Retired generals: Ethanol part of maintaining national security

By Matt Soberg | November 07, 2011

Ethanol is a large part of maintaining our national security, according the Military Advisory Board, who urged policymakers to decrease the reliance on foreign oil through swift and aggressive measures in a report, “Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement: A National Security Imperative to Reduce U.S. Oil Dependence,” published in October. The MAB is a group organized by the CNA, a nonprofit research organization that provides analysis to government leaders for policymaking and management purposes.

The MAB tackled three questions: how does America’s transportation sector dependence on oil affect our geopolitical, economic, environmental and security landscape, what are the potential impacts emerging under large scale adoption of various alternative fuels, and what policies should the U.S. consider to ensure our transportation fuel enhances economy, climate and security? 

“All roads lead to energy. America’s dependence on oil constitutes a significant national security threat,” according to the report. If even a daily supply is interrupted, the heavily transportation-reliant U.S. economy could suffer greatly. As a viable solution, the report found many promising alternatives to oil as a transport fuel, that if managed properly, could lower overall national security risks. 

If ethanol satisfies a more significant share of the U.S. fuel market, the government could rely less on strategic partners in the Middle East and focus on other ethanol-producing nations such as Brazil, Canada and Mexico as strategic allies. Having a diverse biofuel supply would increase energy integration with our neighboring countries, who could be both suppliers and consumers, with whom we have more commonality than nations in the Middle East.

The report noted that biofuel technologies continue to advance in efficiency, raising the possibility of future mass production of ethanol fuel. The biggest challenge, however, is the lack of sufficient regional centers for collection, production and distribution of biofuels. “For biofuel use to rise to levels sufficient to make a dent in U.S. oil imports, U.S. farmers must be incentivized to collect and deliver dedicated crops and crop refuse to production centers efficiently enough not to interfere with their usual harvesting and cropland management requirements,” the report stated.  

“No matter one’s individual perspective, liberal or conservative, we must focus together on concrete steps to reduce our reliance on oil,” stated the report. The report noted that a 30 percent reduction in our use of petroleum would significantly improve security and economics by decreasing deficits, preserving capital for job creation and increase energy reserves.

Organized in 2006, the MAB includes 11 recently retired three- and four-star generals and admirals who examine national security implications of climate change. The group offers perspectives that consider “geopolitical, economic and environmental aspects of energy as a matter of course, but view the full suite of issues through a security prism honed in military operations,” according to the MAB. The October report, focusing on shifting the U.S. transportation sector to alternative fuels, is the group’s fourth published report analyzing the nexus of energy, climate and national security.