Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. 1

Planetary militarization displayed on time line

Between 1960 and 2021, US military spending increased fifteen fold to $731 billion (and counting). 2 During that period, it offered lucrative contracts to companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin to build fighter jets that do not fly, 3 porous and ineffective missile defense systems 4 , and other weapons of war that have either never been used or were inoperable due to major design flaws, among other things. As the US military buys and burns fossil fuels to wage forever wars in resource-rich nations, it transmutes the engines of war into a blanket of carbon that envelops the planet; the US Department of Defense is the world’s largest institutional producer of greenhouse gasses. 

This planetary militarization extends beyond the surface. From the seafloor to the atmospheric ceiling, the world has been and is being remade by the ballooning presence and power of American militarization. Kristen Simmons reminds us that, during the militarized response to and terrorization of Indigenous-led resistance at Standing Rock: “The atmosphere is increasingly a sphere to be weaponized.” 5 In this sense, the military’s funding, research and development, experimentation, deployment, and warfighting across nearly 800 military bases spread throughout 70 countries, and used to stage warfighting in fronts spread across at least four countries, is more than a project of warfighting—it is also a project of terraforming the global atmosphere and weaponizing it against the Global South. Put another way, planetary militarization is more than a project of geopolitical power—it is also a project to destroy and remake the planetary environment itself. 6

  • Map of the globe showing the cost of violence in dollars 
    Map of the globe showing the cost of violence in dollars 
  • Map of the globe showing the cost of violence as a percentage of GDP
    Map of the globe showing the cost of violence as a percentage of GDP
  • Map of the globe showing each country's military expenditure in dollars
    Map of the globe showing each country's military expenditure in dollars
  • Map of the globe showing each country's military expenditure as a percentage of GDP
    Map of the globe showing each country's military expenditure as a percentage of GDP

Funding is the beginning of the military supply matrix. In shades of red, four maps show the spread of relationships between military expenditures, violence, and GDP over a global base map of GDP clusters and existing borders. In raw spending, the US outranks all other nations in both military expenditure and the cost of violence, but when normalized to GDP, other nations rise to the fore. While raw spending shows the flat investment into military supply matrices, percent GDP shows how much an entire economy of a nation is invested into warfighting. Neither is a preferable relationship. These relationships show just how much capital, labor, and energy could be reallocated away from planetary militarization, and toward climate futures of abundance worth fighting, and living, for. 7

Ensuring the primacy of planetary militarization is one of the only bipartisan propositions left in the U.S. On May 19th, 2019, in the throes of the 2020 US presidential election primaries and at a time when climate was marked as the top issue for the Democratic nominee in some polls, 8 then-candidate Elizabeth Warren released a plan aimed at making the “progressive” case for such a program—the Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act. 9 At its core, the plan merges left-wing progressive calls for rapid decarbonization with right-wing and centrist nationalistic appeals to military power. Its arguments were clear. Every dollar the DoD spends on fossil fuels could be going to more efficient killing machines. Extreme weather events damage military infrastructure and assets. Electricity blackouts threaten “readiness”—the top priority of the US military. Together, these impacts greatly reduce force readiness and the ability to wage forever wars, a fact somehow framed by Warren as “consistent with the objectives of the Green New Deal” during the plan’s rollout.

Responses to the plan highlighted the well-established hypocrisy of “sustainable militarism,” 10 animated by rhetorical questions like: Are carbon-neutral drone strikes less harmful and murderous than one unleashed through a high-carbon UAV? Are earthquake-inducing, ocean-deployed bomb tests better for the environment when the aircraft carriers and battleships that deliver them are run on electric power instead of diesel fuel? 11

Yet in certain spheres of environmental “experts” the plan was celebrated. According to Vox reporting, 12 Warren’s suite of climate plans, which included the Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act, earned her an upgrade on Greenpeace’s Climate Ranking for Democratic hopefuls. Meanwhile, staff from Sierra Club are quoted praising “Senator Warren’s ambitious and strong plans” which “recognize that reality thoroughly and propose solutions accordingly.” 13 Alongside these favorable responses from large, legacy environmental NGOs, a former Obama-era state department climate policy advisor lauded Warren’s issue-area approach to climate telling Vox: “you would have to bake it [the Climate Crisis] into how you’re thinking about public lands, a jobs strategy, or security.” 14 In other words, voices from the “expert” environmental left saw the green military (the shorthand for Warren’s plan and the more expansive climate-military industrial complex) as an asset to Warren’s campaign, and competitive edge for a Democratic presidential hopeful.

