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Book Review by Steven Cohen
Columbia University

The Greening of the U.S. Military: Environmental Policy, National Security, and Organizational Change, by Robert F. Durant. 2007. The Greening of the U.S. Military: Environmental Policy, National Security, and Organizational Change.
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. 298 pp.

This new volume by Robert Durant is a sophisticated, thorough, and deeply satisfying analytic treatment of a critical, if relatively unknown topic. Back in 1980, when I worked in the Superfund toxic waste response program in the US Environmental Protection Agency, the clean-up of ‘‘federal facilities’’ was one of the lower priority but persistent issues that frequently managed to make the agenda in policy discussions about America’s toxic waste problem. Durant has done an impressive job of analyzing the overall problem of environmental management in the US military. He provides exhaustive detail on the actions of the military in addressing and resisting demands for clean up, and more importantly provides a compelling analysis of the causes of their actions.

The book deals with the full range of environmental issues that have confronted the military for most of the past three decades. These include toxic waste, ecological damage from military exercises, weapon decommissioning, and pollution prevention. The book places environmental management in the broad context of civil-military relations and civilian control of military activities. It also provides an analysis of the greening of the military as a case study of organizational change. Durant paints a vivid portrait of the attitudinal basis of the military’s view of the degree to which they were subject to national environmental policy and law:

In terms of sovereignty, military leaders argued that they, not regulators, knew best how to reconcile environmental protection with military readiness. As such, the armed forces and their allies in Congress persistently challenged on national security and constitutional grounds the authority of federal and state regulators to hold the military accountable to ENR [environment and natural resource] laws. (2)

The work makes note of the degree to which the pressure to ‘‘green’’ the military coincided with the end of the Cold War and placed it within the range of external factors that at the end of the 20th century required a substantial degree of organizational change in the US military. For students of organizational change, the volume provides a wonderfully rich and finely textured case study of the difficulty of organizational transformation and the degree to which change agents must combat the forces of an organization’s array of interests, politics, and standard operating procedures. In fact, one of the findings of the work is that organizational change tends to occur when aspirations of the proponents of organizational change line-up directly with the interests of those forces who are winning internal political battles. According to Durant:

After reviewing the extent of behavioral change asked of the military on so many fronts (strategic, operational, and tactical) and within such budget constraints in the post-Cold war era, one might conclude that creating a corporate sense of responsibility for greening the U.S. military was doomed to failure. Yet, progress of a kind and degree . . . was made. However, as we shall see, these advances were premised less on the power and inculcation of ideas than on the pursuit and protection of political, organizational, and personnel prerogatives. (47)

Change took place when it was in the political interest of Pentagon forces in ascendance. It was halted whenever it threatened to impair their exercise of power. As Durant indicates, environmental protection and organizational change advocates were aggressive and persistent, and were able to achieve a:

[N]ot insignificant, yet still halting, halfway and patchwork record of progress. This occurred not for want of trying by Sherri Wasserman Goodman and her team, the White House, congressional allies, state regulators, and environmental activists. Of the eight lessons for success that Sergio Fernandez and Hal Rainey draw from the massive scholarly literature on large-scale organizational change . . . efforts were mounted on all fronts. However, they waxed and waned over the years in light of realpolitik. (245)

In addition to his superb grounding of the work in the literature of organizational change, Durant provides extensive detail on the substance of the military’s environmental crisis. The military controls a great deal of land and they have contaminated enormous amounts of it. Both the military and the reader come to be amazed by the growing size of the military’s toxic waste problem.

