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Synthesis/Regeneration 42   (Winter 2007)

Militarism and Global Warming

by Steve Martinot

US militarism has to be considered under three headings: First, the US military is the largest single consumer of fossil fuel in the world. Second, the US economy, the largest national consumer of fossil fuel in the world, has shown that its primary mode of maintaining a supply of fossil fuel for itself is through military action (assault, intervention, occupation of other oil producing nations). Third, the US military operates in the interest of a corporate economy of which it (the military) is the foremost sector in the US.

US military control of the global economy has shifted political definitions to the point where, at both the national and international levels, the corporations have become the primary citizenry, relegating humans to a second-class citizenship where their existence as humans has been reduced to a structural and political irrelevance. Ultimately, as the largest user of fossil fuel in the world, the US military must increase both itself and its petroleum use in order to guarantee that it will have increased access to fossil fuel for itself and the corporations whose interests and its own are interwoven.

… the US military is the largest single consumer of fossil fuel in the world...[and] uses roughly 100 million barrels a year for its aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and facilities.

The received wisdom of the ecology movement is that we should all use less energy. Since real humans are the only ones who can take a political, moral, ethical and social interest, and put that interest into action, to keep the planet inhabitable, we have to have priorities for ourselves that are in accord with the real situation we face, and not content ourselves with small measures. While the other cycles of greenhouse generation (the melting permafrost and the melting icecaps) may suggest that we are at or close to a point of no return, both result from unbalanced human use of earthly resources. This consideration renders the cycle of military use of fossil fuel the primary cycle involved in bringing us to this threshold. It is not ancillary or secondary to the other two. It has to be our primary focus.

Let me put this in politico-economic perspective.

On the military economy

The U.S. military is the single greatest user of petroleum, according to Sohbet Karbuz, writing in the Energy Bulletin for March 12, 2006. The military uses roughly 100 million barrels a year for its aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and facilities. But this is its former peacetime base rate of usage. Usage increased considerably with its assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq. But even without that, the US Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest oil consuming government body in the US and in the world. The US military is the biggest purchaser of oil in the world. Its peacetime consumption is comparable to the energy consumption of Greece. One-hundred million barrels of petroleum is enough fuel for 1,000 cars to drive around the world 4,620 times, or 7.6 million cars to drive 15,000 miles each year. Jet fuel constitutes nearly 70% of DoD’s petroleum use.

Yet, percentage-wise, these figures seem to diminish in stature. Total US consumption of petroleum in 1997 was 18.6 million barrels per day (mb/d), according to the DOE. The DOE breaks it down this way. Transportation: 13 mb/d; industry: 4 mb/d; buildings: 1.2 mb/d; utilities: .34 mb/d. And petroleum only accounted for 67% of energy consumption, with coal accounting for 22%.

Military consumption of petroleum is thus around half a percent of this total. For 2004, military fuel consumption increased 27% over average peacetime military usage. The Army burned 40 million gallons of fuel in three weeks of combat in Iraq, or almost 2 million gallons per day, an amount equivalent to the gasoline consumed by all Allied armies combined during the four years of World War I.

In other words, war is the factor that renders the military a self-generating cyclic producer of global warming. Wars add untold and inestimable damage to the ecology on all levels, while fulfilling their major function of producing mass murder. War is the essential logic of a military machine, and of an ethic and a politics of militarism. Its fundamental purpose is to guarantee access to resources, and in particular petroleum, for its constituency. Its constituency is the US economy, and US industry. As the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world, its role is to guarantee the continued consumption of petroleum by the US economy, the largest national consumer of petroleum in the world.

In addition, the military has become a major industrial factor in the US itself, as part of a greater economic cycle. This is a result of an ancillary economic process, the movement of runaway shops and of whole industries relocating to lower wage areas. Some industries moved south, others to Latin America, others to Asia or wherever on the globe they could be more exploitative. The US government, from the Reagan administration on, has provided subsidies to major industries to move to low-wage areas, and produced agreements in many countries for establishing export production zones — that is, zones in which production is only for export; they add little to the local host economies, and create international assembly lines whose only coherence is the multinational corporate structure that controls it. The effect of this process has been to gut the industrial base of the US economy.

