Greenwashing empire and ‘cool’ national security

Speaking Security Newsletter | Advisory Note for Organizers and Candidates, n°40 | 1 September 2020

Anything can be called a national security issue, but unless that thing is exonerated from the How Do You Pay For It question, it hasn’t been elevated to that level. At the moment, only military spending flies above the establishment’s deficit dogmatism. If this wasn’t the case, we’d have a Green New Deal and considerably fewer F-35s.

Climate change’s strictly-rhetorical incorporation into national security discourse risks greenwashing the unpopular militarism that national security’s really about; it makes the violent organizing principle seem cool. And (perceived) coolness blots out the ugly, unpopular stuff that some organizing principles (capitalism, national security) are actually/centrally about.

Cool national security

We need a term for this (have you seen the DNC’s foreign policy platform?), so I took Jim McGuigan’s definition of ‘cool capitalism’ (Cool Capitalism, 2009, p. 1) and replaced every instance of “capitalism” with “national security”:

“Cool national security is the incorporation of disaffection into national security itself. ‘Cool’ is the front region of national security today … For national security to command hearts and minds, it is necessary to mask out its much less appealing back region, manifestations of which are perpetual sources of disaffection.”

Climate change is reportedly an issue “particularly important among young and disaffected voters.” How will the authors of national security (the military-industrial-congressional complex, the foreign policy establishment) assuage this disaffection? After all, the US military is a bigger polluter than more than 100 countries combined (or more than 140 countries) and significant progress could be made if the longstanding “combat vs. climate” funding disparity was reversed. Moreover, militarism is unpopular and so are the budgets that support it. 

By contrast, the Green New Deal is increasingly popular. So in order for its authors to be taken seriously, national security has to appear climate-conscious aka cool. They rightly sense their legitimacy is at stake (clearly).

Greenwashing empire

Sen. Warren and Rep. Escobar’s DOD Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act would require DOD to achieve ‘net zero energy’ across all its military installations.

OK, cool, but:

1. Cool national security legislation won’t fix empire (or climate)

The bill’s net zero energy requirement pertains only to DOD’s “non-operational” sources of energy consumption. So Warren/Escobar are talking about bases and buildings; or what DOD calls “installation energy.”

Installation energy refers to the energy needed to power fixed installation and non-tactical vehicles. DOD says its “276,561 buildings, covering 2.267 billion square feet on these installations” account for one-third of DOD’s total energy use.

The remaining two-thirds is eaten by operational energy, “the energy required for training, moving, and sustaining military forces and weapons platforms for military operations” so we’re talking about the energy used by ships, aircraft, combat vehicles (Humvees get 4-8 mpg), and tactical power generators — the stuff that (literally) fuels war.

So operational energy is a bigger deal than installation energy, w/r/t to both empire and climate change. Two ways to express this.

(a) As a proportion of what the US government does as a whole:


(b) Its (enduring) costs:

^Source (N.B.: expenditures do “not reflect additional costs imposed on the Department for force protection, storage, and transportation, beyond the point of sale.” So everything above is actually more expensive than depicted.) 

The only surefire way to bring these costs and resultant greenhouse gases down anytime soon is to wind down US military empire, as DOD basically implies: “While operational energy is an essential component of our warfighting capability, longer operating distances, remote and austere geography, and anti-access/area denial threats are challenging the Department’s ability to assure the delivery of fuel.”

2. Climate change isn’t what DOD considers security

Commander James Goudreau said in 2012 that “Alternative fuels for the Navy is not about being green, it’s about combat capability … Our job is not to save the world, it is to protect the nation.”

It shows across the institution that climate change isn’t considered ‘real’ national security. A 2005 law established that federal energy consumption of renewable energy shall be “not less than 7.5 percent in fiscal year 2013 and each fiscal year thereafter.” Here’s how DOD’s doing with that (just with its installations), ~15 years later:


3. The bill itself subordinates climate change under the ‘real’ national security interests

I wouldn’t mind DOD’s irrelevant idea of what security means if Congress didn’t endorse it. The waiver qualification in the Warren/Escobar bill itself subordinates climate change under the ‘real’ national security issues:



At the end of the day, national security is centrally about militarism. Marginal gains can be produced by making national security cool, but it won’t be enough. A new, democratically-minded organizing principle is needed to replace it, one that’s authored by and for the (global) working class.

Thanks for your time,

Stephen (@stephensemler;

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