News Brief: The ICE and Pentagon-Bloating Vagueness of the “Climate Change is a National Security…

Citations Needed | December 7, 2020 | Transcript


Nima Shirazi: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: We do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled full length episodes when the news demands that we comment, or in the case of this particular News Brief, it’s not about Giuliani getting COVID, it’s actually a follow up to our recent episode on the militarization of climate change and the American presidential response to it. As we talked about on Episode 122 of Citations Needed, the National Security approach to addressing climate chaos is not only a messaging issue, it’s not only about the words we use to try and motivate people or to try to strike the right amount of urgency or existential threat or dread in people’s consciousness so that they realize that climate chaos and climate change and our climate emergency is really an issue that must be urgently and immediately addressed, it is not, as I said, just about the narrative, it is also about the implications of the policy once you say that climate change is a threat to national security, and Adam, I know that you took to the written word, not our regular podcast medium, but actually wrote a quite lengthy and excellent piece — if I do say so myself as your co-host — on the weaponization, militarization of climate change.

Adam: Yeah, so I guess it turns out when you’re off Twitter, and you want to say something, you write it down. That’s what people used to do before Twitter, they would actually write these things called blog posts, where I wrote a Medium post, you know, it ended up being like 3,000 words, but when President-elect Biden announced John Kerry as his climate change envoy and said he was gonna treat climate change as a national security threat I felt like I was losing my mind because no one really thought about what that means or what that implies. It’s sort of one of these great, awesome buzzwords, Bernie Sanders uses it, it sort of sounds really cool, right? “The biggest national security threat is climate change,” which may be true in some abstract sense but there’s a really important follow up question to that, which is: What the fuck do you mean by that? What does that mean? What does that entail? The whole thing was just, this mantra gets repeated, right? Which is that we know Biden takes climate change seriously because he made it a national security issue, because in our culture in our country, you cannot take things seriously unless you pin them to the Pentagon and liberals think they’re being clever by doing this, right? They’ve been doing this since 2004, when the first Pentagon report came out, they’re doing the gotcha, if you really care about national security, this is a good way to win over Republicans. We’re going to go over why that’s a problem but I want to first start off by saying, Republicans don’t care about national security in any meaningful sense. They care about lining the pockets, they care about American and global hegemony and lining the pockets of American and Western corporations.

Nima: And they don’t care about climate change.

Adam: Well, right. But the point is, even if it’s a gotcha, they don’t give a shit. So I want to start off by talking about some of the issues that we think are fraught, and I addressed the post to the Sunrise Movement, Bill McKibben, who is the founder and head of, and Eric Holthaus, who’s a climate journalist, all of whom praised the selection of John Kerry. Now, the selection of John Kerry, although again, I think it’s problematic for its own reasons, was not even per se my objection. My objection was this idea that nobody asked the follow up question of what do you mean by making it a national security priority? Will this involve, again , 2014 police reform vibes, which is why I wrote this piece, and I use abolition and abolitionism as a framework, which is that every single time we had a police reform, every single time for 25, 30 years, it’s somehow involved more money for the police.

Nima: More body cameras, more bias training, more community policing funding, yeah.

Adam: Somehow more money. So eventually, by way of analogy, although I think it’s a very elegant analogy, abolitionist reformers were like, wait a second, timeout, fuck that, no more money for police period. The way you reform something is not by continually giving it more power, authority and funding and watching this national security framing of climate play out over the past few years and being accelerated under the sort of conservative leadership of Joe Biden, this very much reeks to me and my piece is a lot of hand wringing. I pose a lot of questions, which isn’t my normal style, but I really earnestly want to hear people in the Sunrise Movement or or other climate activists, I want to hear them address these considerations, which I think are very urgent, which is, well, two fundamental questions I have, which is will a national security response to climate change add more net money to the Pentagon? And will national security add more net money to the Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol, and ICE? Because if you read the internal documents of the people advertising it as a national security issue, they very much want to do both and while you may think it’s a clever gotcha to win over Republicans, it’s important to look at the details of what John Kerry and his organizations are actually proposing, which we’re going to argue in this News Brief are quite pernicious.

