Is the Global Warming Treaty a Threat to National Security?

The Clinton administration took a big step toward unilaterally disarming the U.S. military last December in Kyoto, Japan. To state the matter more precisely, if the Senate should approve the greenhouse gas treaty agreed to in Japan, the U.S. military will have to dramatically reduce its training and limit its missions. The military will still be able to carry out missions that defend U.S. interests – but only if the United Nations approves of the missions.

How can that be? Well, it turns out that the federal government is the nation's largest user of energy. Seventy-three percent of federal government use – and 1.4 percent of all energy use in the United States – is by the Defense Department, and 58 percent of that goes for military operations and training.

Most of this energy comes from burning fossil fuels, which generate potentially heat-trapping greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases have been blamed by some environmentalists, some scientists and President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for causing global warming and all manner of catastrophes (like hurricanes, floods and maybe even El Nino). On this theory, to avert environmental apocalypse, we must reduce the use of energy.

Because energy use is critical to the effective functioning of the military, and thus our nation's security, Sherri Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security (a new position established on President Clinton's watch), and the leaders of the four branches of the military requested a national security exemption from emission reductions for the Defense Department.

Before the negotiations in Kyoto, administration officials agreed that they would demand a defense exemption in any greenhouse gas treaty. But what they promised and what they delivered are two different things. The Kyoto treaty exempts only multilateral military operations sanctioned by the U.N.

Neither the military engagements the U.S. undertook in Grenada, Panama, and Libya nor the humanitarian relief operations like providing aid to Bangladesh shortly after the Gulf War were U.N.-sanctioned. And with the makeup of the Security Council, future military operations – against Iraq or Yugoslavia, for example – would be unlikely to get Security Council approval. In addition, day to day operations, training and war games are not "multilateral operations pursuant to the United Nations Charter," and so are not exempt.

Quite apart from the question of whose policy controls, the military has estimated that a 10 percent cut in fuel use, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a comparable percentage, would reduce tank training by 328,000 miles per year, flight training and flying exercises by 210,000 flying hours, and the number of steaming days (days on board ship in port and at sea for training and military exercises) by 2,000.

The Defense Department estimates that these reductions would substantially hamper military readiness. And cutting emissions by 10 percent would only go a third of the way toward meeting our commitments under the treaty.

Congress is aware of the national security implications. In response to congressional pressure, Secretary Goodman testified before the Senate that the administration has assured her it will oppose efforts to impose energy cuts to reduce emissions on domestic military operations and training.

Furthermore, she said, "If we were to undertake . . . a completely unilateral operation, we do not need an international treaty to tell the United States how to operate unilaterally. That is a matter of United States sovereignty." Well said! But there are a few problems. This strong language did not make it into the treaty, so in effect we are admitting to the world that when the treaty does not suit us, we will break it. This puts us in the unenviable position of being a rogue nation.

Or other nations might follow our example, in which case the treaty becomes, by being routinely ignored, ineffective and largely a moot point – good for public relations but not much else. So why sign it in the first place?

Finally, if the Defense Department does get a blanket exemption, that just means that the private sector will have to make even deeper cuts to make up for it. Harming the U.S. economy would not seem to be any more in our interests than hogtying the U.S. military in case of a security threat.

Neither weakening national security, flouting treaties nor harming the economy is an attractive policy stance for a presidential candidate. Will Al Gore get the message?