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U.S. Military Leaders Call Current Energy Situation 'Perilous'

Retired U.S. military leaders said that while the dangers of imported oil are well documented, fossil fuels, as well as the nation's "fragile" electric grid, also pose "significant security threats" to the country and its military mission are "exploitable by those who wish to do us harm," according to a new report titled "Powering America's Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security."

According to a panel of top-ranking retired admirals and generals, America's energy posture constitutes a serious and urgent threat to national security -- militarily, diplomatically and economically. The military leaders warn that continuing business as usual is "perilous" and recommend immediate action to address the nation's long-term energy profile. By addressing its own security needs, the Department of Defense (DoD) can help lead the transformation of U.S. energy use as an innovation incubator for new technologies, the report stated. It concludes that "diversifying our energy sources and moving away from fossil fuels where possible is critical to our future energy security."

"It's a sobering but honest, and necessary, assessment," said Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles F. "Chuck" Wald, chairman of the Military Advisory Board (MAB). "As military planners and as responsible public servants we cannot turn a blind eye to the dangerous realities of our energy situation. The current recession is no excuse for inaction. If we don't address the fossil fuel issue now, we will see more price volatility, with steeper spikes and shorter cycles between spikes. We are already paying a penalty for not looking into the future."

Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gordon R. Sullivan noted that there is a relationship between the major challenges the country is facing. "Energy, security, economics, climate change -- these things are connected," Sullivan wrote in the report.

Due to the destabilizing nature of increasingly scarce resources, the impacts of energy demand and climate change are likely to increasingly drive military missions in this century, according to the report. The first priority for the new administration, the MAB recommends, is to clearly and fully integrate energy security and climate change goals into national security and military planning.

"Increasing demand for, and dwindling supplies of, fossil fuels will lead to instability. In addition, the effects of global climate change will pose serious threats to water supplies and agricultural production, leading to intense competition for essentials," said MAB member Vice Admiral (ret.) Dennis McGinn. "The U.S. cannot assume that we will be untouched by these conflicts. We have to understand how these conflicts could play out, and prepare for them."

The MAB also produced the 2007 report titled "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change." That report found that climate change constitutes a "threat multiplier" because projected impacts will exacerbate existing security risks. Building on the 2007 report, the new report states, "Our approach to energy and our approach to climate change have profound impacts on each other -- and both have impacts on our national security."

National security risks resulting from the current U.S. energy posture identified in the report include:

The MAB report also identified a number of risks on the horizon. It said the market for fossil fuels will be shaped by finite supplies and increasing demand and that continuing "our heavy reliance" on these fuels is a security risk. The report also identified that the regulatory frameworks driven by climate change concerns will increase the costs -- both economic and geopolitical -- of using carbon-based fuels. Finally, the MAB said the insecurity driven by ongoing climate change has the potential to add significantly to the mission burden of the U.S. military in fragile regions of the world.

"In our view, confronting these converging risks is critical to ensuring America's secure energy future," the report states. "Consistency with our emerging climate policies should shape our energy and national security planning; we should not pursue energy options inconsistent with our national response to climate change."

Based on the report's findings, MAB is calling on the DoD to take a leadership role -- for government and the nation -- in transforming America's energy posture. "By addressing its own energy security needs," the report finds, "DoD can stimulate the market for new energy technologies and vehicle efficiencies." The board outlined "A Roadmap for Energy Security" to help focus DoD's investments in a strategic manner in order to mitigate its highest energy-related risks and optimize fiscal resources through a series of priorities. Listed in order of importance, they are:

"Confronting this challenge is paramount for the military; to achieve the endstate, we must have a national approach," the report states.

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