As China tests new military technologies and brazenly encroaches on Taiwanese airspace, the United States employs its fighting forces to battle COVID and take on climate change. In his testimony before the Armed Services Committee in March, Navy Admiral Philip Davidson noted that “The Indo-Pacific accounts for 60 percent of the world’s current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and contributes more than two-thirds to the present global economic growth,” further citing the trade and investment in the region as “vital” to U.S. security and prosperity. Admiral Philips described the threat posed by China’s growing regional influence and briefed leaders on the measures needed to project a “combat credible deterrence.”
The Department of Defense should look to support the development of needed technologies and weapons as well as measures to improve combat readiness. Instead, it remains unnecessarily focused on climate change as a grand part of national strategy. In support of President Biden’s Executive Order 14008, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin committed the Department of Defense to including climate change considerations in all planning, analyses, and strategy (to be sure, China will not be hampered by such concerns). The DoD last month crafted a comprehensive “Climate Adaptation Plan” to outline “essential steps” to “defend the nation under all conditions.” Certainly, climate change does portend some serious consequences if left wholly ignored, but its prioritization ought not to subsume that of adequate force readiness against a near-peer threat.
The military also remains focused on fighting COVID-19 rather than ensuring force readiness for the next war. Since the start of the pandemic, the military has several times been deployed to locations around the country in response to COVID surges. Most recently, efforts are underway to support the Secretary of Defense’s directive to attain 100% COVID vaccination rates across the armed forces. While implementation of the mandatory vaccine requirement is considered a part of force readiness, only 70 of 1.9 million total service members have died to date from COVID complications (0.00003684%). Federal News Network reported that in addition to discharge from service, those who fail to comply may also face loss of benefits and warfare qualifications, and other specialties.
According to Nadia Schadlow of the Hudson Institute, at the root of the DoD’s recent blunders (surrender to Taliban and slow response to China) is a “failure to distinguish between strategic challenges posed by adversaries and problems such as climate change.” Should the military fail to refocus on “deterring and winning wars, we will likely lose more conflicts.” Other agencies exist for the purpose of fighting pandemics and environmental threats. The military’s primary purpose is to protect American security and interests.