In 1985, for example, the DoD estimated cleanup costs at $5 to $10 billion for a universe of 400 to 800 contaminated sites. Yet by 1988 the DoD had reported 12,000 potential sites, with estimated cleanup costs totaling $8.5 to $12.8 billion over the next five to seven years alone. Then, less than a year later, DoD revised its estimates (in 1987 dollars) upward to between $11 and $15 billion, including $2 billion for the army’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado. But even these figures had to be revised drastically by the end of 1989. The number of sites identified increased by 24 percent, to 15,257, and cleanup costs soared as high as $42.2 billion. Moreover, the Pentagon still lacked even reasonable ‘guestimates’ about the severity of contamination at its nearly 7,000 formerly used defense sites scattered in the United States and abroad. (78)

Related to the clean-up problem was another major development in the post-Cold-War era; the wide-spread closure of military bases. As bases were closed, they needed to be transferred to local governments and private parties for development. Durant describes the vexing issues related to the transfer of contaminated land. This was a dilemma confronted continuously during the Clinton Administration: Who was responsible for cleanup of this land and to what standards? What process should be used to transfer the land for re-use. As Durant observes, the military’s mission is defense, not environmental protection. In the view of many military leaders, every dollar spent on clean up could be seen as a dollar diverted from defense. The military wanted to transfer the land and let the new owners worry about cleanup. The EPA and state regulators wanted the military to clean-up the land before it transferred it to new owners.

For this reviewer there was a certain incongruity in the positions taken by those in the military that opposed environmental clean-up. On the one hand, they were sworn to defend the security and well being of the American people. On the other hand, they were willing to transfer contaminated land to the public that could cause illness and great harm to that same public. Perhaps they considered the threat of toxic waste to be trivial or less pressing than the threat posed by armed enemies. The degree to which the military opposed adhering to the nation’s environmental laws may surprise some readers, and one hopes that the military’s position on environmental regulation will fade with time and the type of exposure provided by this excellent book.

Durant’s analysis of the political battle between opponents and proponents of environmental protection is as insightful as his brilliant organizational analysis. He observes that:

The military and its allies were also not shy about using delegitimation, deinstitutionalization, and disinformation strategies as these crises of authority played out. Respectively, these tactics involved undermining the authority of opponents or their actions, undermining the capacity of regulators to act aggressively, and providing false information. Indicative of delegitimation strategies, for example . . . [was] the use of committee-shopping strategies. Illustrative were the military’s repeated efforts to avoid ENR [environment and natural resource] committees and the White House by working through allies on House and Senate Armed Services committees. (126)

Although the military continued its efforts to resist environmental clean up, or more charitably to balance its’ environmental responsibilities with its national security mission, the nation was institutionalizing environmental protection throughout the 1980s and 1990s. State and local environmental agencies were rapidly growing during this period. NIMBY (not in my backyard) was becoming a major force in local politics as communities became more assertive in protecting their environmental resources and ensuring that if environmental damage must take place it would not impact their homes or localities. As Durant relates:

These post-Cold War civil-military concerns, of course, were hardly novel. Issues like these have arisen ever since the first V-2 rocket tests in 1946 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Indeed, neighbors of military bases have experienced it all: the window-shattering noise of low-flying F-16s, F-111 Stealth fighters, and B-52 bombers; the destruction of errant Patriot missiles; and the wafting of pollution into their respiratory systems from open burning/open detonation of munitions. Yet during the Cold War, most neighbors either suffered silently or vacated or leased their properties in the name of national security when asked to do so by the services. What was different in the post-Cold War era was that the ‘neighbors’ were now closer, more numerous, less deferential, and more prone to use a bevy of ENR [environment and natural resource] laws to help pursue their grievances (real or imagined). (155–156)

In many respects, the ‘‘greening of the military’’ is really the story of the greening of America. For over a quarter century, environmental protection has been a mainstream consensus issue in American politics. Support for environmental goals and regulation in American public opinion data cuts across ideology, income, region, political party, and even age. The notion that we must trade off environmental protection for economic development has been replaced by a deeper understanding of global sustainability: that economic development depends on environmental protection. Without clean air, water, and productive land, wealth cannot be produced. Durant’s work may be seen within this broader context as well.

Durant concludes by pointing to the record of progress that has been made in greening the military, even if the overall story is far from inspirational. Although the story of organizational change that he relates may be messy, the insight, organization, and analytic rigor of Durant’s book could not be clearer or more compelling. This is an important and well crafted piece of high-quality scholarship. Anyone with an interest in environmental policy and or organizational change will learn a great deal from this work.

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