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Forget China: Biden Wants the Military to Fight Climate Change and Racial Justice

USS Normandy (CG 60) fires its forward Mark 45 mod 4 5-inch gun during a live-fire exercise.
USS Normandy (CG 60) fires its forward Mark 45 mod 4 5-inch gun during a live-fire exercise.

One of the fundamental roles of a leader is organizing people—knowing how to direct people’s efforts and where to allocate resources. Failing to establish clear priorities leads to wasted effort or, worse, mission failure. A famous maxim warns leaders: “if everything is important, nothing is.”

No one should envy the job of Lloyd Austin, President Joe Biden’s newly installed secretary of defense. With the threat from China now on the lips of every member of Congress, he will have his hands full crafting a strategy to counter their aggressive moves in the Pacific. Risks from North Korea, Iran, and Russia abound and also demand immediate attention.

To guide the Biden administration’s initial efforts, the White House recently published a 24-page guidance document on the interim national security strategy. Unfortunately, if you were the secretary of defense hoping to glean insights on how the administration wants you to shape the nation’s defenses, you would come away unfulfilled after reading this document.

While many believe a strong Navy will be important to contain China, there is curiously no mention of the service in the new guidance.

Maybe some thoughts about the new Space Force and the significant challenges America faces in space? Nope.

The role of the Air Force? Nada.

What about climate change? Jackpot! Mentioned 14 times.

COVID-19 gets a shout-out nine times, and racial justice or equity—three times. Keep in mind, this is national security guidance.

Ten days into his presidency, Biden signed an executive order calling for the need to put “the climate crisis at the center of United States foreign policy and national security.”

Climate change is real, and as many are quick to point out, can lead to global instability and could be the spark that ignites conflict between nations. But so too can rapid population growth, disputes concerning sovereign fishing rights, or conflicting claims regarding off-shore oil fields.

Other national problems which threaten our well-being and similarly warrant attention include the rise in obesity, youth hunger, and the opioid epidemic.

But, national security threats are different. Not more important, but distinct from other national problems. When prior administrations sought to characterize the fight on illegal drugs as a “war” and involve the Pentagon, there is a reason that never felt quite right. It was a conflation of a national problem with a national security threat.

By their nature, national security threats represent proximate dangers to America’s safety or security. Left unaddressed they can lead to a profoundly injurious change in the American way of life.

The Department of Defense, with its origins in George Washington’s Revolutionary Army, is charged to protect the nation from national security threats. When multiple other priority missions are levied upon it—not directly tied to our national security—it will, naturally, be less effective overall.

That does not mean that the Pentagon should not be good stewards of the environment and seek to employ clean-energy sources whenever possible and practical. There are indeed some good military reasons why fuel efficiency is useful in military missions. But there is a difference between treating climate change as a “consideration” versus a distinct mission.

In the same fashion, it is perfectly appropriate for the U.S. military to temporarily support COVID-19 vaccination sites with servicemembers or to help establish hospitals. But it would be an entirely different matter for the military to be assigned that mission on an enduring basis.

When the Biden administration elevates combating climate change to a primary mission for the Pentagon, it adds yet another task on top of a military already struggling to perform its traditional tasks.

In that vein, it might be useful to wonder where fighting climate change falls on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s or Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s to-do lists.

Written By

Thomas W. Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general, is director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation.



  1. GreytigerTX

    March 18, 2021 at 9:25 am

    Somebody needs to enlighten this demented moron. The militarys mandate is defense and force projection NOT climate change and hand holding thin skinned blacks.

  2. Joesz Apig

    March 18, 2021 at 11:40 am

    China Joe is going to use the military to fight climate change? What’s he going to do? Nuke those nasty ozone-diminishing clouds out of the sky? This guy is a real moron. If Biden wants to use the military to stop hurting the environment, he should quit sending bombs into Syria. Better yet, tell his Climate Czar John Kerry to sell his fuel gobbling private jet, sell his mansions and give all the proceeds to the Salvation Army. How about shutting down one of Nancy Pelosi’s $30,000 ice cream freezers? That would go a long way to fighting climate change.

  3. tedh754

    March 18, 2021 at 11:55 am

    Whatever happened to the military’s job of breaking things and killing people?

  4. Boots

    March 18, 2021 at 11:58 am

    I’m sure you’re too young to remember, but the climate has been changing for 4000 million years. Humans are not causing it. We cannot “change the change”. Adapt? Yep. Emphasize? No. This article proves the elites call the narrative. Shameful. Humans cannot accurately predict the weather two weeks from now let alone two decades from now. Grow up. Grow a pair. Push back. Seek “daylight” on this sham. Else, you are part of the problem.

  5. Steve

    March 18, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    Tom, while I agree with many of your points I must challenge your singular point of “Climate change is real…”. It is NOT. By injecting those 4 words into this article you lose much credibility as a GO and a warrior. Facts. Truth. The weather changes every day and you lending credence to some kind of “boogeyman” with that statement means you are part of the problem. Good luck on your hunt for a think tank job…..let me guess, you’re a lifetime member of the CFR…?

  6. El bochie

    March 19, 2021 at 12:22 am

    The climate changes all the time, change is caused by solar winds and flares and the earth’s inclination. What’s idiot joe going to do? Nuke the sun? Lmao at dumbojoe

  7. jeffb

    March 19, 2021 at 8:18 am

    This is not Biden… He hasn’t made a decision on his own since he took office.

    What a feeble joke we have as a president.

  8. Rusty Jalopy

    March 20, 2021 at 1:03 am

    Who do you think is calling the shots in the White House? My guess is Susan Rice.

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