It was a momentous year. In 1973, CBS sold the Yankees to some guy named George Steinbrenner... the Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade ruling... America quit Vietnam... President Nixon declared, "I am not a crook"... and, on Yom Kippur, the Arab states launched a short but vicious war against Israel.
The Arabs lost. In retaliation--and overnight--the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) doubled the price of oil.
Washington leapt into action and promptly made matters worse. New federal programs sprang into being. The best were ineffective; some were completely counterproductive. Spot shortages morphed into gas lines nationwide. Worst of all, price controls discouraged production. That led to shortages, which prompted calls for further government action to fix the shortages.
The lesson was clear: When governments trump markets, bad things happen.
Twenty-six years later, that lesson has been forgotten--at least by those whose hands control the levers of power in Washington. Government is itching to manipulate energy markets again, with laws and rules that will do everything from dictating what kinds of cars we can buy to taxing carbon emissions. The radical sheiks of 1973 have been replaced by rampaging Greens who preach that the only way to save Gaia is to drive up energy costs until we can't afford to use fossil fuels.
The climate-change sheiks aren't content with merely reshaping the nation's energy and economic policies, however. Some in Washington want use the issue as an excuse to reshape national security as well.
Last year, Congress directed the Pentagon to address the national-security impacts of climate change in its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) report, due this December.
Every four years, the Pentagon must prepare a QDR for Congress, outlining the nation's defense strategy and forecasting the requirements and forces needed to execute the strategy successfully. The QDR is a big deal. Hundreds of people work on putting it together. defense Secretary Gates has already declared that he plans to use the result of the QDR to justify reshaping the military.
With the stakes so high, it's risky business to introduce the climate change debate into national security decision-making. Since Al Gore made global warming a global cause celebre, stakeholders have tried to hijack the issue to drive their own agendas, be it to Save Darfur or to sell windmills. And there is no shortage of climate-change alarmists eager to dragoon military resources for service under a Green flag.
Some want to turn the military into a massive, humanitarian, peacekeeping force, standing ready to help third world states they believe may be ravaged by rising waters. Others foresee the Pentagon serving as a muscled referee wading into resource wars between poor nations battling over clean water. Others worry that global-warming induced floods will produce a succession of failed states, forcing the U.S. military to hop from one Somalia to another to restore order.
The climate change drumbeat could well seduce a Pentagon leadership intent on slashing the military's conventional war capabilities in favor those needed to fight "irregular warfare." That would be a mistake.
The enemy of the future will want to fight exactly the kind of war we chose not to prepare for. The current obsession with irregular warfare at the expense of conventional capabilities is wrongheaded. As for climate change security, even if global temperatures rise, it will be generations before any dramatic change occurs. Even the U.S. military can adapt readily to that pace.
Unless the Pentagon wants to use climate change as an excuse to rubber stamp budget cutting, it should have no effect on defense strategy or needs in the up-coming QDR. After all, the world's climate is always changing. Militaries must always change, too&hellipwhen there is something real to adapt to.
Doomsday scenarios merit no consideration. But real developments demand a response. For example, we know the Artic is becoming navigable year round. Our ice cutter fleet is worn out and obsolete. There is no plan for new ones. Who will clear the waters for the Navy's ships in this vital region?
Additionally, if the military wants to get serious about how global warming affects national security, it must examine the impact of rules and regulations nations are adopting to combat green house gases. These rules may well stifle economic growth, create energy scarcity, and make fragile states even more fragile.
Trying to turn back the global thermostat may lead to wider, more destructive violence, making our national security problems worse, not better. Remember the lesson of 1973.
James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in the Washington Examiner