The Impacts of Militarism on Climate Change: A Sorely Neglected Relationship

April 26th, 2019 - by Mag. Florian Polsterer / University of Luxembourg Masters Degree 2014-2015

The Military-Industrial Media and Entertainment Complex

Interestingly already in 1961 the president of the USA at the time and himself a former general in the army, Dwight Eisenhower, said in his farewell speech: “(…) we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence (…) by the military-industrial complex.

The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals (…).”

 Eisenhower really hit the spot with this comment, which directly links industry with militarism and comprises the important connected aspects of human rights, democratisation and education, which will also be discussed below. The military-industrial complex is a politico-economic entity and a physical manifestation of militarism.

It includes ground forces, navies, air forces, military intelligence and the industries that supply all of these troops with weapons, ammunition, vehicles, fuel, infrastructure, accommodation, foodstuffs and all the other goods and services that armed forces need.

The complex profits from militarism and consequently has vested interests in its continuation as well as the promotion of ‘defence’ spending. It is closely linked with politics, business and industry, especially the arms and polluting industry of oil, vehicles and nuclear energy.

 Today, international weapons trade is the second largest trade sector in the world (after the energy sector). It is a fact that the global arms industry is one of the most corrupt businesses in the world and is taking advantage of major loopholes that exist in arms regulations.

US Labor Against War

 The biggest arms suppliers worldwide are the USA (40%), Russia (18%), France (8%), the UK (7%), Germany (5%) and Italy (3%) amounting to 85% of military equipment sold between 2004 and 2011. 75% of these sales were to developing countries. It is important to note that the five biggest arms suppliers are at the same time the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. One might wonder how this relationship came to be and what implications it has for militarism and global arms trade.  

 The economic power that MIMEC wields becomes even more obvious when we analyse its ties to the World Bank and IMF. These organisations have a history of paradoxically promoting military spending through austerity measures. A practical tool for these ambiguous proceedings is Article X of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which offers a carte blanche for deals made in the ‘interest of national security’. A recent example for contradictory austerity measures was the dictate of the IMF and European financial elites for Greece to spend huge amounts of its scarce budget on armament, making it one of the world’s biggest weapons importers in the world, while undermining democratic processes.

 There are even voices calling the IMF and World Bank part of global capitalism, only created as part of US militarism.

 Competition in military markets is usually low because of the technological complexity of modern weapons and the preference of most states to buy from domestic suppliers. This lack of competition and a high politicisation of the financing often make military equipment purchased by national governments exceedingly expensive and of questionable value to national security.

 Between the year 2001 and 2011 global military spending surged by an estimated 92%. It is estimated that between 2011 and 2012 global military expenditures reached a new record since the Second World War with $1.756 trillion USD.

 It is striking that the 15 states with highest military spending have a share of almost 80% of global expenditures.  

Figure 12 – Share of Global Military Expenditures of the 15 States with the Highest Spending in 2014

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

For comparison, at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, developed countries committed to pay 100 billion USD annually by 2020 in the Green Climate Fund for climate adaptation in developing countries. Compared to global annual military spending this is but a few percent.

Why is military spending prioritised over funding initiatives for the environment, climate mitigation and adaption? Political action and funding in the last decades have been totally inadequate to reverse the negative environmental trends. Unless every state significantly reduces its military spending the next big fight over the fate of the planet will be lost by all, even without actual hostilities.

Pursuant to recent developments the term ‘military-industrial complex’ was merged with media and entertainment. The term ‘military-industrial media and entertainment complex’ (MIMEC) takes account of militarism’s newly evolved tentacles in the media and entertainment industry. This relationship is not wholly new, but what is qualitatively new is the fusion of creation, presentation and execution of violent conflict within MIMEC.

In the last decades, there has been a convergence of the reality and virtuality of war and it becomes increasingly difficult to map its consequences for human imitational abilities and inclinations.

 This trend was started with the Gulf War (1990-1991) where the media was used as an immensely important tool for the US army. The philosopher Paul Virilio called the Gulf War a ‘world war in the media’.

For the first time, it was a worldwide live armed conflict with the censorship and processing of information by the Pentagon and the army. It took place on screens more than in reality. We can say that real time prevailed over real space.

 This militarisation in the mass media is conducted in more secretive ways, mostly through selective presentation of information. Beginning after the Second World War, the press, radio networks and television industry became more and more integrated within MIMEC, allowing it to advertise all kinds of military activities as unavoidable or even desirable.

After the Gulf War, the Bush Administration openly declared that television was its “chief tool” in creating domestic and international support and that they wanted to show “something that is very black and white (…) that can be explained very quickly”.

