Tag: national security

Levee en Masse–but it’s only an operational concept!

Over at the National Interest T.X. Hamnes has a nice critique of AirSea Battle, seemingly the Pentagon’s reigning  strategy…sorry, operational concept…for dealing with a rising China and the problem of Anti-Access/Area Denial (for the official overview, see here).  I expect I’ll be writing a bit on ASB during my time at the Duck, so I won’t try to engage in every debate in the first post. For now I’ll limit myself to one question Hamnes raises: does it make any sense to talk about an operational concept as isolated from strategy?

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Podcast No. 3: Elkus and Atherton on “Grand Blog Tarkin”

The third episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. This one is longish. Adam Elkus (and numerous other places, e.g.) and Kelsey D. Atherton talk about their group blog devoted to the intersection of strategic studies and speculative fiction. They also answer some questions about the “Nat[ional] Sec[urity]” social-media scene.


Note that the publication date of the podcasts remains in flux, but I am aiming to have them appear Friday-Sunday each week.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.
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What to Do? The Climate Security Policy Conundrum

This is re-posted from e-IR. I hesitated to write anything about climate and security until I had read all (or damn near all 17 articles) of the recent special issue of the Journal of Peace Research.

My initial mandate for this post was to talk about the significance of climate and security for militaries, and as part of a project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, I obviously should have something to say about that. My reaction, however, was that to conceive of climate and security as purely or primarily a military problem would reinforce a narrow understanding of the issue and potential solutions.[1]
Is Climate Security the Military’s Problem?
If climate security becomes a military problem, then a whole host of other interventions, mostly by civilian agencies involved in development, adaptation, and disaster preparedness, have failed. Thinking about climate and security in terms of the military runs the risk of framing the issue in terms of how to get the Pentagon interested in this problem (here I’m echoing Dan Deudney’s concerns from the 1990s on securitizing the environment). This tends to reinforce the emphasis on conflict or terrorism when other potential security outcomes may be as, if not more significant and proximate threats (here I’m thinking of complex emergencies wrought by climate-related disasters).

When militaries are interested in this issue with the hope of doing something, they have to recognize their limitations and core competencies. The extension of militaries in to the international development sphere is problematic, as the challenging experience of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan attest. International development supported by foreign donors is fraught in any case, and militaries are recent entries in to this arena.

They don’t have more than a half century of experience making mistakes in development so may think about these issues in primarily technocratic terms, drilling a well here or building a dam there when these are but a piece of an overall problem that includes challenges of country ownership and cultural sensitivities. Obviously, some militaries have more experience than others, and the U.S. government surely learned a lot in Afghanistan and Iraq. That said, just because some militaries, particularly the Department of Defense, are better resourced than their civilian counterparts doesn’t necessarily mean that they are (or even can be) well-suited to doing the development piece of the climate security agenda.

So What Next?
There are some things that militaries can and should do. First and foremost, militaries have to prepare for potential existential threats to the nation and its way of life. As I’ve written before (see here, here), there are some albeit limited ways that climate change poses a direct threat to the United States (to military bases, critical infrastructure, coastal populations, and possibly the Arctic). There are also indirect threats to a country’s overseas interests. Here, one has to have a clear sense of its strategic interests and where the vulnerable areas are. For the latter, militaries are reliant on intelligence assessments like those provided by the National Intelligence Council (including their 2008 report and their 2012 report on water security) and need to consider climate security impacts in their operations as the U.S. Department of Defense 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review does.

(As an aside, our work on climate and security in Africa has sought to inform the Pentagon’s understanding of potential trouble spots by identifying the vulnerable places and the overlap with U.S. strategic interests. And, in an upcoming workshop, our project is seeking to help the combatant command for Africa think through these issues.)

Beyond intelligence gathering and strategic assessments, militaries have ample experience with disaster response and military-to-military disaster response training. This is all well and good. The challenge becomes when the military would like to be proactive and think about conflict and disaster prevention and preparedness and de-escalation of tensions.

Many of these tasks may involve diplomacy and development, specialties of other agencies like the State Department and USAID. The combatant command for Africa (AFRICOM) was initially designed to try to bring the diverse expertise of the U.S. military together with the State Department and other elements of U.S. national power. Indeed, one of its two principal deputies was to be a State Department career diplomat. The experience thus far suggests that the venture to integrate diplomacy and development into a strategic military command is extremely challenging.

What’s an answer, if not the answer?


In light of these concerns, what is to be done? Here, I would say two things (1) “Answers” to the extent we have them must be context-specific and (2) Look before you leap.