Nima: Right because there are actual policies tied to this. So, like I said earlier, it’s not just the messaging, the national security framework for messaging, we can understand as kind of a misguided, liberal way of trying to get, again, urgency into the public mind and also potentially win over Republicans that they shame into saying, ‘Well, if you care about national security, then now this is a national security issue ipso facto, bla bla, bla, bla, bla, you have to back us on climate change.’ It’s not just the messaging, there are literal policies and budgets tied to what it means to view this as a national security priority, right? It’s not just the words, it’s about the power and authority and funding, as you just said Adam.

Adam: So the first thing one would ask and I think one obvious question is, if the US military can be a tool of preventing climate change, wouldn’t the most elegant solution to reduce the carbon emission be to reduce the carbon emission of the US military itself by cutting the US military? The US military, according to GQ Magazine, is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels in the world as a single entity and I guess I’m curious why John Kerry and other sort of climate change as a national security issue never talk about meaningfully cutting back one of the 800 military bases, or any of the large huge footprint of the US military, or bring troops home from wars, all of which create a tremendous climate footprint.

Nima: Maybe close some of the 800 foreign military bases and stop using F-35 aircraft that use as much fuel as a car uses in a year for just taking off once.

Adam: Yeah and Bill McKibben wrote this awful piece in The New York Review of Books, saying how the Pentagon can be a partner to fight climate change and spent the beginning of the piece, which you can read yourself, poo-pooing idea that they are meaningful carbon emitter and that actually, that’s not really the focus point, the focus point would be taking the current military system, and basically greening it e.g., sell more green tech, e.g., increase the Pentagon budget.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And the fundamental issue here is that the military by its own admission is a nationalist institution. It is not concerned with issues of justice, equity, or the rights or conditions of the other 194 countries on Earth. Maybe a few allies UK, Israel, France, on a good day, maybe Australia.

Nima: Right.

Adam: This is not who the DoD is charged with defending.

Nima: It does not have a humanitarian global outlook.

Adam: Right and so there’s three things that are left out of the Pentagon’s equation, again, by its very own charter, what it’s meant to do. Number one, the rights status and lives of climate refugees. As we noted in Episode 122, the US is already running war games on how to deal with climate refugees. Guess what? It does not involve letting them in and giving them jobs, it requires pushing them away and quote-unquote “repatriating” them back to their home countries. It doesn’t care about racial justice on a global scale, the conversation we should be having is one of reparations, which is how does the global north as the primary driver of climate change, pay back and make amends for the global south? That is not the conversation we or any of these people are having. If I went into John Kerry’s organization, World War Zero, which we’ll get into, if I went into one of their board meetings and talked about reparations I’d be laughed out of the room. The third issue we’re not talking about, as I mentioned, is reparations, which is something that really ought to be the framing and the fact that we’re talking about how to secure our borders, is, I think, quite sinister and really misses, I think, the opportunity for progressives to really embrace a civil, humanitarian, I don’t have time to hippyish about it, but sort of funding things that give life rather than take it. Funding things like social welfare and reparations and global aid rather than building more efficient ways and greener ways of bombing people and occupying different countries. So we want to talk about World War Zero, which is affiliated with and a sort of offshoot of what’s called the American Security Project. The American Security Project was started by John Kerry in 2007 as a think tank, its primary focus is climate change as a national security issue and I think one of the ways of predicting how John Kerry and Joe Biden are gonna treat this beyond the slogan of climate change as a national security issue, is what they write in their actual policy papers. So the American Security Project board members who are also members of World War Zero include Christine Whitman, Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, former Secretary of State Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, Vice Admiral Gunn. So they’re basically the same organization. So you look at ASP, the American Security Project, look at their writing, there’s one May 2019 post by Laura Sigelmann, who’s now at USAID, it argues quite explicitly for more resources for ICE and Border Patrol.

Nima: Right. So this post, after kind of including the typical head nod to quote-unquote “addressing the drivers of migration,” right? The systemic reasons why we’re even having these conversations, the piece actually goes on to say this, quote:

“Acting [DHS] Secretary McAleenan [appointed by Trump] suggested continuing to invest in ‘…additional agents and officers, additional technology at and between ports of entry, and air and marine support,’ as well as a whole-of-government approach to address the unique needs of families and children. Up to 40 percent of Customs and Border Patrol personnel have been redirected towards transporting and processing families and children.