The war coverage was 24-hours live, sponsored by Exxon and General Electric. The huge power of MIMEC over the mass media is expressed in a quote of the former president of PBS and NBC News: The job of the President is to set the agenda and the job of the press is to follow the agenda that the leadership sets.

 All of this raises the question if it is the people represented by their governments who determine military policy and spending or if it is actually MIMEC corporations that are supposedly providing defence equipment.

(CNN Money)

The US Military’s Addiction to Oil

 Within MIMEC the US Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest polluter and waster. Although data is generally hard to come by, it reportedly burns at least a startling 365,000 barrels of oil daily (other estimations amount to 500,000 barrels). Per year this is a usage of unimaginable 20 billion litres (5.46 billion gallons).

To make matters worse, this number might include neither fuel consumed by contractors or in leased and privatised facilities nor the excessive energy and resources used to produce and maintain weapons and equipment.

It has been calculated that about one-third of the total US military spending just accounts for securing energy supplies worldwide. To top it all, the efficiency of fuel use is far from improving, admitted the Pentagon, with soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars consuming 16 times more fuel than in the Second World War. Bearing in mind that the data from the Pentagon are possibly even undervalued, it is clear that the USA is a hopeless oil-addict, making the US military “the world’s largest institutional source of greenhouse gases.”

The DoD is alone responsible for about 40% of global military expenditures. Including the costs of bygone wars, the USA is spending 40% (almost 1 trillion USD) of its annual budget on militarisation. This imbalanced spending has dire consequences for programs addressing climate change, education, healthcare, culture, preventing war or reducing income inequality.

It is troubling that the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has not been able to audit the DoD for the last 20 years and deems it to be of high risk for waste, fraud and abuse.

Figure 13 – US Federal Government Expenditures 2014

Friends Committee on National Legislation calculations based on estimated Fiscal Year 2015 expenditures reported by the White House Office of Management and Budget in Fiscal Year 2016 budget documents, released February 2, 2015. This analysis covers the $2,742,767,000,000 “federal fund” budget, which is the spending supported by income taxes, estate taxes and other general revenues. Not included are trust funds, such as Social Security, Medicare and highway trust funds, which are supported by dedicated revenues.

Source: Friends Committee on National Legislation Website, Where do our 2014 income tax dollars go?

This serious diversion from better use is obvious and weighs even heavier when one compares the annual subsidies to fossil fuel industries (37,5 billion USD) 149 to (only non-binding) pledges for long-term climate finance (1,5 billion USD)150.

Interestingly, already in 1992 the UN Secretariat estimated the annual costs for effectively preserving the environment (and securing development) to be 1000 billion USD, back then the almost exact amount the world spent per year for military defence.

Today the ratios surely have changed (and probably for the worse, since delayed climate investments have to be far bigger), but it is unthinkable to curb climate change without a fundamental redirection of the financial and material resources that are being wasted on the illusion of military security. An illusion because modern weapons are a main threat to all life forms and life-supporting systems.

Comparing the graphs of rising GHG emissions and the US military expenditures (Figure 14), one can find similarities. The rise of GHG emissions and military spending reflects an undeniable connection between MIMEC and global warming.

The USA was so bold to demand the inclusion of a provision exempting its military activities from measurement and reductions worldwide before signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. But even after seizing this concession the Bush Administration refused to sign the protocol.  

 Furthermore, the US Congress adopted a provision guaranteeing the US military forces immunity from any measurement or energy consumption limits. The executive order from President Obama for federal agencies to reduce their GHG emissions (only by 2020) does not apply to the US military and leaves it free from any climate responsibility.

The US military industry is of course a blatant example of how militarism threatens the achievement of climate goals, but many of its conditions are also true, in varying degrees, for other militaries.156 Europe, as a major conglomerate of military forces and an ally of the US in many wars requires a quick inspection as well.  

Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network


(October 13, 2009) — This is a video trailer for ‘Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial Media Entertainment Network’ by James Der Derian. Updating the first edition published in June 2001 with four new chapters chronicling the events after 9/11, Virtuous War is an illuminating 20-year investigation into the ideological, technological and political transformations of the post-cold war era.

The premise of the book is that, “Technology in there service of virtue has given rise to a new form of global violence, Virtuous War.”  

From the Prologue:

Where once the study and practice of war began and ended with the black box of the state, new modes of production and networks of information have created new demarcations of power and identity, reality and virtuality.

My intention is to map how new technologies and media of simulation create a fidelity between the representation and reality of war; the human mimetic faculty of entertainment and gaming join forces with new cyborg programs for killing and warring, and, as our desire for peace and order confronts an increasingly accelerated, highly contingent, uncertain future, virtuous war becomes the preferred means to secure the global interests of the United State.  

Learn more at:  The video is written and directed by: Phillip Gara and James Der Derian

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.