The Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional consumer of petroleum. It is the single largest consumer of energy in the US. It is a monster like no other–killing innocent people in the name of democracy, creating the conditions to turn independent countries into plantations and gas stations, and leaving behind nothing but destruction of cities, lives, and the environment.
However, recently it has made several attempts to adopt a more progressive image such as embracing issues of racial and gender equality and environmentalism. On June 13, 2022, Senate Democrats introduced a bill which would require 75% of the Pentagon’s non-tactical vehicles to be electric or zero emissions starting in the fiscal year of 2023. The bill was introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono and co-sponsored by Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Angus King (I-VT). According to Senator Warren, the bill would help “combat the climate crisis and keep the military ready for the future.” This is an interesting choice of words as the new vehicles would require special components which must either be sourced from the US or its allies. If one takes a cursory glance at the history of US foreign policy, one will notice that it has used military force to guarantee access to natural resources such as oil, metals, and cash crops. The electric vehicles would require access to regular metals such as copper, steel (made of iron and carbon), and bauxite (used to make aluminum), but also rare earth metals, along with lithium and cobalt. All of these are metals which the US itself lacks and must be sourced outside the US, namely Africa and Latin America. The Pentagon’s gravitation towards electric vehicles is not only greenwashing but also a new approach to continue the US plunder of the third world.
The easy access to the natural resources of the global south has always been seen as vital to US national security. Eduard Galeono notes in The Open Veins of Latin America that the internal stability of the US is intimately tied to its influence and presence in Latin America. The metals which the military industrial complex and western capitalism in general rely on (iron, copper, bauxite, nickel, chrome, lithium, cobalt, etc) are found in abundance in Latin America or Africa but can’t be found in the US, have been depleted, or are extremely rare. Switching to electric vehicles isn’t a solution to carbon emissions or environmental damage. The emissions would simply be shifted from the vehicle’s combustion to a power plant (most likely running on fossil fuels). Additionally, electric vehicles similar to gasoline vehicles not only require the extraction of raw materials such as iron, copper, and bauxite, but intensive mining for their batteries, which result in habitat damage, human displacement, water and air pollution, and a variety of other environmental issues. Electric vehicles rely on lithium batteries. Forty percent of the world’s lithium is found in Latin America, with Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia having the most notable reserves.
Considering the Pentagon’s shift towards electric vehicles, the US is likely to attempt to increase its influence in the region. As Galeono reiterates in his Open Veins, “The United States depends on foreign sources for most of the minerals it needs to wage war.” (Galeono, 137) The Pentagon’s sole existence is to keep the US eternally in a state of war. War is profitable not only for the military industrial complex but also for the people involved in minerals, petroleum, and other extractive industries. With oil prices at an all time high and a likelihood that the world is going to run out of fossil fuels in a few decades the Pentagon needs to ensure the continuation of its existence. The imperialists can’t wage war if they don’t have fuel so they’ll have to shift to an alternative source of energy to power their plundering of the earth. The US still sees Latin America as its backyard and with the various victories of progressive leaders and the refusal of several countries to attend the Summit of Americas it’s likely there will be more attempts to exert control over the region. The empire is trying to hold onto its power and the shift to electric vehicles while appearing progressive is nothing less than a desperate attempt to hold onto power.
However much the US military tries to greenwash it cannot hide that it is one of the world’s largest polluters and is responsible for a significant amount of environmental destruction. If the US military were a country it would be the world’s 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. The US military also accounted for more than 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s greater than the emissions outputs of entire countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, and Morocco. Of course the massive amount of damage the US military has enacted on the environments of where it has had a presence cannot be forgotten. From 1946-1958, the US tested 67 nuclear bombs in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The weapons that were tested were 67 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The fallout was strongest on the atolls of Enewetak, Bikini, Rongelap, and Utrok. The effects of radiation poisoning such as leukemia, birth defects, and thyroid problems still impact the residents of those islands to this day.
The most notable case of the military industrial complex destroying the environment, however, has to be the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. During the war, the US sprayed more than 20 million tons of Agent Orange. The herbicide turned lush green jungles into defoliated barren lands and destroyed many of the country’s food crops. Agent Orange is still present today in Vietnam’s soil, water, fish, and food supply. Moreover, the health impacts of Agent Orange such as birth defects, higher rates of stillbirth, type 2 diabetes, and various types of cancers can be seen today in both Vietnam and veterans. Finally, the environmental devastation and human costs of US military bases is particularly notable. US military bases are some of the most polluted areas in the world and have been found to contaminate the water and soil around the bases. Toxic chemicals from the bases often leak into and contaminate the nearby water sources. The chemicals released into the water supplies such as PFAs (polyfluorinated alkyl substances), a class of chemicals used to make products resistant to water, stains, and heat have been linked to cancer, liver problems, and kidney disease. PFAs are known as forever chemicals because they remain present for a long time in the environment and never break down in the human body. The fact that chemicals such as PFAs are contaminating the water supplies of not only US bases but also hundreds of overseas bases shows the absolute destructiveness of the US military.
The US military doesn’t exist for its own sake. It exists as the muscle of imperialism. It is one of the many institutions which protects the interests of monopoly capitalists. The survival of monopoly capitalism depends on the easy access of the global south’s minerals and resources. The US military is vital in ensuring that the iron, bauxite, copper, lithium, petroleum, etc of the global south can be easily plundered by the capitalists of the north. No amount of greenwashing can change that fact.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.