“Given that climate change will force more families to migrate, funding for border security should include improving facilities for holding and transporting migrants and specialized training for handling the medical and psychological needs of families and children.” End quote.

So, I mean, I think what we can see here, when you’re talking about building better cages, building better internment or concentration camps for the people that you are holding, seizing, capturing at the border, rather than facilitating entry, rather than facilitating housing and employment and medical care, it’s about how in these camps, your medical care will be best, right? Because you need to process and hold and then eventually kick out the migrants that are being contained in these new camps. It’s really sinister.

Adam: Yeah, there’s a lot of liberal gesturing towards a more humane approach. Both ASP and John Podesta at Brookings have proposed creating a new immigration status for climate refugees, which sort of sounds good, but if I show up to the border and there’s a militarized Border Patrol, it’s not really going to mean much. It’s a way of making people kind of feel better about the inevitable process and we know this because ASP has lobbied for increased funding of the Pentagon Border Patrol and surveillance companies a number of occasions. You can go to the website, look at their output. They write very long reports on this. So one 2015 post from ASP was opposing budget cuts to the Defense Department, which they called blind budget cuts and said, quote, “we must also fully invest in completing the highly advanced F-35 to replace our combat-worn and aging fleet of fighters; further develop UAV and drone technology; and improve new missile defense technologies.” So they routinely lobby for more weapons funding. Now, the F-35 program which cost $1.4 trillion has a very large carbon footprint, it emits 5,600 litres of fuel per hour versus 3,500 of the F-16. So I guess the upgrading from the F-16 to the F-35 the climate concerns mysteriously went out of the window. So the American Security Project COO Andrew Holland, when Biden announced John Kerry’s position to the new post, he wrote top three priorities for John Kerry. So this is a John Kerry founded organization that was for years run by John Kerry, recommending to John Kerry what he should do. The top three priorities Andrew Holland recommended number one was military base resilience, which is more funds for the military bases, the second one was more military aid to the Pacific regions to fend off Chinese influence and the third one was, quote, “preparing American Security for an Open Arctic,” which makes the case for why the US should further militarize the North Atlantic. Mr. Holland said John Kerry should, quote, “publicize U.S. military deployments to the region, with particular focus on the Russian border — perhaps by returning the U.S. Marine deployment to Norway.” Then would go on to say Kerry needs to make clear, quote, “the U.S. means business in the Arctic.”

Nima: Top three priorities: more money to the Pentagon and further militarize the Pacific and the Arctic.

Adam: So for everyone who talks about how important it is we treat climate change as national security, you really need to ask what the fuck you mean exactly because if you actually read World WarZzero’s affiliate American Security Project where they actually write the real policy, not the sort of, because if you actually look at World War Zero, which was John Kerry’s climate envoy in waiting, it was founded in December 2019, and it very clearly is a knockoff of the Sunrise Movement, it uses a lot of the same language, has really glossy looking photos.

Nima: Yeah and they have like a very generic mission statement, as you would imagine, from an organization like this but let me just read a little bit of it, and then we can talk about it. So again, this is World War Zero and it says we are, quote, uniting scientists and entrepreneurs, four-star generals and youth activists, popular artists and global leaders, Democrats and Republicans, and millions of people to not only build back — but to build forward into a clear-skied future.” Unquote.

Adam: Yeah, so you have young progressives in the stock photos, who are presumably gonna work —

Nima: Four-star generals, youth activists.

Adam: Yeah, four star generals and youth activists may have differing value sets.

Nima: What!?

Adam: They may have different objectives and different aims.

Nima: Yeah. But if they do, then the youth activists just are wrong, right?

Adam: Yeah. So, you know, I read this, and it sounds so warm and fuzzy, but what are the details and the way you know details is you actually read what they’re writing and what they’re writing, not in the World War Zero, which is obviously sort of a parallel thing with Biden, but if you read their affiliate organization, they’re very clear what they mean, which is more money for the Pentagon, more money for ICE, more money for Border Patrol, and more weapon systems that are just green weapon systems.

