“All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change” by Michael Klare
Reviewed by H Patricia Hynes
Encasing the Earth with its empire of military bases, weapons, personnel, and pollution, the U.S. military is the single largest institutional contributor to the climate crisis, using an estimated 5% of all petroleum consumed globally. Were the U.S. military a country, it would rank 47th out of 195 countries in greenhouse gas emissions, yet its role in the climate crisis is sheltered from public reporting and accountability.
During the negotiations for the 1997 climate-based Kyoto Protocol, the U.S., at the insistence of key generals, demanded that military emissions – from base operations, war readiness, war exercises with allies, and wars waged – be excluded from our country’s greenhouse gas emissions reporting system. The U.S. got its way, yet never ratified the Protocol. Thus it has been since – the elephant in the room of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement and subsequent intergovernmental climate meetings. Following suit, no countries include their military greenhouse gas emissions in their annual reports of climate emissions, leading this reviewer to conclude that up to 15% of climate emissions are unreported global military emissions.
Ironically though, the Pentagon, throughout much of the last two decades, even during the science-denying Trump administration, has studied the worsening climate crisis, deems it a conflict multiplier, has been quietly preparing for the worst – weak country breakdowns from climate chaos, massive migration, and worldwide conflict – and has committed to being “leaner, greener, and meaner,” to quote the Marines. The Pentagon’s escalating dystopian scenarios, its fixation with being overstretched by climate crises and great power conflict to the point of collapse, and its more recent goal of reducing its climate emissions, are studiously and methodically presented in Michael Klare’s All Hell Breaking Loose.
Klare structures the potential scenarios of mounting climate crises and U.S. military interventions, as articulated in the Pentagon’s multiple reports, in what he deems a “ladder of escalation.” The lowest level of military intervention is that of short-term humanitarian and disaster-relief assistance, increasingly necessary with escalating climate breakdown, and carried out quickly. We have witnessed the example of U.S. emergency military response providing food, medicine, and logistics, for example, in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and in the Philippines after one of the largest and strongest recorded tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan, in 2013, followed by return to mission: war readiness.
The next level of escalating threat and challenge for the U.S. military involves politically weak states that are increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes and resulting conflict. The West African country of Mali, for example, lies largely in the Sahara desert and semi-desert of the Sahel, and is undergoing increasing desertification. With less rainfall, traditional pastoralists are impelled to migrate into cultivated farmland, stirring conflict in a weak, high crime country, where the U.S. has a military footprint.
What we do not learn in this book is a fuller chronicle of the U.S. role in Mali with blowback from our military actions. Mali was flooded with weapons, terrorists, and Islamist fighters fleeing Libya after the U.S./NATO bombing of Libya to end the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, worsening Mali’s internal fragile state. As journalist Seumas Milne framed it in 2014 in The Guardian, “Coups and terror are the fruit of NATO’s war in Libya.” To the recent dismay of U.S. Africa Command known as AFRICOM, Malian armed forces trained by AFRICOM waged an August 2020 coup of their government, failing to uphold the rule of law in conflict and civil governance.
Even more unsettling, according to Pentagon oracles, is the potential for state failure in climate-suffering countries, precipitating lawlessness, a huge flow of climate migrants crossing international borders, and disruption of international trade. (The UN has estimated that, worst case, there could be up to a billion climate refugees by 2050 depending on the intensifying climate crisis).
Warming temperatures and the melting of the Arctic Sea are leading to whole new contested regions, portending the most extreme peril in the ladder of escalating risks as analyzed by the Pentagon. The melting polar ice cap over the Russian and Norway regions of the Arctic opens up a whole new advantageous trade route in the Arctic Sea, and access to a wealth of oil and valuable seabed mineral deposits. Already the seeds of conflict are being sown in this region. In anticipation of war with Russia over access to these natural resources, the US is storing weapons in Nordic countries and conducting muscle-flexing military exercises with those countries, while Russia is staking out its territorial claims to the resources with over flights and ice cutters exploring the region.
The Pentagon’s worst-case scenario envisages multiple, simultaneous warming-related crises: weak governments collapsing under conflict; the breakdown of global trading systems for food, energy, and other vital commodities; a subsequent massive refugee crisis; and “great power” warfare, all while the U.S. military is triaging climate emergencies at home and abroad. The Pentagon’s greatest nightmare is impotence and failure, that is, their own institutional collapse and loss of “power projection,” under the weight of multiple deployments in out-of-control situations, in the midst of war with Russia and/or China – in Klare’s words, all hell breaking loose.
