I am proposing to research conceptualizations of military environmental policy because I want to find out why certain environmental concerns are addressed by the Department of Defense’s internal policies and others are not prioritized, in order to help my reader understand how best to envision the role of the military in both environmental degradation and protection.
This topic area demands exploration primarily because of the increasing threat of climate change to our way of life. As supported by the 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, immediate and sweeping action is required in order to limit global warming to 1.5 °C and prevent resulting climate changes which could threaten life on earth. Building a workable understanding of the research puzzle described above is important to identifying if the military is a viable actor in environmental policy and therefore can be looked at to help solve the environmental crisis we are now facing. Furthermore, it is important to look at the military as an actor because of the interconnected nature of the environment and military. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the nation’s largest energy consumer but also has access to extensive resources which could allow it to pursue environmental protection. It has stated the importance of certain environmental issues, yet fails to set goals to address the very same issues. Exploring the DoD’s relationship with environmental policy, therefore, allows us to not only understand the role of the military in general but also better understand one of the world’s largest polluters, leading to direct policy implications.
There is a heated and long-standing debate in the scholarly community over how best to categorize environmental issues and if they should be considered national security threats. Beginning after the end of the Cold War, scholars such as Jessica Matthews called for broadening conceptions of national security to include threats to the citizenry, rather than just the nation state, thereby making environmental issues an important national security concern. Others disagreed. Some, such as Daniel Deudney, argued that environmental degradation itself did not lead to interstate conflict and therefore was not directly linked to national security. Furthermore, he claimed that linking these two concepts was counterproductive to the goals of preventing environmental degradation, as national security concerns are commonly addressed in ways that would be counterproductive to the goals of environmentalism, which are better addressed by global, multilateral efforts. Marc Levy agreed that linkage of national security and environmental issues was unproductive, although he did recognize climate change as a threat to security. Predominant military scholar Kent Butts fundamentally disagreed with this argument and instead posited that the DoD has a unique ability to address the failures of global efforts due to its extensive budget, “logistical, technical, and industrial resources.”
It is predominantly the second part of this debate which remains active and contentious among scholars: is thinking of environmental issues, specifically when related to climate change, as national security issues productive in addressing them? Furthermore, is involving military actors an effective method to address environmental concerns? The importance of this question is highlighted by the contradictions in the DoD’s stated goals and actual outcomes. DoD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap established goals to “integrate climate change considerations” into “existing management processes.” The report built on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that established climate change as a threat to national security. Many of these concerns are echoed in the department’s 2018 Sustainability Report and Implementation Plan, although on a more topic specific basis. The 2018 report identifies key areas where military operations intersect with environmental issues and lays out goals for future performance in these areas. Despite recognizing the importance of all of the areas listed, DoD only sets goals to improve performance in two of them, directly demonstrating the contradiction I hope to explain.
Currently, the scholarly debate continues over how best to imagine the military’s role in environmental policy. Some scholars, such as Sarah Light, argue that the immense crossover between the two areas amount to a “military-environmental complex” that should be viewed as an “exceptional opportunity” for policymaking and innovation. Much of the work is focused on specific areas of intersection between the environment and military, often aligning with the areas addressed by the DoD itself.
I hope I can contribute to this scholarly debate by exploring conceptualizations of military environmental policy. I hope this work will allow me to further define the possibilities for the role of the military in addressing environmental issues. Some preliminary research questions to further explore this puzzle follow:
- General: Why are certain environmental concerns addressed by the Department of Defense’s internal policies and others are not prioritized?
- Case specific: What explains the military’s lack of consideration for environmentalism and resulting high level of pollution at the US Navy site in Vieques, Puerto Rico?
 Sarah E Light, “The Military-Environment Complex,” Boston College Law Review 55 (2014), 881.
 “2018 Sustainability Report and Implementation Plan,” Department of Defense. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2018), 5.
 Jessica Tuchman Mathews, “Redefining Security,” Foreign Affairs 68, no. 2 (1989), 173
 Daniel Deudney, “The Case Against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security.” Millennium, 19 no.3 (1990), 275.
 Ibid 278.
 Marc A. Levy, “Is the Environment a National Security Issue?,” International Security 20, no. 2 (1995), 51.
 Kent Butts, “National Security, the Environment and DOD,” National Security (n.d.), 25.
 “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap,” Department of Defense. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, June 2014), 9.
 Ibid, 2.
 “2018 Sustainability Report and Implementation Plan,” 1.
 Ibid, 5.
 Light, 881.
“2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.” Department of Defense. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, June 2014).
“2018 Sustainability Report and Implementation Plan.” Department of Defense. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2018).
Butts, Kent. “National Security, the Environment and DOD.” National Security (n.d.), 22-27.
Deudney, Daniel. “The Case Against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security.” Millennium, 19 no.3 (1990), 273-283.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Global Warming of 1.5°C, 2018. Accessed September 29, 2019. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/.
Levy, Marc A. “Is the Environment a National Security Issue?” International Security 20, no. 2 (1995), 35–62.
Light, Sarah E. “The Military-Environment Complex,” Boston College Law Review 55 (2014), 879-946.
Mathews, Jessica Tuchman. “Redefining Security.” Foreign Affairs 68, no. 2 (1989), 162–177.