Nima: Yeah. John Kerry himself has been pretty clear about not really seeing the need or at least the urgent priority to move away from fossil fuels. That is not his number one priority. He actually told reporters back in 2015, quote:

“I don’t see oil changing significantly, and I don’t think most of the market folks I talk to anywhere in the near term. And who knows if even ever, depending on what happens with these other market signals and choices that people make. Now, we’re going to be using oil for years and years to come in one fashion or another.” End quote.

I like that the sourcing he consistently points to are the “market folks” he talks to.

Adam: Yeah. Now that could have been a descriptive rather than a normative statement but it seems very clear that Biden, because of their big show of, you know, not being opposed to fracking, is going to have a quote “all the above approach.” I think the issue with progressive or left-wing activists with climate is that I think you don’t want to be knee jerkingly cynical about everything, because I don’t think that’s very productive and I think most of the kind of push left discourse is frankly, it’s what I call professional wishful thinking, which is you can make a career off wishful thinking, but at the same time, I also don’t want to sort of say, don’t pressure it anyway. But I think one must be sober and realistic about what it means to push left and I think that the way in which everybody kind of, a lot of these progressives sort of timidly were like, ‘Well, this is a good sign, it means they take it seriously.’ I think it’s really important that they know that, again, it’s like when Davos talks about inequality, they’re talking about it in scare quotes. They’re not talking about climate change as something that we need to radically try to stop or upend or create a just transition to or from, they are talking about securitizing American financial and capital interests at the expense of, for the most part, the global south, and for the poor in the United States, because all of this I guarantee, we can follow this up in two years and four years, all this rhetoric is just gonna involve more money for the Pentagon.

Nima: Well, yeah.

Adam: More money for the Department of Homeland Security, with some, you know, decent stuff about promoting green tech that’ll fill green tech coffers and I think some of that’s fine. I’m not a, personally, I can’t speak for Nima, but I’m not a mindless skeptic about green tech. I think that’s perfectly fine. I don’t even mind throwing a bunch of money at Democratic donors, who gives a shit? Like if it works, it works.

Nima: But having the military be the vector of that is just going to pump more money into the Pentagon. I mean, that’s the whole point, right? This is not about redistribution of resources or, as Adam you said earlier, reparations, this is about mitigation for empire, right? It’s about imperial resilience against what is assumed to be inevitable. So how do you build fortress America? How is the garrison state going to survive what we see coming? And that is the national security threat that is being addressed by Kerry. It is not using this kind of rhetorical flourish, to say, ‘Oh, what we mean by human rights and reparations, and providing exponential aid back to the Global South, which has been bankrolling the global north for decades, if not centuries,’ that is not what it’s talking about. It’s about how can the border be secured when we know that there will be mass migration, climate migration? How can we ensure that the PR nightmare of the Trump administration, of putting kids in cages and separating families by policy, how can that not be the way that we do it? So we need maybe a few more feathers in the pillows in the cages that were keeping human beings that we’re not allowing into the United States? It is these you know, tiny, little incremental ways to say we are taking this seriously without doing anything that actually would take it seriously.

Adam: I mean, Chuck Hagel was a founding member of American Security Project, which is basically again, World War Zero, and it was sort of a launching pad before Obama took office in 2008. Before he was briefly Secretary of Defense under Obama but at the same time, while he was co-founder and member of ASP, he was on the board of directors of Exxon Mobil. So this is a think tank whose explicit purpose is mitigating climate change. So, forgive me if I’m a little cynical about their motives, or whether or not they take this kind of thing seriously and you see a lot of this kind of mushy, big donor gray area in the climate space, you see it with the Environmental Defense project, which is basically funded by Walmart, they run a lot of astroturf groups and the thing with climate is, and this is true very much in charter schools and it’s true with a lot of things, the more vague it is, the more skeptical you should be, you should ask for follow up, it sort of sounds so good to say climate change is a national security issue, but I mean, that is that is a very close cousin to eco-fascism as well, which is the idea of climate change as a way of clarifying one’s national priorities or their securitization of politics. At the very least one should ask follow ups. The fundamental question remains, and the fundamental question I ask the Sunrise Movement, I ask Bill McKibben in this article, which is, do you support more money, more net money for the Pentagon and do you support net money for ICE and Border Patrol and the Department Homeland Security? That’s a very simple question. I’d love to hear them answer that question because my guess is they probably do, so much that it funds something they view as being important.