Context
Let’s say you think that issues related to river basins are likely to be a problem in a world of climate change with decreased water flows and increased demand. What is to be done? Well, the answers may vary greatly. The Nile River Basin has a very different set of issues than the Zambezi. For example, Zimbabwe and Zambia share a river border along the Zambezi, giving them roughly equal leverage. The Nile which snakes from Uganda to Egypt has upstream/downstream issues associated with geography and history. Upstream countries like Ethiopia ostensibly possess more bargaining leverage by virtue of their ability to divert water and cut off downstream access. In practice, however, Egypt and Sudan have rights to 80% of the Nile’s water dating back to a 1929 colonial era treaty. Upstream countries like Ethiopia with rising ambitions and needs are seeking to challenge this imbalance, which has triggered some bellicose rhetoric on the part of Egypt at a moment of political turmoil and transition.

Would insertion of the U.S. military, let alone the broader U.S. policy establishment, be helpful to ensure that this process ends amicably? Probably not. Even if U.S. engagement were useful, context matters a lot, and the policy community would be wise to take the time to assess the full picture before trying to wade in.

Look Before You Leap
To the extent that there are generalizable lessons about climate and security, the policy community, including but not limited to the military establishment, would benefit from a richer understanding of the academic literature on the topic.

One of the biggest potential errors is to blithely accept the simple premise that “climate change will cause conflict” and then move on to think about what to do about it. In fact, the literature on the topic is much more mixed and nuanced. While the policy community frequently notes that climate on its own won’t cause conflict (see the QDR statement for example), that it is a threat multiplier, the operating assumption is often that climate change will exacerbate water scarcity and that will trigger conflicts.

In fact, much of the quantitative academic literature disputes the notion that water scarcity causes conflict. While I think he goes too far, Nils Petter Gleditsch in the introduction to a recent special issue of the Journal of Peace Research concludes from this body of evidence, “On the whole, however, it seems fair to say that so far there is not yet much evidence for climate change as an important driver of conflict.”



Far stronger evidence suggests that conflict onset is more likely triggered by periods of higher rainfall not lower rainfall (see my CCAPS colleagues Hendrix and Salehyan’s piece in the same issue of JPR as well as my other CCAPS colleague Clionadh Raleigh’s piece with Dominic Kniveton, as well as Adano et. al’s piece and Thiesen’s paper in that same issue). Moreover, no longer are we talking about civil wars and organized rebellions but when we talk about conflicts associated with heavy rainfall, we’re really talking about violent events that require less organization like protests, riots, strikes, and cattle raids like those captured in the new Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD) and the Armed Conflict and Location Event Database (ACLED).

As I said, I think Gleditsch goes too far in dismissing the connections between climate and conflict. Even a reading of the pieces in the special issue does not seem to warrant the strength of the claims he makes. I agree with Solomon Hsiang who wrote on his blog, “My first reaction was a second wave of surprise at his conclusions, since most of the empirical papers in the issue seem to actually find a link between climatological parameters and conflict, although I haven’t carefully kept score yet.”

Coming back to the topic of river basins, if one were to uncritically accept the scarcity-conflict nexus, then one might be inclined to think that we were on the verge of series of water wars. However, as Aaron Wolf’s work suggests, most issues of international rivers have historically been resolved peacefully. Indeed, as the Tir and Stinnett piece in the JPR issue finds, one of the reasons river basin water issues have not generally degenerated into conflict is because of transboundary river agreements.

Explaining the Disconnect between Policymakers and Academia
So, if the policy community is starting to accept the connection between climate and conflict, but the academic commnunity hasn’t found much thus far, how can we explain the disconnect? The field of climate and security is relatively new and is especially difficult to study since we’re trying to understand the effects of a problem that has for the most part yet to occur. Most studies (the Devitt and Tol JPR piece is a notable exception) look to the past as a historical analogue, drawing on a period in the world’s climate that may be unlike what we’re ultimately going to see in the next century.

In terms of past patterns of climate indicators, we’re reliant on patchy data and problematic definitions of core concepts like drought. The rainfall data that many of us use relied on rain gauge measures until the launching of satellites in the late 1990s. As Brad Lyon has noted, coverage of rain gauges over parts of the world like the Democratic Republic of Congo declined dramatically throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Data sources for the same region often show widely divergent rainfall trends.

In terms of future projections of climate change, existing climate models still leave a lot to be desired. Most of them lack adequate spatial resolution to get at regional and national effects (see Biasutti and Paeth). These are the challenges just in terms of past and future physical exposure.

Trying to trace these through to the social and political realm is as if not more difficult. Most of the articles that have emerged in this field have appeared in the last five years. The mechanisms and causal chains between climate effects in the physical realm to security outcomes are only hazily understood. The scholars in the JPR special issue are pushing the frontier of knowledge forward.

