Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) once observed that "War is too important to be left to the generals." Today, national defense has become too important to be a Pentagon monopoly.
Obsession with military threats may blind us to a threat to American security that, in today's world, is far more serious: the impending climate catastrophe.
We spend hundreds of billions annually on military forces that might be needed if the U.S. and China went to war, which is not impossible although by no means inevitable. But we are extremely reluctant to spend much to head off a climate disaster which is almost inevitable and equally or more devastating.
Anatol Lieven comments on growing tension between the U.S. and China over Chinese military installations on reefs in the South China Sea:
"As a long-term issue these [installations] will be meaningless for both sides: because if nations, and China and the United States above all, fail to take action to limit climate change, by the end of this century rising sea levels and intensified typhoons will have put the sources of these tensions under water again."
This puts our military and climate problems in perspective and comes from Lieven's excellent book, "Climate Change and the Nation State." In his book, he argues persuasively that American defense will require us to make mitigating global warming our very highest national priority.
We already have terrible problems controlling entry into the country by refugees from Central America and the Caribbean. But, as Lieven notes, rising oceans caused by melting ice, and large regions rendered uninhabitable by heat waves, could drive the number of refugees desperate to get in far higher. There would be no stopping them.
Although dealing with climate has been a priority of liberals, they will not all be enthusiastic with Lieven's recommendations. He lambastes opposition to atomic energy by many Greens, since it can produce lots of dependable electricity without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Atomic energy is dangerous, he says, but some of the alternatives to it (coal, gas, oil) are even more dangerous.
Lieven also thinks that we "need to impose strict limits on immigration." This will not be appreciated by many (including myself) who believe that in an ideal world everyone would be as free to change countries as Americans are to change our residency from one state to another.
Of course the world is not ideal, and shows little promise of becoming so in the foreseeable future.
As Lieven says, referring to European critics of atomic energy, "they ... have not understood the meaning of the word 'priority,' or that ... the fight against climate change requires the assumption ... of economic sacrifices ... [and] physical risks."
Although most Americans greatly value democracy, Lieven sees it as a possible handicap in tackling a runaway climate. It is wonderful if our leaders recognize the problem and want to do something about it. But what if they cannot persuade voters to support them in this endeavor?
Oddly enough, autocratic leaders may enjoy an advantage here, as Lievens notes:
"Among the leaders of the great greenhouse gas emitting nations ouside the West, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, and Vladimir Putin are ruthless but sincere nationalists, dedicated to the power and survival of their nations, which are central to their own identities and the interest of their ruling oligarchies. Convince them that something threatens those nations, and they will act — as Chinese policy on climate change already demonstrates."
It would be a tragedy if Americans had to choose between retaining democracy and being able to prevent destruction of our country by nature running amok.
If Anatol Lieven's "Climate Change and the Nation State" is widely read, it could help us avoid this unpleasant choice.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. Read Professor Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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