Nima: Well, right. But then the inevitable kind of follow up, I guess, that should also be asked, and you actually pose this, you kind of flip it Adam, in your own piece, which is, once we start hearing about the policies that are being either suggested, or actually, you know, put into legislation by the incoming Biden administration, led by climate czar, John Kerry, will the Sunrise Movement, will reject these policies if in the policy there has to be more money, resources, control provided to ICE, to Border Patrol, to the Pentagon? What are the limits of support that the climate movement is going to lend to Kerry, to Biden, to Harris, etcetera, to the Democrats in general, when these policies are announced? If this is taken so seriously, right? The gravitas lent to the issue just by saying it’s a national security threat, that’s the whole point, so now it’s really serious, right? So, national security threat, the most serious thing, gotta get the military on it. What does that fucking mean and what are the limits of that support? Will the movement not support the policies, if they will inevitably funnel so much more money to these violent systems?

Adam: Yeah, so the Institute for Policy Studies whose report No Warming, No War, we effectively based our episode on, Episode 122, that was co-written by our Lorah Steichen, it breaks it down into this dichotomy, which I think is actually useful way of looking at it. When they talk about framework for a just transition with climate chaos, which is both inevitable and a tremendously scary opportunity for the forces of war to co-op something that’s inevitable and deeply important. They break it down into two things, which is the extractivist economy and the living economy. They put under the extractivist economy things like the consumerist and colonial mindset, the endorsers of wealth and power banks, resources that dig, burn, dump things and militarism, forces of violence, forces of control, and they have the living economy, which they define as being caring and sacredness, the preservation of history and culture, eco-social and social well-being, e.g., investment in mental health and general health and well-being, renewable resource regeneration, which is to say, the planting of trees, again, forgive me if it sounds a little hippie-ish, but I think it’s actually a really good way of looking at it and governance, which is to say, democracy, and that you either are putting resources into the forces of extraction and violence, or you’re putting money and resources into the forces of life. I know that there has to be some military, I get that, I think that, or some sort of security to an extent, but there is no possible fucking way that the US military needs to be bigger than the next ten militaries combined. We’re not even remotely close to any kind of morally sensible bloat of the US military and the Border Patrol in terms of how it enforces its arbitrary and illegitimate and violent rule and so if we’re talking about resources, note how something like climate change, whether or not money is going to extraction profit and fossil fuels or it’s going to things like healthcare, social well-being and rejuvenation of our climate, because I think that when people talk about national security, all your fucking alarm bells should go off that this is definitely not going to be the really important hippie shit, it’s gonna go to the really violent fucking shit and they’re going to frame it really clever ways. I recommend you go to the American Security Project website and read their reports. Read their National Security Climate Report from 2012, there’s one from 2010, there’s a ton of blog posts, a ton of reports, go read them and note how they’re very clever at putting things in kind of liberalise, but read the fine print and at the end of the day, ask what policies, the policies they’re promoting, ask where the money goes and I think you’ll have your answer of what the motivation behind the securitization and militarization of climate really is.

Nima: Well, because we also can’t let China have cyborg soldiers. So, you know, there’s also that.

Adam: Oh, right, the cyborg soldiers. Yeah, well, we could do a whole episode on that.

Nima: We will leave this News Brief there. We’ll get to the Chinese cyborg soldiers later. Thank you everyone for listening and of course for your continued support of Citations Needed. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and become a supporter of our work, if you are not already, through with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your help is, of course, so incredibly appreciated, we are 100 percent listener funded, and that’s because of amazing people like you who support the show. So that will do it. We will be back soon with another full length episode. Thanks again for listening. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Monday, December 7, 2020.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.