The subsidiary internal effect was that the military, the one industry that could not run away because it was strategic, gained economic hegemony by default. The US economy fell into the hands of the military-industrial complex.

This brings us to the third dimension of militarist self-generation as a global warming factor. In the face of runaway industries, the US economy has become dominated by military production. The military is now connected and conjoined to roughly 50% of all economic activity in the US. This doesn’t mean that 50% of all production is military production; it means that 50% of all economic activity is associated with the military, either in the production of military hardware, the running of bases, or in ancillary industries whose major customer is the military, and who thus owe their existence and functions to that major customer. Military appropriations by Congress may be 25% of the budget, but there are ripple and multiplier effects that expand the economic involvement of the military to far beyond that 25%.

… the citizens of that structure, the corporations themselves, have no ethical concerns toward the planet nor toward life.

Here is how corporate control of the economy, a history of militarism, and corporate globalization all come together. The US military is what facilitated the acquisition of exploitation rights in other countries by US corporations, leaving the US economy essentially a military-oriented economy. That is, militarism has engendered a military economy. Second, it fosters a situation in which a transnational corporate structure becomes the predominant political force in the world; and the citizens of that structure, the corporations themselves, have no ethical concerns toward the planet nor toward life. Its ethics are governed by the maintenance of its stock value on the stock markets of the world. Thus, resource exploitation is its food, and resource consumption is its metabolism. Militarism is the way corporations maintain their access to their food supply — the planet.

Because the military economy is by nature a monopoly, owing to government control, security clearances, national security considerations, etc., all military industries fall into a culture of corruption that is far beyond that of ordinary industries. This corruption is a cultural phenomenon that makes health and longevity an ancillary concern. In the interests of that corruption, beyond profit or stock price levels, the military drives the political processes and thinking of this society to ideologically ignore or deny the problem of global warming. The profit picture is important, of course, and it leads the oil and coal interests to buy prostituted scientists to help them promulgate that denial. But the real opposition to recognition of global warming is more immediately the corruption that exudes from the military and its militarism.

In order to seriously address the problem, the movements (ecology, environmentalist, anti-consumption, alternative energy) will have to be anti-militarist. The military is key to the cycle of self-generation of global warming at the human (initiatory) end of the spectrum of factors. The military may not be the worst offender in producing greenhouse gases in the pragmatic sense, but it is the worst offender as an entity and an ideology in the world. It has to be seen as lying at the heart of the offense itself.

The military may not be the worst offender in producing greenhouse gases in the pragmatic sense, but it is the worst offender as an entity and an ideology …

It is not possible for the environmental movement to take a step toward preserving the environment unless two things are brought to an end — the existence of the US military machine and the existence of the corporate structure.

In sum, this means that the primary focus for the ecology, environmentalist, green, and conservationist movements has to be anti-militarist, anti-war, and for the revocation of the personhood of corporations. Militarism is the concrete manifestation of corporate despoliation of the planet. And corporate despoliation of the planet is the material effect of corporate control of major political entities called nation-states, through which it effects its despoliation. The central factor that gave corporations control of nation-states was their elevation to the level of personhood. We cannot save the planet without constituting a massive anti-militarist movement that overflows all national boundaries, brings politics back to the human level, and focuses itself on the US military machine and the US war machine.

Steve Martinot has worked as a union organizer and cultural studies lecturer. He is the author of The Rule of Racialization (2003), Temple Univ. Press.

Source material

Michael T. Klare, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Petroleum Dependency (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004).

Michael Taylor and Nigel Thrift, The Multinational Corporations and the Restructuring of the World Economy (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

Aleksandr V. Buzuev, The Transnational Corporations and Militarism (Moscow, Progress Publ., 1985).

Joseph Nye, Bound to Lead (New York: Basic Books, 1990).

[24 feb 07]

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