The F-16s have left and the F-35s are scheduled to begin arriving in Vermont this fall. For about five months, this part of the country is left without the protection by the Air National Guard from incoming threats. Interesting. This brings up the question — was it necessary and crucial that the F-16s, and this fall, that the F-35s, need be based at the Burlington International Airport?
That question must be answered. And further, and more importantly, another crucial question must be answered — in light of the burgeoning national debt ($22 trillion and rising steadily) and the many costly manifestations of climate change, including making a speedy transition to a much-reduced fossil fuel economy, can this nation afford the continually increasing military budget?
There is increasing evidence that we cannot afford the increasing military budget. It is unsustainable. A 2018 study by the Watson Institute, International and Public Affairs, Brown University, calculated the war-related spending from FY2001 through FY2019 as $5 trillion. If the estimated future obligations for veterans medical and disability though FY2019 is added, the total is very nearly $6 trillion. These are huge numbers. The report concludes that the “… high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern (emphasis added) because they are unsustainable.”
The Pentagon itself, in a report issued in 2014, warned that climate change is a national security threat (emphasis added). Recent reports indicate that the threats are real and that the costs to cope with the threats just to U.S. military bases are significant.
All the naval bases will be, and are already being, affected by sea level rise. The National Naval Headquarters in Washington, D.C., is in the process of building a $20 million, 1.5 mile-long, 14-foot-tall seawall to protect three dozen buildings from flood waters.
“The Naval station Norfolk in Portsmouth, VA, the largest naval base in the world, already floods ten times a year when full moons cause especially high tides — sea levels there are one and a half feet higher than they were when the base was built in 1917, and rising twice as fast as average global sea levels. By 2050, Norfolk is expected to flood 280 times a year,” according to a Columbia University Earth Institute article.
Inland military bases are also threatened and will be increasingly at risk. For example, in March, the Offutt Air Force, Camp Ashland Base in Nebraska was severely flooded and entirely shut down. The base flooded despite updated infrastructure following catastrophic flooding in May 2015.
Considering these national security threats, the costs of the national debt, the costs of coping with climate change, a third question arises — how did our country get itself into this situation? To me, it is quite clear Congress has not been doing its job.
On Sept. 18, 2001, Congress passed legislation to authorize the military to essentially go to war in (not necessarily, against) any country in the world if the president designates an organization in that country as terrorist. This legislation is called Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Now, drone strikes and military operations are ongoing and increasing in at least seven countries on the OK of the president. Congress continually increases the military budget year after year without a full audit until last year, much less determining if the military expenditures are effective.
This brings us back home to the issue of the F-35s coming to Burlington. Early this year, with the full support of the organization that I lead, I sent letters to Sens. Leahy and Sanders and to Rep. Welch that posed a number of questions, including the need for basing the F-35s in Burlington, and requested meeting with them. In March, six of our chapter members met with Sen. Leahy’s staff in Burlington and we had a teleconference with Rep. Welch. So far, we have been unable to schedule a meeting with Sen. Sanders or his staff.
In sum, the Vermont congressional delegation seems to remain firm in its decision to support the F-35s coming to Burlington. When asked about the jets’ nuclear capability and its potential impact on Vermont, Sen. Leahy and Rep. Welch replied that nuclear weapons would not be part of the F-35 mission and that nuclear bombs would not be stored in Burlington.
A National Guard spokesman said on VPR’s Vermont Edition on Friday, April 12, “the policy of the military is neither to confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear bombs (or capability) at a particular site.” Given the military’s policy of secrecy, we’ll never know if nuclear bombs are located at Burlington International Airport or if the F-35s have been made nuclear bomb capable.
As I recall, one of the main considerations of the Vermont congressional delegation advocating for the F-35s coming to Burlington was jobs and giving a boost to Vermont’s economy. Well, there is more to it than just jobs, per se, it’s what kind of jobs.
Much has changed in the decade since our congressional delegation supported (and lobbied) for the basing of the F-35s in Burlington. It is time for Congress to recognize the fast developing global events and to change its priority from military spending to finding and supporting the means to cope with climate change and to strengthen our democracy.
Between now and October, when the F-35s are scheduled to arrive, there is time for our congressional delegation to deal with the tip of the iceberg and to stop the Vermont Air National Guard mission of basing the F-35s in Burlington. I hope that our congressional delegation will make a concerted effort to do so. I hope, also, that they will work with their colleagues in Congress to tackle the rest of the iceberg, the huge national and global issues, without delay.
Richard Czaplinski is Will Miller Green Mountain Veterans For Peace, Chapter 57, president.