Climate Change, Extremism Among Military Threats Targeted in DoD Budget Request

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Aurora borealis is observed from Coast Guard Cutter Healy Arctic Ocean
Aurora borealis is observed from Coast Guard Cutter Healy Oct. 4, 2015, while conducting science operations in the southern Arctic Ocean. (Cory J. Mendenhall/U.S. Coast Guard)

The Biden administration is addressing extremism in the ranks, as well as climate change, in its first proposed Defense Department budget.

The budget would set aside $30.8 million to help the Pentagon improve tools to identify and address extremism among troops, and enhance training at all levels.

It also includes $9.1 million to take initial steps to fight extremism and insider threats, building on findings from the military's report on the 2019 shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, by a Saudi pilot; it was determined he had self-radicalized.

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The budget also declares climate change a "national security priority."

The military must adapt to the ways the natural environment is changing, the Pentagon said, and take action to reduce how the military contributes to negative effects on the climate.

The prominence the two issues play in the Pentagon's budget represent a marked change from the Trump administration, which sought to downplay climate change and the threat of domestic extremists.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made rooting out extremism among service members a priority soon after taking over the Pentagon in January. His actions came a few weeks after extremists -- including several people with ties to the military -- ransacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's election victory.

"The DoD places the highest importance on treating all personnel with dignity and respect, in an inclusive environment free from impermissible discrimination, harassment, and maltreatment," the budget proposal states. "While we believe the vast majority of those who serve in the military and the civilian workforce that supports them do so with honor, dignity and respect, recent events have taught us that we must be ever vigilant in our efforts to identify and combat extremist behavior within our ranks."

The military is planning to create a new regulation for punishing extremist activities, the Pentagon's budget request adds.

It also wants to improve how it vets people and screens publicly available social media to find signs of extremism. And it hopes to create a case management tool for tracking concerning activities.

The Pentagon also plans to roll out an improved, standardized training program on fighting extremism in the ranks, and strengthen insider threat programs to find and deter extremist threats within the military.

The military intends to use a screening process called continuous evaluation to monitor security clearance holders for signs of extremism, the budget proposal states.

Austin announced plans in April for the military to increase its screening of recruits for extremism during the accession process. He launched a working group to make sure changes are enacted and look at whether the Uniform Code of Military Justice and other policies need to be updated to address the problem.

Addressing Climate Change

The Pentagon's budget request highlights several natural disasters in recent years that directly hurt the military. In October 2018, Hurricane Michael devastated Tyndall Air Force Base and damaged multiple F-22 Raptor fighters as it tore through Florida.

Five months later, severe flooding from the Missouri River and a nearby creek swamped parts of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

The budget also cites wildfires in California that forced multiple evacuations, and "black flag days" with unsafe 90-plus degree heat that have hurt training efforts.

"The department is not immune to the impacts of climate change," the budget states.

As climate change melts the Arctic, it will prompt growing competition for resources and influence in the region, according to the Pentagon. And shifting environments elsewhere -- including rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather events contributing to governmental instability and mass migrations -- are also creating more challenges for the military to respond to.

The military is asking for $617 million in new investments to help it prepare for and respond to climate change. This includes renovating installations to improve their ability to operate during severe weather conditions, and be able to recover more quickly after disruptive natural or man-made emergencies.

It also calls for more funding for energy and climate science and technology, particularly looking for ways to reduce and manage the military's demand for energy. Figuring out ways to operate with lower fuel requirements would also help the services keep operating in a conflict where the ability to deliver fuel resupplies is constrained.

And the military wants funding to prepare for increasing competition in the Arctic. Russia, for example, is trying to expand its reach in the Arctic as melting ice sheets open up new transit routes and opportunities to drill for oil and other natural resources.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Pentagon Announces Tougher Extremism Screenings for New Military Recruits

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