Take, for example, the disputed connection between disasters and conflict. Two important studies by Brancati and Nel and Righarts found an association between certain kinds of disasters (earthquakes and rapid-onset disasters respectively) and conflict. The JPR special issue has two articles on disasters and conflict by Slettebak and Bergholt/Lujala that dispute these findings with respect to climate-related disasters. Both conclude that there is no direct correlation between climate-related disasters and the onset of conflict. Slettebak notes that the Brancati paper looked at conflict incidence rather than onset. If we are interested in how new conflicts start, onset is a better indicator. From his analysis of climate-related disasters, Slettebak concludes that they actually make civil wars less likely on the basis that desperate people tend to cooperate more.

Bergholt/Lujala find similar results of no direct relationship between swift-onset climate-related disasters (thus excluding drought) and conflict. They then seek to ascertain whether there might be an indirect effect on conflict through economic growth, the logic being that disasters might negatively effect economic growth, which could, in turn, contribute to a greater likelihood of conflict. While they find that disasters do have a negative effect on economic growth, they do not find an effect on conflict through growth. They also challenge the conventional wisdom from Fearon and Laitin among other heavyweights in the field that declining economic conditions contribute to conflict.

As my colleague Todd Smith has noted, the indicator of disasters they use — the population affected by a disaster — is not a physical measure exogenous to social conditions and governance but actually reflects an outcome measure of vulnerability in its own right. While flawed, this move to examine the indirect effects of climate-related indicators on conflict outcomes is a step in the right direction.

This is exactly the approach taked by the Koubi et al. paper in the JPR special issue that looks at rainfall variability and the indirect effect on conflict onset via economic growth. Here, they find weak support for the links between climate variables and civil conflict in non-democratic countries, but a finding nonetheless. Because these are the first studies of this kind in a field that has focused on the direct effects on climate indicators and conflict, I expect that the evidence will get better as we have improved data sources, more refined methods, and new channels of influence on security outcomes via migration and food prices. 

Conclusions: Policies Matter
In sum, we still have a lot to learn about how climate change will manifest as security problems. Government actors, including militaries, are approaching this issue increasingly with a desire to do something to address the problem. While it is always easy for an academic to recommend further study, understanding the nature of the challenges we face is an essential first step to effective and efficient expenditure of scarce resources. Preparing for a threat that may not materialize or may manifest in a different manner than was thought could lead to the careless diversion of funds for unproductive purposes.

Outside interventions themselves may make the problem worse rather than better. Policies intended to anticipate future scarcities rather than the scarcities themselves may exacerbate tensions and lead to conflict as Asian investors’ efforts to lease agriculture land in Africa have shown. The Benjaminsen piece in the JPR special issue provides a cautionary tale. A Canadian funded dam rehabilitation project intended to deal with the resource constraints of pastoralists and semi-pastoralist communities in the Sahel ended up becoming the focal point for conflict between two communities. As we think about how to address the complex problems of climate and security, outside actors, militaries in particular, need to ensure that their interventions, based on good intentions or hastily put together policy prescriptions, don’t make things worse.

This is not a recipe to do nothing. Far from it. One of the dominant themes of this entire literature is that physical exposure is not destiny. Governance and political dynamics are as, if not more, important in explaining whether or not environmental shocks, scarcity, and abundance lead to conflict. Moreover, as the literature on river basins shows (including De Stefano et. al’s masterful study in the JPRspecial issue), institutions can also mitigate and diminish threats posed by scarcity. As practitioners move forward in plans to address this looming threat, they can profit from an openness to new information and humility about what we do know. That shouldn’t paralyze us from taking steps that shore up resilience to diverse threats, whether or not they manifest in violence, but to tread carefully.
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[1] I am entirely ignoring the issue of climate mitigation by militaries which are major users of energy. Sharon Burke’s office of Operational Energy in the U.S. Department of Defense has done admirable work to try to lessen the energy footprint of the U.S. military, in part driven by climate concerns but more importantly to leaven the battlefield costs both financial and human in trying to get fuel to troops in dangerous circumstances.

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RIP: Habeas Corpus . . . and Normative Power

The news that President Obama plans to sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permitting indefinite detention for Americans accused of supporting terrorism is a sad day for those who believe in basic civil and human rights. Equally, this move calls into question optimistic views about international norms and the power of human rights.

Glenn Greenwald and others cover the threat to basic freedoms in posts that are well worth reading. By comparison, the import for scholars of norms may seem minor but is nonetheless worth pondering.

Norms against indefinite detention have long been basic to human rights, along with prohibitions on torture and extrajudicial execution. Of course, we’ve seen those fall by the wayside too. National security, a norm backed by enormous material power, has made its dominance plain. However, in recent cases where the U.S. has engaged in torture or extrajudicial executions of American citizens, these actions have been purely executive, albeit with many a legislative, scholarly, and public cheerleader.

