By Michael Aper
When Arthur Schlesinger, John F. Kennedy’s assistant secretary of cultural relations, first learned of the CIA’s plan to invade Cuba, he told the young president: “At one [pen] stoke [he] would dissipate all the extraordinary goodwill which has been rising toward the new administration through the world. It would fix a malevolent image of the new administration in the minds of millions.” The great historian Schlesinger reminds us that history, in its multiplicity of influences, is also an image that imprints itself on the cultural psyche.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, it became clear that America needed to adapt to a new type of threat. Since the attacks, America has spent over $5 trillion on the wars against terrorism. Yet, areas throughout the Middle East are rife with sectarian conflict. One of the main actors has consistently been the United States, and regardless of the motives or designs, the image has been one of malevolence: America, the consumptive leviathan of the West. Terrorists leverage this negative image of America to gain support for their cause creating a major discontinuity in the global economy and driving the greatest threat to global commons.
Today, America’s vast centralized energy systems remain vulnerable to both physical and cyber attack. In 2013, a sniper attack in California disabled PG&E’s Metcalf transmission station costing the company millions of dollars. The damage caused by the attack took employees 27 days to repair.
Creating resilient, decentralized energy systems is the most proactive way to achieve long-term national security in the 21st century. Energy security offers a framework to change world perceptions and move America towards creating a more resilient economy. It presents an opportunity to embrace the development of public-private partnerships and international-interagency collaboration. At the same time, it is a cost-effective way to implement renewable energies.
The new solar photovoltaic (PV) array at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake will provide 13.8 megawatts of electricity and meet approximately 30 percent of the installation’s annual energy needs while also reducing its energy costs by $13 million over its 20-year contract. By utilizing the ample amount of sun energy in the Mohave Desert of Southern California, the Department of Defense (DoD) lessens demand on the traditional grid. PPPs like this one decentralize American energy systems by collectively leveraging renewable power, expanding its commercial market, and establishing equitable public-private relationships. Development projects like this one will grow in the coming years as each branch of the DoD has committed to creating 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025.
The DoD is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States and equally the most influential American entity in the Middle East. To fulfill its duty to the people of the United States, it must provide the essential military forces to deter conflict. Moving into the 21st century, this means creating a new paradigm for deterring conflict -- one that includes providing the necessary military forces to create peace. Pursuing energy security changes the way military forces are used as a deterrent and circulates American taxpayer money back into the domestic economy. Simultaneously, it restructures the DoD’s energy systems in a way that challenges the fundamental strategies of international terrorism.
Before 2013, no discretionary funding was officially appropriated for renewable energies. From 2005 to 2012, the DoD focused primarily on purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to comply with EPAct of 2005. In FY 2013, the DoD allocated $1.1 billion for energy conservation and efficiency— 0.16 percent of its budget for that year. Most of the funds have been allocated for retrofits on existing buildings, including more energy efficient lighting, double-pane windows, energy management control systems and new roofs. However, the improvements must be followed through with a steady increase in renewable energy funding to power the retrofits. By sincerely pursuing sustainability, the DoD can sever its perilous ties in the Middle East and elsewhere.
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger focused on the inspiring promise of the late president’s younger brother Robert. In the foreword of his brother’s book, "Profiles in Courage," the younger Kennedy closes by saying, “What happens to the country, to the world, depends on what we do with what others have left us.” The lessons learned from the international affairs of the Kennedy era reveal that military escalation, although it may deter war, is not necessarily an architect of national security.
As a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, I believe that what happens to the country and to the world will depend on the United States realizing energy security. In my experiences on the ground working with local nationals as a bilateral planner in projects that ranged from building a school to transitioning farmers off opiate crops to food crops, I observed that the socio-political climate there is not conducive to long-term stability. The farmers that were able to transition are most likely dead or back to planting opium poppy. The school we built was probably dissembled and sold at a local bazaar. Now, I believe that the good deeds done there were not done in vain and that they will echo into the future burgeoning unforeseen hope, even in the darkest of places. However, I know that proactive measures towards national security will have the most impact here through energy security.
Image credit: Michael Aper
Michael Aper served as a combat Infantryman in the United States Army from 2007 to 2010. During his time in service he deployed to South Korea and Afghanistan. As a member of the 4th Infantry Division, his unit was one of the first to deploy during the troop surge of 2009. During the deployment, his unit conducted route clearance operations and worked alongside Afghan Nationals to improve the local economy in a remote area outside of Kandahar. Upon returning in 2010, he was honorably discharged and began college at Northern Arizona University. In 2013, he graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s in Community Development and Sustainability. Today, he is pursuing his Master of Arts in Sustainability at Wake Forest University, class of 2015.