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National Security Insiders Poll / INSIDERS POLL

Insiders Support Military’s Renewable-Energy Push

photo of Sara Sorcher
June 4, 2012

Nearly two-thirds of National Journal’s National Security Insiders agree with the military’s push for renewable energy, siding with the Obama administration over some Republicans in Congress who have charged that the Defense Department should not spend money on expensive alternative fuels at a time when the nation needs to cut its trillion-dollar deficit.

The Pentagon sees the goal of reducing its oil consumption as a national-security concern — and the Obama administration has continuously touted the military’s use of renewable energy, especially biofuels. Sixty-one percent of Insiders agree this is a good priority for the military.

“Thousands of U.S. military and contractor personnel have been killed or wounded transporting traditional fuel convoys. It is expensive and dangerous. It is a military imperative to develop new renewable-energy sources to make our military more efficient and effective on the battlefield,” one Insider said.

 

Spending “a little money” to discover new alternatives makes sense and will save money in the long run, another Insider told NJ. “Fuel is/was one of the largest expenses of the Iraq and Afghan deployments.”

The U.S. military is the single largest industrial consumer of oil in the world. “Our military has often led the way for the nation in technological and social change, and they can do so here as well,” one Insider said.

But 39 percent of Insiders surveyed sided with the concerns voiced by some Republicans — such as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., who led the effort in the Senate to limit the amount of biofuels that can be used by the military. “Spending precious defense dollars on expensive biofuels is a transparent effort to raid the defense budget to subsidize an industry that is not economically competitive,” one Insider said. “Dressing this up as a national-security initiative is the height of cynicism.”

The military should not be used as a “political football” with regard to energy policy, one Insider said. “The military should not become the poster child for green energy unless that is the most efficient means to achieve the goal of reducing the logistical footprint — which today and for the foreseeable future it is not.” 

Insiders were even more in accord when the topic turned to the current U.S. military stance toward China.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta traveled to Singapore last weekend for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, talks which usually include the defense minister of every Asia-Pacific country except China. Seventy-four percent of Insiders, polled ahead of the meeting, said the United States is taking the right military posture toward Beijing.

China is not a current military threat and should not be “pushed into an arms race by overly aggressive U.S. military action,” one Insider said.

“China is a potential adversary, but not an inevitable one,” another Insider stated. “The United States should continue to reach out to China, while at the same time shoring up its military relations with other nations in the region as a hedge against possible Chinese aggression.” 

 

1. The Pentagon sees the goal of reducing its oil consumption as a national-security concern, and the Obama administration has continuously touted the military’s use of renewable energy, especially biofuels. Some Republicans in Congress have charged that the military should not spend money on expensive alternative fuels at a time when the nation needs to cut its trillion-dollar deficit. Who’s right?

(54 votes)

  • Obama administration 61%
  • Republicans 39%

The Obama administration

“Energy is a huge expense for the military, and being captive to global price spikes is a strategic liability. The military is making this move largely for budgetary reasons—oil [costs] can be hundreds of dollars a barrel by the time it gets to theater, while alternatives in those instances are far cheaper. Republicans are wrapping ideology in economic nonsense to help out oil-company donors, while leaving war-fighters captive to a tether of oil, as one general has described it.”

“The military needs to pave the way for the national security needs of the nation, renewable energy included.”

“Both arguments are specious. Fact is, any renewable-energy sources that can displace significant hydrocarbons are decades away. That said, we need R&D now, and that can be advanced by the military. The real discussion should be on natural gas, shale gas, oil sands, and the Keystone pipeline in the near term, followed by a national bipartisan commitment to accelerating renewables as a national-security priority.”

“Fuel brought to Afghanistan to power U.S. military operations is reported to have a total cost of more than $100 a gallon when all related costs are factored in. The Department of Defense uses more fuel than any other single entity on earth.”

“The more energy-independent or self-sustaining the military can be, the better able it will be to project power whenever and wherever we need to.”

Republicans

“Renewables will be a niche product for the foreseeable future. The paradigm shift should come from natural gas, which is domestically plentiful, cheap, and relatively clean.”

“All current alternative-energy sources require subsidies for R&D and production. The recent breakthrough in fracking technology will reduce the price of [natural] gas and cause it to substitute for other fuels in some uses. Cheaper gas will raise the opportunity cost of subsidizing inefficient energy sources at a time when government should be ruthlessly eliminating subsidies except to the disadvantaged.”

“We continue to produce more of our own oil, even as we have expanded gas production. Alternative fuels thus far seem to be more a money sink than anything else. And that is not even to get into the issue of why federal funds are going to particular companies developing alternative fuels.”

“Focus on keeping us safe ... not keeping us politically correct.”

2. Is the United States taking the right military posture with China, or should it be tougher or more lenient?

(54 votes)

  • Right posture 74%
  • Tougher 22%
  • More lenient 4%

Right posture

“The United States is — as it has been for more than a century — a Pacific power and intends to remain so for another century. End of message. Beijing, learn to live with it.” 

“China’s rapid military buildup increases security risks, but the Obama administration has reassured Asia-Pacific allies and friends by announcing a U.S. defense and diplomatic pivot to the region. The Afghanistan war and potential for U.S. intervention in Iran or Syria mean that few U.S. assets can be redirected soon to the Asia-Pacific. This is not a problem, however, since major Chinese threats are not imminent, and China’s military is vulnerable to U.S. high-tech capabilities, such as space-borne reconnaissance, electronic and undersea warfare, and offensive cyber."

“It’s important to our allies and partners that we send signals of permanent commitment combined with force-posture flexibility.” 

“It’s a balanced approach that reflects the complexity of the relationship.” 

“We don’t have the deck to play tougher, although our politics will continue to deny it for another decade.” 

“Give them enough rope. By way of its neighborhood belligerence, China is doing what has never been done before — making ASEAN a viable and useful organization.” 

Should be tougher

“We should ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty and then get tough with our regional partners regarding freedom of navigation and their illegal claims in the South China Sea.” 

“The Chinese respect toughness. We should not bully China, but we must not fold each time they pressure us.” 

“Speak softly, but carry a big stick.... [We] need to proactively address PRC’s cyber and space activities.” 

“Obama’s  weakness has led to Chinese belligerence in South China Sea and East China Sea, rattling our allies and making them wonder if we’ll be there for them.” 

“China will seek to challenge U.S. and allied interests at every turn in an effort to convince itself that it has achieved  'Great Power' status. Chinese complicity in cyberattacks against U.S.  military and economic targets, its aggressive stance in the South China Sea as well as its exploitation of Africa’s mineral wealth are evidence it wants to assert a greater role in world affairs. China believes it is engaged in a struggle for the earth’s resources. Its leaders are worried that if they fail to secure critical resources, their entire political system might collapse. Since they appear to view this as a zero-sum game, the tendency will be to prevent others from accessing those resources — just like the pre-WWII Imperial Japanese tried to do with their ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.’ So it becomes imperative to challenge China’s hegemonic impulses with strong but measured responses to Beijing’s actions.” 

Should be more lenient

“We have plenty of strength vis-a-vis China; ratcheting up is rubbing it in.” 

“Once we’re out of Iraq and Afghanistan, China will be next on the enemies list for the Right Wing war hawks and fearmongers — if we’re not at war with Iran. It’s our economic posture, not our military posture, that we should focus on.” 

 

National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.

They are:

Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, and Dov Zakheim.

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