
Yesterday I made the journey over to the Hill to check out an interesting hearing for the House Armed Services Committee Readiness Subcommittee over energy management and initiatives on military installations. The hearing, overseen by Chairman Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), heard the testimony of four Defense Department officials: Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment; Mr. L. Jerry Hansen, Army Senior Energy Executive; Mr. Roger M. Natsuhara, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment; and Mrs. Debra K. Tune, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics.
Rep. Ortiz started on two colossal renewable energy projects that the military services have undertaken, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and Fort Irwin, California. Despite his evident pride in renewable projects such as this, the initial concern of the hearing was how these and other energy initiatives have the potential to affect DOD operations and readiness negatively. Specifically, he cited the potential for wind farms and solar arrays to disrupt military training and radar, weakening both in-theater and homeland effectiveness. Each witness named this as a potential concern in their respective testimonies, which prompted Ortiz to inquire as to any established basis of information or study to support these concerns. Dr. Robyn noted that, to her knowledge, no projects have gone forward that have created any such problems. Natsuhara followed later with a reasonable statement what concerns them most is what is not known about the effects of most projects, but none of the panelists were able to offer any data supporting, or disproving, the concern for radar disruption.
This morning The Washington Post reported that the United States plans to embed American intelligence agents in Mexican law enforcement units along the border city of Ciudad Juárez in an effort to combat illicit drug trafficking and the strangle hold that the Mexican drug cartels have throughout Mexico. And while combating the drug trade in Mexico – especially along the U.S./Mexico border – is a cornerstone of our bilateral efforts to bring a modicum of stability to the country, the United States is also making environmental cooperation a priority along the border as well.
Last week, my colleagues Christine Parthemore, Commander Herb Carmen and I were on location in Colorado Springs visiting with folks at U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to discuss all things energy and climate change-related. One interesting program that we learned about during our visit though is an ongoing bilateral, interagency effort that includes NORTHCOM, the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) and several U.S. and Mexican state and federal agencies around environmental preparedness, protection and response along the southern border.
Last week Stratfor issued a cool piece, “Niger: The Coup and Uranium.” This is straight up natural security reading for you, dear readers. You can get the full article in exchange for your email address, which I’d suggest is worth the price for the map and chart they provide. A few brief highlights:
Niger contains one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world and was the world’s sixth-largest producer in 2008...France maintained a monopoly on Niger’s uranium production for more than three decades following the beginning of commercial production in 1971. But Niamey has begun to open its doors to other countries — most notably China, which has been increasingly active on the African continent in recent years.
...While uranium does not form as high of a percentage of Niger’s gross domestic product as might be expected (roughly 7 percent in 2008), the junta nonetheless has a financial incentive to keep these operations running smoothly. Uranium constitutes roughly half of Niger’s exports and the lion’s share of foreign direct investment — meaning that whoever controls the purse strings of the government has access to big money.
A tip of the hat to our Senior Military Fellow from the Marine Corps for this one!
Whether it’s to save money at the gas pump, reduce the impact on the environment, or get the solo ticket in the HOV lane inside the Beltway, people today are buying a lot of hybrid vehicles.
If you knew you would spend billions of dollars on fuel each year, saving money with hybrid vehicles would have an even bigger impact on the bottom line. That’s one reason why the Navy is investing in hybrid power plants for its ships.
For more reasons that just fuel savings, the Navy has a long-term goal of building completely integrated electric drives for new ships. But for ships in service today, the Navy is looking to hybrid-electric power plants on ships to save fuel costs. The USS Makin Island is the first Navy surface ship to be equipped with such a system.
Makin Island uses gas turbine engines and an auxiliary propulsion system (APS). The APS uses induction-type electric motors to power the ship’s shaft and drive the ship for roughly 75 percent of the time underway.
The demonstration does not stop with just one ship. Last summer, the Navy signed a contract with General Atomics and DRS Technologies to demonstrate the use of hybrid propulsion in the DDG-51 class destroyer in FY 2011. The Navy estimates it will cost $10 million to retrofit this system into each ship. Installing the hybrid electric drive system onto a DDG-51 class destroyer may reduce steaming costs by an estimated 16 percent and save approximately $2.5 million per year.
Makin Island is already saving us money. When she made her trip from Mississippi around South America to San Diego last fall, she consumed 900,000 less gallons of fuel than what another ship of her class would have consumed on the same journey. That translated into about $2 million saved just in the transit to homeport.
The benefits of hybrid drive propulsion on board Navy ships extend beyond the business case for saving money on fuel. It’s also about the mission. The operational impact of using less fuel at sea translates into more steaming days between underway replenishment. The added endurance allows ships to sail independently for longer periods of time and adds greater flexibility to expeditionary operations.
