A powerful paradox lies at the heart of the current oil and gas global rush (Michael Klare, The Race for what’s left, 2012). On the one hand, the energy global demand necessitates to find and exploit oil and gas deposits, while looking for new ones, even in extreme environmental and political situations, as in the Arctic or the Niger river Delta (Al Jazeera, “Who is stealing Nigerian oil?“, 13 Sept. 2014).
On the other hand, 97% of climatologists have developed a consensus in establishing that the current uses of oil and gas are changing the Earth climate (IPCC, fifth report, 2014) at such a speed and rate that basic life conditions could be altered for the whole of the human race during the current century, while extreme weather events are on the rise.
Strangely, these two, deeply intertwined issues do not seem to really meet, and their respective actors often appear to live in parallel worlds (Naomi Klein, This changes everything, 2014). However, there are organizations where this “meeting” takes place, and it is in a growing number of defence and national security institutions. These organizations are addressing this twin issue of the energy rush and climate change from their own military and security point of view.
So, one must wonder how these new issues, which we shall call here the “energy/climate nexus”, are integrated and if they have an influence on the global power balance. Raising these issues forces us to understand the way the different military establishments are evolving given their own history, their specific context, interests and missions. That is why, for example, the US Department of defence and the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation answer in very different ways to these new economic and geophysical dynamics.
War and sustainability
The very existence of military organizations resides in the necessity for a state to be prepared for defence, offence and influence. Also, modern world powers need militaries that are able to project themselves on a global scale and to wield the most efficient tools of power and coercion (Colin Gray, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare, 2005). So, these organizations are anchored in the very idea of sustainability by all means, their mission implying, as written by Sun Tzi “the life and the death of nations” (Sun Tzi, The Art of War).
Nowadays, the duality between the oil and gas rush and climate change has become a massively strategic issue, which is felt par the US Department of Defence as well as by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian federation (Klare, Rising powers, Shrinking Planet, 2008). These two very powerful political organizations are driven by the needs created by the “grand strategy” of the governments of their countries.
The US grand strategy is based on the principle of global dominance (Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis, 2007), while Russia seeks to achieve continental security through influence at the international level (David Teurtrie, Géopolitique de la Russie, 2010).
These grand strategies, which often collide and compete (Andrew Bacevitch, The new American militarism, 2013), are currently being tested by the energy/climate nexus, which forces the armed forces to adapt themselves to this new reality.
Global reach and military sustainable development
The US military is particularly involved in its response to the oil/climate paradox. Since the Iraqi occupation, from 2003 to 2010 (Peter L. Bergen, The Longest war, 2011), the Department of Defence (DoD) works at deepening its energy independence from oil products, in order to be independent from foreign energy import (National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2O10).
Furthermore, the current dependency was experienced at a very real operational and tactical level while, in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel and cargo convoys were turned into as many opportunities for Iraqi and Jihadi guerrillas to attack US forces (Mike Davis, A Short history of the car bomb, 2007). In order to diminish this vulnerability, an ever increasing number of American bases in Iraq were led to use renewable energies, first of all solar energy, while experimenting different approach to energy efficiency, in order to power themselves (Valantin, Climate blowback and US National security, 2014).
Since then, the DoD has expanded and has become a major proponent of sustainable development (Valantin, Guerre et Nature, l’Amérique se prepare à la guerre du climat, 2013). The US Navy is even using an entire fleet, dubbed “the Great Green Fleet” to experiment and demonstrate the use of energy efficiency through its fuel and nuclear powered vessels, while developing new generations of biofuels.
In the same time, war planners are clearly identifying climate change, and the rapid amplification of this process, as a “threat multiplier” (2014 US Quadriennal Defence review). The global impact of climate change results of the combination between all climate-related human forms of social organization, economic vulnerabilities, and political tensions (CNA, National security and the threat of climate change, 2007).
For example, water tensions aggravated by extreme weather events in the Middle East, where US energy interests are critically important, can reinforce violent conflicts, as in Yemen (Valantin, “Surviving the Gulf of Aden: a new strategic paradigm for the future of the region“, 2013), Syria, and Iraq, where US armed forces are involved (Werrell, Femia, and Slaughter, “The Arab Spring and Climate Change“, Center for American Progress, 2013).
These few examples show how the widespread presence of the US military and intelligence community can evolve into a never-ending entanglement with climate and energy related tensions and conflicts. Admitting this new fact has recently led the highest American military authorities to devise a “roadmap for adaptation” to climate change (US Department of Defence, 2014 Climate change adaptation Roadmap).
Adaptation through strategy
In Eurasia, Russia has, by now, adopted quite a different approach. Russia is not looking for global reach, but for ensuring the security of the country, from a political, economic, military, social and cultural point of view. Furthermore, Russia has a unique point of view on climate change, meaning global warming, because the society of the biggest country on Earth is, since one millennium, “made by the cold” (Laurent Touchard, La Russie et le changement climatique, 2011).
By now, the Russian military, as the defence organization of a country defined by its sheer immensity, and by a long and cold, harsh winter, seems to address climate change through an optimization of the environmental and socio-economic consequences of the energy/climate nexus.