[T]he DOD [US Department of Defense] is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest institutional producer of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the world. 15

While “expert” voices in environmental politics saw the green military as a competitive advantage, the authors of this project see it as folly. In 2011, General Petraus famously declared “Energy is the lifeblood of our warfighting capabilities.” 16 If the energy is green, the blood still runs. The green military is not a plan for less global immiseration at the hands of the US military; it is a plan to ensure the future of war on a damaged planet terraformed by that war. In Warren’s view, the Green New Deal can rescue 17 US militarism and empire from the climate crisis it causes. In other words, the Climate Crisis won’t kill planetary militarization—it will save it.

This is not the first time climate policy has been co-opted to save militarism. In the mid-2000s, responding to the US war in the Middle East, military consultant Sherri Goodman coined the term “threat multiplier,” a new catch phrase for the Climate Crisis. 18 The threat multiplier is the concept that the climate crisis will exacerbate every threat to US security and warfighting at every level. It is the idea that water scarcity will lead to more theatres of war across the globe, and millions of climate refugees will challenge national borders. Rebranding the Climate Crisis as a threat multiplier reframes a worsening climate away from environmentalist’s concerns in the mid-2000s with polar bears sitting on melting ice caps or forest fires in the Amazon and towards national security, energy independence, and other nationalistic appeals to American exceptionalism. Two pieces of earlier discourse made this move possible. First, the concept of “force multiplier”—the phenomenon that a particular factor will increase the effectiveness of the military, for example morale or violent reputation. Second, the 90s era Clinton Democrats slide to the center-right, which allowed for the embrace of right-leaning military conservatism and leftist environmental politics. In this way, threat multiplier references a familiar and comfortable term in military jargon, but introduces the crossover left-right politics that the green military enshrines.

Within a decade of being introduced, “threat multiplier” had been embraced by the Obama administration, 19 who mandated all military planning include planning for the climate crisis (a sentiment echoed by Biden that has now produced the newest Pentagon climate crisis report) 20 , and the UN, 21 who in 2015 convened a security council meeting on the concept of the threat multiplier. In many ways, without the pioneer work of threat multiplier earlier in the millennium it would not be possible to propose that the Green New Deal can rescue American militarism in 2019.

[T]he reality is that solar energy, electric vehicles, or aspirations of “carbon neutrality” may promise fuel-efficiency but do nothing to make the U.S. military any less violent or oppressive. 22

On March 5, 2020, Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 US presidential election; almost one month later Joe Biden was named the Democratic nominee. While Warren and Biden each had a different framing of why the climate-military nexus is necessary to ensure “victory” over the Climate Crisis, or in the case of President Biden, victory over China, the result of either winning the democratic nomination would have been expanded American militarism under the banner of the Climate Crisis. Biden’s nomination was not the death of the climate-military industrial complex in the battle for Democratic Party leadership—but the inevitable hardening of climate-militarism into the party's climate policy. 

President Biden’s particular brand of climate-militarism focuses on a bipartisan-approved enemy: China. 23 US climate policy, under the Biden administration, is formulated as an economic fight to be won, contributing further to what the author’s of this project call the Climate Cold War: the spectre of climate-military industrial brinkmanship between the US and China. 