I’m going to reach back into last week on this one, as President Obama teed up the topic last Tuesday with his announcement of over $8 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. Perhaps the best back-and-forth outlining the pluses and minuses of guaranteeing loans for new nuclear plants was in an exchange between Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Christine Todd Whitman on CNN last Wednesday.
President Obama announced more than $8 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants this week, sparking much news and debate this week over the wisdom of using nuclear as a major source of clean power. This is sure to be the theme for our weekly wrapup next Monday, so stay tuned. Read a complete transcript of his remarks before the Electrical Workers Union Local 26 here.
At the risk of having this new feature labeled a complete cliché, I will save you the overly used George Santayana quote, and simply state that sometimes it is pertinent to look back, in order to better assess the present. Though “natural security” as a study, like your four-year-old niece, can still count its age on one hand, in practice it has been a timeless and vital key to the success of empires, war machines, revolutions and development—for those that understood its pivotal role. In this new blog feature, I’ll be sifting through the pages of the great war “how-tos”—from Sun Tzu's The Art of War to today’s feature, U.S. Army FM 3-24, a.k.a., “The Counterinsurgency Manual”— looking back to see what role natural security held in conflicts contemporary to the manual, and what its words of natural security wisdom hold in current engagements.
The COIN Manual was drafted at a time that the U.S. military had found itself in a war it had not entirely planned for, and whose outlook seemed to grow more grim every day. The United States had not exactly come with a knife to a gun fight, but in a sense had walked into a swarm of bees after gearing up to slay a dragon. The U.S. armed forces were prepared to fight a conventional war, but found that the game had changed since they last took a stroll through Baghdad’s front gate. It was time for a reassessment, the Army dug into working on it, and thus in 2006, U.S. Army FM 3-24 was born.
The manual gave a new hope for success in Iraq, as it won hearts and minds within DOD with its heightened focus on the Iraqi people and the cancerous roots of insurgency. Though penned years before the launch of natural security here at CNAS, the manual included important natural security-relevant mentions:
Currently, the Obama administration’s 2010 3D Afghanistan strategy boasts a COIN approach which prominently features coordinated agricultural efforts between the military and USAID, water and energy projects, and additional natural security-esque initiatives supported by the COIN Manual's guidance. Having risen from the ashes of earlier failures only to help guide the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the COIN Manual was as much a product of its environment, as it has now made the environment a product of itself.
The Department of Homeland Security released its inaugural Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) last week. According to the report, the QHSR will "Describe more comprehensively the Nation’s homeland security interests, identify more clearly the critical homeland security missions, and define more completely a strategic approach to those missions by laying out the principal goals, essential objectives, and key strategic outcomes necessary for that strategic approach to succeed."
I thought it might be useful to pullout a few of the natural security-related statements from the review. Perhaps most importantly, the QHSR describes today’s security environment and includes long-term trends linked to energy security and climate change that could threaten American interests:
Dependence on fossil fuels and the threat of global climate change that can open the United States to disruptions and manipulations in energy supplies and to changes in our natural environment on an unprecedented scale. Climate change is expected to increase the severity and frequency of weather-related hazards, which could, in turn, result in social and political destabilization, international conflict, or mass migrations. (p. 7)
Indeed, recognizing that climate change is a long-term trend that could threaten American interests should be kept in mind when reading Mission 5: Ensuring resilience to disasters:
The strategic aims and objectives for ensuring resilience to disasters are grounded in the four traditional elements of emergency management: hazard mitigation, enhanced preparedness, effective emergency response, and rapid recovery. Together, these elements will help create a Nation that understands the hazards and risks we face, is prepared for disasters, and can withstand and rapidly and effectively recover from the disruptions they cause. (p. 59)
While the Department will likely need to consider climate change along all elements of the emergency management spectrum, integrating climate change into its hazard mitigation and enhanced preparedness elements could prove to be the most beneficial. Indeed, as the Department strengthens its efforts to build local, state and federal capacity to respond to disasters and to mitigate disasters that could threaten communities, integrating how climate change will affect individual communities could help bolster that resilience and to help mitigate future risks.
With the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review both describing current and future security environments that could be shaped by long-term trends associated with climate change, it will be interesting to see how the forthcoming National Security Strategy will integrate climate change into its assessment. As Christine Parthemore and I write in our working paper, “It is very likely that President Obama’s National Security Strategy will describe a more complicated national security environment, characterized by non-traditional threats and responses, with climate change explicitly identified in that context.” Indeed, the QDR and QHSR may just preview the National Security Strategy. We’ll see.
At the risk of a pop culture flogging, I thought that someone over at the Natural Security blog should put out some commentary on the seemingly messianic piece of 3D cinema known as Avatar. On a personal note, it was a movie you readily want to hate, but actually proves to be pretty solid, despite its sadly obvious symbolic language (e.g., the hard to find, harder to extract mineral Unobtainium, or the dangerous celestial setting of the film, the planet Pandora), three hour run time and near unprecedented number of fans, the sadly obsessive, the geeky and the freaky.
