“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century: Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others; Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected; Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it; Refusing to set aside trivial preferences; Neglecting development and refinement of the mind; Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”
Such are the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman who lived between the years of 106 and 43 BC. The quote rings true today, as we once again find ourselves pursuing the same old foreign policy the United States has pursued for many years. Yet again, we are mired in various situations that could quite easily become long conflicts that do nothing besides line the pockets of a few, destroy entire communities and cause immeasurable environmental harm. Cicero understood that individuals and states constantly opted for destruction when pursuing tangible gains, and often decided to change minds by force.
There has never been a more important time to finally change the pattern, especially as the question of the environment is added to our global equation. First, we must define the environment as engulfing the entire world instead of a specific locality. Second, we must completely reorient the purpose of US foreign policy to one which works for humanity and the environment as a whole.
Today, there is the threat of war in Ukraine, of which the Biden administration’s response consists of sending additional troops to the area. Furthermore, as a surprise to absolutely nobody, except for maybe the Biden administration, Belarus has said it will go to war if need be. Simultaneously, China’s ambassador to the United States has said that it could end up in a military conflict with the US if the US continues to encourage Taiwan’s independence.
These developments, of course, are not new by any stretch of the imagination. However, the fact that they are not new is precisely the issue at hand. Breaking through these repetitive cycles of posturing and militaristic threats requires a new framework and a new mindset.
Amid this saber-rattling between the greatest powers in the world — actions that may regrettably lead to war but will most likely continue as saber-rattling until a temporary stop-gap solution is put into place, which will work just fine until the next time this tension spills into the public – the US military continues to be one of the world’s largest polluters. In fact, the US military alone is a bigger polluter than 140 countries. It is the largest single institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world.
US foreign policy is broken, and if there is to be any breaking of this perpetual cycle of conflict that could potentially lead to a third World War, a paradigm shift is needed.
During the Trump administration, the United States was removed from the Paris Agreement, which did away with the obligation of reporting US military emissions. However, since the United States re-entered the Paris Agreement under the Biden administration, it has since submitted its nationally determined contributions (NDC) report on April 22, 2021. While nations under the Paris agreement are not obliged to cut their military emissions, they also do not have an exemption for them. In this most recent NDC submitted by the US, there is no mention of military emissions whatsoever.
President Biden did sign a series of executive orders in the beginning of 2021 which led to the creation of a Climate Working Group under the auspices of the Department of Defense. This working group is to be a forum for “coordinating climate and energy-related directives” and for “implementing climate and energy-related actions.” And in September 2021, the Department of Defense published its Climate Adaptation Plan, which identifies five lines of effort that will all result in ensuring the Department of Defense “can operate under changing climate conditions, preserving operational capability and enhancing the natural and man-made systems essential to the Department’s success.”
While there is a recognition that climate change is having an effect on the US military and US foreign policy in general, the issue is being presented backward. Instead of realizing the cost that the military is incurring upon the environment, the goal has become to allow for maximum military operations under the environmental changes which are taking place.
US foreign policy is broken, and if there is to be any breaking of this perpetual cycle of conflict that could potentially lead to a third world war, a paradigm shift is needed. This shift must take the focus from the accruement of money and resources and put it into revitalizing and preserving the environment. The accruement of money and resources can be described as hoarding natural resources, and making the mistakes that Cicero warned about: Namely, attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do through military force.
Starting this reorientation process requires putting the health of the global environment before the temporary gains that we seek. Biden should first and foremost orient the US military in a direction that strives for sustainability instead of military coercion and destruction.
Sam Fouad is a communications professional, political analyst and PhD student.