While the Pentagon has outpaced other federal agencies with its climate analysis and agenda, albeit sotto voce during the Trump administration, the military motives behind planning, research, policy, and action on climate crisis, are self-serving. They bear the familiar masculinist mission: to sustain global military capacity, “force projection,” and dominance.
To the surprise of many, the Pentagon has also set concrete objectives to achieve its environmental security more rapidly than other federal agencies. They include:
- Escaping the tyranny of petroleum with its oil price shocks and oil politics by moving to alternative fuels (by late March 2021, U.S. naval bases have met 2/3rds of their energy use mainly with solar and wind power, according to Lara Seligman and Bryan Bender in the March issue of Politico
- Achieving self-sufficiency in energy and water on bases that are multiply threatened by sea level rise, drought, rising temperatures, and wildfires
- Shoring up combat effectiveness by attaining 100% renewable energy and water self-sufficiency on military bases we occupy abroad, thereby reducing the need for off base supplies, especially in places of conflict that carry the threat of roadside bombs, ambush, and so on
- Sustaining American security and interests threatened by chaos and conflict from climate crises on our 800 bases across the world and active duty soldiers stationed in 150 countries, and to protect the thousands of homeland bases and military sites in the United States from terrorism heightened, as they anticipate, by climate global crises, foreign government breakdown, and consequent migration
- Networking with global military partners, such as NATO, to do the same, in a MIL to MIL initiative
Lest we detect any altruism, any environmentalism, any shift in mission other than world military dominance in these objectives, heed the words of Ray Mabus, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy under former President Obama. “We are moving toward alternative fuels in the Navy and Marine Corps for one main reason and that is to make us better fighters. Fewer carbon emissions are a byproduct.”
The author Michael Klare, a longtime security analyst and prolific writer, immersed himself in the recent Pentagon studies, analysis, and policy regarding the climate crisis, to write a very readable book with complete transparency regarding the military perspective and preparedness. He has the thoroughness of a honed researcher, but also, unfortunately, the voice of an embedded reporter who has left his powers of critique at the door. He seems, somewhere along the way, to have gotten seduced by the military’s esteem of its singular mission in the world when he conveys that the U.S. military may likely be the only organization capable of maintaining world order in the future chaos of climate and state breakdown.
Klare writes as though unaware (but he is not) of the military’s own role in contributing to the ensuing and worsening climate crisis. Since the Carter Doctrine in 1980, for example, the U.S. military has patrolled and protected trade supply routes in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, and the Pacific for oil corporations. Do we really want the same federal agency that has one collective solution for conflict – inordinate bombings, drone killings, and armed invasion – and that obliviously fueled ISIS in the Middle East, to take on single-handedly the climate crisis?
The author is unquestioning of the military’s dystopian scenarios of climate crisis, with no space for examples of civil society altruism during crisis nor of the non-military UN agencies and international NGOs, which have alleviated emergencies. There are no positive anticipatory civilian response scenarios suggested, for example, of a new national Civilian Climate Corps trained rigorously – as rigorously as the military with tools, machines, and communications systems, not weapons – to respond with emergency and longer-term climate resilience measures.
The success of Maryland’s state hazard mitigation officer JaLeesa Tate provides a model of outreach, collaboration and foresight for acting early to buy out homes in high-flood-risk areas and make the vacated land more flood resilient, thus deterring climate chaos, as featured by Pew Charitable Trusts 2021 publication. Tate attributes her success to working with other relevant state agencies, whole neighborhoods, and local federal offices to build consensus and to garner funds for the buyouts.
All Hell Breaking Loose finishes with endorsing the DOD’s self-serving conviction that the U.S. military, with its skilled manpower, equipment, and rapid response capability, is “possibly the only stabilizing force capable of maintaining world order,” to quote reviewer and critic Judith Deutsch. And why not? The U.S. has weakened and dismissed the UN. Ours is the only country that has colonized every continent with military personnel and weapons. The Department of Defense and related militarized national security agencies get the lion’s share of our discretionary budget, thanks to a bipartisan consensus molded by defense industry money and its lobby.
Yet, how ironic is the DOD’s self-perception as the only stabilizing force when they don’t win wars. Au contraire, they have been a force for country breakdown and disorder (Iraq, Libya, and now Afghanistan) and the spread of terrorism. Al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq until our war in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq. Of ISIS – our terrorist nemesis, one member Abu Ahmed told Marin Cholov of The Guardian in 2014, “If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no ISIS. Bucca [American prison camp in Umm Qasr, Iraq] was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”
How much common sense, humanism, and wisdom does it take to see that only diplomacy, negotiations, mutual cooperation and arms control will save us from escalating climate crises, constant conflict, and future pandemics – not the Pentagon?