We articulate this concept to show the resilience of the climate-military industrial complex and the industrial capture of American elite politicians. Climate-militarism presents a new front for the fossil fuel led energy-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex to combine their lobbying power, ensuring political capture of both major US political parties. The entrenchment of both House and Senate democrats within the military industrial complex has been extensively documented, finding “when it comes to the US military budget, campaign contributions are a better predictor for how congressional Democrats will vote.” 24 Fossil fuel contributions have historically favored Republicans, although the share of political contributions to Democrats is increasing in recent years as fracking continues to be falsely marketed as a transition fuel. 25 In 2021, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin received the most funding ($577,060) of any congressional member from oil and gas PACs. 26 The political spending of the energy-industrial complex has allowed them to consistently undermine domestic climate policy, 27 even as they rebrand themselves as climate-conscious broad energy companies. 28

The Climate Cold War is the more resilient concept of the energy-military crossover event in today’s political climate. Expanding planetary climate-militarism provides political cover for Republicans and Democrats alike to accept energy-military industrial donations that inevitably influence domestic and foreign policy. The political capture of military industrialists and oil and gas lobbyists presents a glaring problem for US climate leadership: how can other nations expect American domestic and foreign climate policies to meaningfully and consistently move towards decarbonization? Even Biden’s campaign plan “for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” writes of “self-interested Chinese projects,” and that the plan will ”pursue strong new measures to stop other countries from cheating on their climate commitments. We can no longer separate trade policy from our climate objectives. Biden will not allow other nations, including China, to game the system.” 29 As the US remains the largest carbon emitter in world history with 4.35 times less people emitting it than China—who has “gamed the system”? Leaving the Paris agreement in 2020, who has “cheated” on their climate commitments? In a plan which specifically articulates US excellence, who is “self-interested”?

The worldbuilding around a US-China Climate Cold War continues with President Biden in office—in the American Jobs Plan, 30 in the bipartisan so-called “Endless Frontiers Act 31 (and yes, the insidious reference to settler colonialism is not lost on the authors), and in “buy American 32 policies. In the American Jobs Plan, Biden lays out the two “great challenges of our time.” 33 He writes that on one hand the so-called “we” can fight the climate crisis; on the other hand, the so-called “we” can fight China. In this way, the Climate Cold War has become the latest attempt for climate politics to rescue US militarism and empire and perpetuate planetary militarization. The Climate Cold War is the resilient destiny of the threat multiplier; it is the bipartisan, centrist argument that has both sides winning and green blood flowing across a damaged planet.

The Green New Deal must not enact the Climate Cold War. For the Green New Deal to be internationalist, climate politics must not save planetary militarization. This is not to say that threat multiplier or green military are incomplete. It is not a question; the Climate Crisis will rewrite and is rewriting every aspect of relation on the planet from which species survive to which peoples will thrive; institutions must rise to the existential threat. This is a question of auguring a new future—that is, what will decarbonization rescue? What will the Green New Deal save, and what will be cared for into the future? The internationalist Green New Deal is a vision of a future where decarbonization doesn’t just techno-fix climate-military industrial complex supply chains and make them “green”; it is a future where decarbonization challenges the very foundations of settler colonialism, empire, and immiseration that terraformed the Climate Crisis. When you consider the latter definition of decarbonization, green militarism, threat multiplier, and the Climate Cold War are made useless; they are not needed in a future without planetary militarization.

Which future to choose it clear. On one hand, 195 green militaries build green drones that make green drone strikes on climate refugees in theatres of war defined by severe heat or water scarcity. On the other hand, decarbonization leads to global abundance and global climate justice. Decarbonization is a call to augur a future without the architects of the Climate Crisis, and the internationalist Green New Deal is also a call to think a future without the supply matrices of war. 34

What is over the horizon of decarbonization is yet being formed by movements, artists, writers, and visionaries. 35 But the future is defined by what is cared for and sustained. The US can invest hundreds of billions of dollars to care for a warfighting supply matrix to perpetuate planetary militarization, or it can reallocate the supply matrix of war to global climate justice, abundance, and a world without red or green blood.