(CNSNews.com) - "China is not our only challenge," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in his opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. "Our budget also includes $617 million to counter the damaging effects of climate change."
Appearing with Austin at the hearing, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley agreed that "Climate change is real" and "Climate change is a threat."
The testimony of Austin and Milley follows President Joe Biden's comment on Wednesday, when he told members of the U.S. military in England:
"When I first was elected vice president with President Obama, the military sat us down to let us know what the greatest threats facing America were -- the greatest physical threats," Biden said at the Royal Air Force-Mildenhall station in Suffolk, England. "And this is not a joke. You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming."
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told Milley, "I just think it's peculiar that the president would go to another continent and tell our service members there that the number one threat is climate change, albeit a threat."
But Milley told Cramer:
Climate change is a threat. Climate change has significant impact on military operations, and we have to take it into consideration. Climate change is going to impact natural resources, for example -- it's going to impact increased instability in various parts of the world. It's going to impact migrations, and--and so on. And in addition to that, we have infrastructure challenges here at home, witness some of our hurricanes and stuff. So climate change does impact.
But the President is looking at it at a much broader angle than I am. I'm looking at it from a strictly military standpoint. And from a strictly military standpoint, I'm putting China and Russia up there. That is not, however, in conflict with the acknowledgement that climate change or infrastructure or education systems--National Security has a broad angle to it. I'm looking at it from a strictly military standpoint.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) asked Defense Secretary Austin, "What is a more immediate threat to our national security interests, that DOD has the capability of responding to...a Chinese communist invasion of Taiwan or the challenge of climate change? I think it's a pretty simple question," Sullivan told Austin.
"The most significant military threat that we're focused on, and you've heard me say this probably 100 times, Senator, is--is--is China," Austin replied. "It's our pacing challenge. And that's what we've asked you a number of times to--to help us resource our efforts on that challenge. And I appreciate what you've done thus far. And I know that--that you'll continue to help us going forward."
Responding to the same question, Milley told the committee that every operations order he's seen in 41 years says weather and terrain must be taken into account in an "enemy situation."
"We always consider weather, and climate change is weather at the strategic level," Milley said:
It has military impact. We're not going to change climate change--the department is not going to change climate change, but we must consider it in our--in our strategic calculations all the time, because it's going to increase instability overseas. It has impact in our infrastructure here. So climate change is real.
The military threat is China, as the secretary just said, is the pacing threat. We are calculating all of our calculations relative to that as a pacing threat, and others are second in--in nature.
And the third piece relative to the China versus us spending, this is a disturbing trend. There's no question about it with respect to China. They are--they have made a major economic investment in developing their military. It's been going on for 20 or 30 years...And the Chinese have a deliberate plan to be a global challenger to the United States of America militarily by mid-century. We have got to continue strong investments in our military, and I think this budget for this year is an adequate investment right now. We have to set the conditions in order to pivot to the future character of war with the pacing threat of China.
President Biden's Fiscal Year 2022 budget requests $715 billion for the Defense Department, a 1.6 percent increase from the prior year.