November 16, 2010

UK vs. US: Energy in Defense Strategy

I know, I know… as soon as you heard about the release of the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in October, you started checking here for a quick comparison to the 2010 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) on energy issues. Well, now we’re giving it to you.

The first major takeaway is that the two documents are looking in different directions in time. The SDSR is addressing “energy security” in the future. Almost all statements begin with “we will.” Compare this to the U.S. strategy review: In its “Crafting a Strategic Approach to Climate Change and Energy” section, for example, the QDR frequently refers to initiatives the DoD has completed or are currently underway.

A few examples from the QDR (emphasis added):

“Working closely with relevant U.S. departments and agencies, DoD has undertaken environmental security cooperative initiatives with foreign militaries that represent a nonthreatening way of building trust, sharing best practices on installations management and operations, and developing response capacity.”

“The Department is improving small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at military installations through our Energy Conservation Investment Program.”

“The Military Departments have invested in noncarbon power sources…”

Compare to the SDSR:

“… this section focuses principally on the specific changes that we will introduce in this area. In particular, we will…reprioritize bilateral diplomatic relationships…work to enhance oil price to mitigate disruption to the transit of energy supplies…establish stronger measures to ensure the resilience of energy infrastructure…”

Second, notice the emphasis on climate change in the QDR and the lack of it in the SDSR. The QDR dedicates its first four paragraphs of its climate change section to describing expected effects (“heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, …”) and the conclusions of intelligence assessments (again, something previously accomplished) that climate change will have geopolitical impacts. The SDSR does not refer to “low carbon energy and energy efficiency” until its fifth action item under energy security. Even then, the focus is on reduction of energy demand and the establishment of “smart grid.”

Third, unlike the SDSR, the QDR has pictures (like the one featured here). This may seem trite, but remember: pictures can convey hard impressions.

Do these disparities mean that the UK is more or less concerned for energy (and especially clean energy) issues? Probably not. The disparities are more likely attributable to differences in the processes behind and weight assigned to the reviews in each country. But to effectively develop partnerships with this NATO ally on natural security issues, we should begin by understanding their priorities.

And to further expand your knowledge of English-language strategy documents on this issue, tomorrow we’ll compare these with Canada’s recent strategy review.

Photo: At Fort Carson, Colo., the Army partnered with a local energy provider in an enhanced-use lease. The energy provider built a photovoltaic solar array on top of a closed landfill. That site now provides energy to some 540 homes. U.S. Army photo.