For anyone who has seen Avatar, it is clear just how readily the plot lends itself to issues of Natural Security. For those that haven't, I'll spare the internet the burden of serving as a host to yet another film summary (suffice it to say that it evokes the spirit of the theatrical offspring of Dances with Wolves and FernGully) and hit on the great Natural Security bits.
In the film, Earth is in an energy crisis due to its entrenched investment in finite energy resources. This brings both mining and military forces (all represented by American personnel mind you) to a distant land, where the resident Na’vi people sit atop one of the most vital and valuable energy resources known to humankind - Unobtainium. It's at this point that you might begin to doubt James Cameron's cinematic subtleties and wonder why he didn't simply name the planet Iraq, and ditch the term "unobtanium" for "oil." I must admit, I was waiting for a "Mission Accomplished" banner the whole time, which (*spoiler alert*), never did materialize.
While initially the film's concept of an energy war may seem to be nothing more than a glaring indictment of some current issues, it does offer a little more. The reason Unobtainium is worth all this trouble is that it not only provides a hyper-efficient and sustainable (ignoring the side effect of killing the planet Pandora) answer to Earth's energy woes, it also allows for the energy capabilities for interstellar travel, trade and pioneering. So really we’ve switched our dependency on one resource for another, something we advocate against at the Natural Security blog since dependency on one resource can lead to struggle and potential conflict over it. Just ask the Na’vi.
Happy President's Day from the Natural Security Blog. We will be taking today off, but we look forward to returning to our regular Natural Security business tomorrow!
Photos courtesy of Christine Parthemore/CNAS.
After back-to-back storms pounded the Washington metropolitan region and most of the Northeast this week, shutting down the federal government for a record-breaking four consecutive days, life is slowly returning to normal. The storm left thousands without power for parts of the week, crippled public transportation and shutdown the region’s three major airports. The Washington Post reports that “Snowmageddon” helped to shatter the seasonal snowfall record, with totals reaching “55.9 inches at Reagan National Airport, 72.8 inches at Dulles International Airport and 79.9 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.”
The photos above show a snow covered Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial, just one the many dramatic scenes left in the wake of the historic winter weather.
Some climate change skeptics have used the week’s events as evidence against climate change. But some scientists have responded, with recent stories populating the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times (to name a few). The bottom line message can best be summed up by John Broder at The New York Times:
A federal government report issued last year, intended to be the authoritative statement of known climate trends in the United States, pointed to the likelihood of more frequent snowstorms in the Northeast and less frequent snow in the South and Southeast as a result of long-term temperature and precipitation patterns. The Climate Impacts report, from the multiagency United States Global Change Research Program, also projected more intense drought in the Southwest and more powerful Gulf Coast hurricanes because of warming. In other words, if the government scientists are correct, look for more snow. (emphasis mine)
Photos courtesy of Christine Parthemore/CNAS.
I got this book for my brother Chris, a lover of diving and travel humor, for Christmas after a friend recommended it on Facebook. Having not read it and purchased it for title and cover alone, I decided to read a bit of it myself to make sure that it wasn’t a completely crappy Xmas present. No up-front intention of trying to tie it to natural security.
Try as I might to escape thinking about work, it turned out that To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism by writer and editor Chuck Thompson had a few relevant passages.
Our colleagues in the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars recently released a comprehensive report, Land Grab? The Race for the World’s Farmlands, that looks at the increasing frequency of food-importing developed nations and private companies investing in huge tracts of arable farmland in less developed countries.
This is an area that, while we haven’t explored deeply, we are beginning to study more and more here in the Natural Security program. We’re particularly interested in the ways that these emerging economic trends are engaging other socioeconomic and political trends in developing countries, which could lead to instability in countries of geostrategic importance to the United States (e.g. Pakistan).
According to the report’s authors:
Large-scale land acquisitions may have a negative effect on the wider sociopolitical and economic context of the host country. There are documented cases, such as the Daewoo Logistics Corporation’s (ultimately unsuccessful) plan to lease 1.3 million hectares of land in Madagascar, where negotiations over deals have contributed to political instability and internal social conflict. These deals touch on the already politically contentious issue of land allocation and land rights, so they carry a possibility of exacerbating existing tensions.
Granted, to this point Madagascar is the only case where a land deal has contributed to widespread political instability. However, the factors at play in most host countries—land, food insecurity, and poverty—make up a combustible mix that could easily explode. In countries—such as Pakistan—where violent, extremist anti-government movements have mastered the ability to exploit land- based class divisions, the political risks are particularly high.
The report is intended for a much broader (global) audience and, rightly so, is not explicit about how these trends might engage U.S. national security interests. But for researchers like us who study natural resources and economic trends and analyze their engagement with national security, the report is robust and offers useful case studies in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe that are a great jumping off point for our further research. You should read this now!