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Energy Security Is a Matter of National Security Say Retired Military Leaders

Speaking at a panel this week in New York City, retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Stephen Cheney emphasized the link between energy security and U.S. national security.

“Our nation’s concept of energy security was defined in the American mind by the two oil crises of the ’70s…where our country found its economy literally held hostage by hostile foreign powers over decisions that our leaders made in international affairs,” he said. “To ensure that nothing like that ever happens again—that should be our goal in building energy security.”

General Cheney is the CEO of the American Security Project (ASP), which presented the panel in partnership with the Foreign Policy Association. He spoke alongside two of his colleagues at ASP, Navy Vice Admiral Lee Gunn and Air Force Lieutenant General Norman Seip, both retired. The panel was an Official Affiliate Event of 2017 Climate Week NYC.

While the Department of Defense (DoD) remains the single largest consumer of fossil fuel in the world, the military faces an array of strategic and tactical concerns that have propelled it to become a leader in energy innovation. Threats include, for instance, fuel price volatility, the vulnerability of fuel convoys to attack, and the susceptibility to disruption of the commercial power supplies that installations rely on.

DoD’s energy usage is divided between installation energy (about 25%) and operational energy (about 75%). The Army is the largest installation energy user, while the Air Force is the largest operational energy user. DoD is required by law to obtain 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and it has committed to install one gigawatt each of renewable generating capacity from the Army, Navy and Air Force Installations by 2025.

Lieutenant General Seip highlighted programs in each of the services that address energy security on the operational level, including the Navy’s Great Green Fleet; the Marines’ Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System (GREENS) and Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy System (SPACES); the Army’s flagship Net Zero Initiative; and the Air Force Energy Flight Plan.

“The good news is that alternative energy type of biofuels are getting to be cost-competitive,” he stressed. “It’s got to be drop-in, it’s got to be scalable, it’s got to have the same performance…and it has to be cost-competitive.”

DoD recognizes climate change itself as a threat to national security. Vice Admiral Gunn described climate change as a strategic challenge, using three terms—“threat multiplier,” “catalyst for conflict,” and “accelerant of instability”—that are employed by ASP and by CNA, where Gunn serves as president of the Institute for Public Research.

On the tactical side, he noted that “more than thirty bases around the country, but also around the world, are subject to the threats of changing climate,” including sea level rise and extreme weather conditions.

The panelists stressed the focus on long-term planning in the military, in contrast to political preoccupation with election cycles. “We must see energy security as a long-term process, not as a moment that’s frozen in time,” said Brigadier General Cheney. “Some policies get billed on security today while harming our future security.”

Vice Admiral Gunn noted progress and enthusiasm on the the local and state level in the absence of Trump administration leadership. But he warned that “China, the EU and even Saudi Arabia have national energy strategies. The United States does not and never has.” On research, development and deployment of renewables, he continued, “We’re number three and falling back every day in terms of national dedication to this…There’s no leadership on this…It’s going to be very damaging to our country.”