It appears very clearly with the current new cycle of the Russian militarization of the Arctic (Charles Emmerson, The Future history of the Arctic, 2010), which goes with huge projects of oil and gas development through offshore drilling in the Barents and Kara Sea (Valantin, “The Russian Arctic, energy and a massive power shift“, 2014) and the Yamal Peninsula (Klare, 2012).
These projects have emerged because of the environmental destabilization of the Arctic (Joe Romm, “The Arctic Death Spiral”, Climateprogress, December 9, 2013), which, despite huge difficulties and investments, could allow turning this region into a massive energy and industrial hub (Russia Today, “Northern exposure“, May 15, 2013), even though the Wrangel Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Arctic environment very fragile.
In the same time, during the summer, the same phenomenon opens the famous North West passage, as well as the Northern sea route, which goes from the Bering Strait to Norway, by following the Siberian coast.
As it happens, the Northern Sea route is very appealing to China and other Asian countries despite its natural and technical difficulties (Anne Denis, “L’incroyable projet de navettes maritimes qui ouvrira la route du pôle toute l’année”, Slate.fr, 06/08/2013). Indeed, when used, it shortens the journey between China’s oriental ports and northern Europe by more than six thousand kilometers (Eric Canobbio, Atlas des Pôles, 2007).
These massive projects go hand in hand with an intense Russian militarization of the region. For example, in September 2013, a task force of ten warships and support vessels, headed by the nuclear destroyer Peter the Great, the most powerful ship of the Russian navy, accompanied by four nuclear icebreakers reached the Novosibirsk archipelago (New Siberian Islands), on the Northern road between the Atlantic and the Pacific (Russia Today, “Russian military resumes permanent Arctic presence“, 15 September 2013).
In September 2014, Russia started building two new military naval bases on Wrangel Island and on Cape Schmidt (Mathew Bodner, Alexey “Russia Starts Building Military Bases in the Arctic”, The Moscow Times, 8 Sept 2014). These are the first of an announced six naval bases complex.
In the meantime, the Kremlin has announced the creation of an operational Arctic command structure for the Arctic, which will integrate the Northern fleet, based in Murmansk, the new bases, and new ground, naval and submarine forces (The Moscow Times, “Russia to Form Arctic Military Command by 2017”, Oct. 01, 2014), and coordinate with the civil development projects of the giant oil and gas state companies Gasprom, Rosneft and Lukoil (Valantin, “The Arctic Power race: the New Great Game”, 2013).
Their Arctic projects are currently slowed by the political and economic tensions created by the Ukrainian situation and the economic sanctions decided by the US and the EU. Nevertheless, the Arctic death spiral and the mammoth economic possibilities that it opens in terms of gas, oil and mineral wealth (USGS, Circum Arctic appraisal: estimates of undiscovered oil and gas north of the Arctic Circle, 2008) turns it into a giant attractor (Emmerson, ibid).
In fact, what appears here is that these Russian projects are the current way the Russian Federation involves its military into the process of adaptation to the energy/climate nexus, through an optimization of the way climate change makes Arctic oil and gas less difficult to reach. Militarizing the region is part of the process triggered to materialize the fact that the Russian Arctic maritime economic exclusive area is a real part of the Russian territory, and not “only” a legal and cartographic entity (Klare, 2012).
From adaptation to independence
Over the last years, the climate/energy nexus led the US DoD to militarize sustainable development (Department of Defense Sustainability), while developing its presence through bases, troops, naval forces, cyber-forces, and military diplomacy, in areas that are significant for oil, gas, and other resources necessary for the economic and social fabric of the US (Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of empire, 2004).
However, some of these regions, such as the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz, the South East China Sea, are increasingly vulnerable to climate change (IPCC, ibid), and hammered by various extreme weather events. Climate change is thus a “threat multiplier” that is turning these areas into politically, militarily and logistically very challenging places for the US forces, and thus for the US military and strategic dominance.
In other words, the evolution and global involvement of the US military reveals how dependent upon foreign resources the US has become, and how a new systemic vulnerability to the induced effects of climate change is quickly emerging. We could say that this situation is the “climate and resources blowback” of the US-led globalization (Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: the costs and consequences of American empire, 2004).
The Russian military appears to be at the extreme opposite of the adaptation spectrum. Because of the impact of climate change, Russia’s economic and political establishment is going to complement its continental resources (Katarina Zysk, “Geopolitics in the high North”, Russia, Arctic Strategy, 2008), some of them in decline, with huge offshore ones (Zero Hedge, “Russia discovers massive Arctic oil field which maybe larger than the Gulf of Mexico“, 28 September, 2014).
So, it puts them in a situation that is very different from the American one, where it becomes possible to make an asset of the consequences of climate change. Furthermore, it allows the Federation of Russia to progressively deepen its energy independence, its security and its influence, even if climate change is triggered and fuelled by anthropogenic fossil fuels emissions in the atmosphere.
It is thus likely that we are here witnessing signals of a worldwide power shift, especially if climate change keeps on its current track of aggravation, and the effects it may have on this continent-wide country.
Nevertheless, to have a clear vision of this possible shift, it must be understood how the Chinese government and military intervenes in this world play.
To be (soon) continued.
Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.
Featured image: “Russia’s Pacific Fleet marine paratroopers in training”. Russia’s Pacific Fleet marine paratroopers in training aboard an An-26 plane. 21 january 2009 – RIA Novosti archive, image #369501 / Vitaliy Ankov / CC-BY-SA 3.0