The NDAA, however, enshrines indefinite detention for American citizens in law passed by Congress and to be signed by the President. The magical incantation “terrorist” is all that’s been needed to throttle a core rights protection.

What has been the power of norms in this case?

It’s doubtless true that the human rights norms I’ve mentioned have more defenders than they once did. There are today many more NGOs who promote and support them than there were in the 1950s, the last time the U.S. passed similar laws (against the Communist menace, only to reverse them decades later after severe abuses). Today, there have been many voices, both domestic and international, raised against the indefinite detention provisions.

But in the end, these fell before trumped up security norms and terror fears. Many Americans appear all too willing to trade basic rights (and trillions of dollars) for an illusion of security against a minuscule threat. I am continually stunned when I hear American citizens saying we don’t need a judiciary to check the Executive in these cases because the President has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. So much for the judicial branch, so much for checks and balances, and so much for the power of centuries old domestic norms and laws.

Particularly striking in the debate over detention and the broader one over Obama’s civil liberties record is political opportunism. Many Democratic Party leaders who screamed that George Bush was acting unconstitutionally and illegally in the early years of the GWOT, have now fallen into line behind Obama’s continuation and expansion of Bush policies, including extrajudicial executions and now summary arrests. It’s striking too that we have seen so few resignations from top posts in the Obama administration even from those regarded as staunch defenders of basic rights. So much for the independent influence of norms.

More broadly, this suggests that other human rights norms are equally fragile and contingent achievements, with little if any independent strength. Of course, anyone witnessing the erosion of these rights over the last decade already knew that. All such norms exist at sufferance of state actors. To the extent states follow them, it is because the “norms” do not run contrary to their core interests, because a sufficiently large threat has not been invented to justify their subversion, or because the states are too weak to challenge them. Any real belief in state “habitualization” and the power of norms as such must be questioned.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is important to promote and resurrect the crucial values and freedoms we have lost. But the only way to do so is through political organizing and activism–through material rather than normative means.

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Pornography and National Security: The ever expanding threat

In today’s ‘horrors of bad social science’, we have a piece by Jennifer S. Bryson, director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Islam and Civil Society Project, (which seems to be a conservative think-tank) who has written a piece for the Institute’s blog on the threat of pornography for national security. (No really.)

Bryson asks the question that no serious scholar has ever, ever addressed and comes up with an argument to be considered. In fact, she is getting right on top of this hard and pressing issue.She reaches around the boundaries of conventional thinking about terrorism and slowly but steadily penetrates the burning question as to whether pornography drives a serious challenge to National Security:

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks staring us in the face, we already know that our failure to have an approach to security that is robust and accurate has dire consequences. Pornography has long circulated nearly unbounded due to calls for “freedom,” but what if we are actually making ourselves less free by allowing pornography itself to be more freely accessible?
Are there security costs to the free-flow of pornography? If so, what are they? Are we as a society putting ourselves at risk by turning a blind eye to pornography proliferation?
I wonder further: Could it be that pornography drives some users to a desperate search for some sort of radical “purification” from the pornographic decay in their soul? Could it be that the greater the wedge pornography use drives between an individual’s religious aspirations and the individual’s actions, the more the desperation escalates, culminating in increasingly horrific public violence, even terrorism?

Let me tell you, now that we’ve been stirred to this threat – of young men somehow being converted to wicked, wicked ways – we need to act now, right here and now, damn it! Clearly the perpetrators of this filth have been very, very bad and need to be punished.

I believe that we all need to come together, scholars, government workers, NGOs, and throw caution to the wind. We need to straddle the division between us, fuse ourselves together and come up with an inspired solution. Let’s use each other to the very best of our abilities, and respond quickly to this vitally important need.

It’s Friday night so I’m just going to be at home thinking really long and hard about a solution to this problem. I’m just going to lie back right here by my lonesome self, thinking about nothing but pornography… for the sake of National Security.

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Dr. Strangelove’s Mineshafts

What would the world be like after a nuclear attack of some type? That’s the question answered by the President’s National Security staff in the June 2010 second edition of the Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation.

I haven’t read the entire 130 page document, but I did read a chunk of it, as well as an interesting article about it by Ira Chernus, a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here’s the provocative opening paragraph that got me to click on his piece:

Good news! You’ve got a pretty good chance of surviving a terrorist’s nuclear blast in your city — especially if you’re a rich white man.

Chernus seems particularly interested in the fact that the Obama administration has produced this report — even though the first edition (available here) was issued on January 15, 2009, just before Barack Obama’s inauguration. Moreover, the original report noted that a future edition would do “additional work” on “relevant topics” such as “psychological impacts to the population.”

What does the second edition of the report say about psychiatric disorders — and why will rich white men inherit the world?


According to the latest report, attack survivors will realize they have severe ARS (“acute radition syndrome”) and many are doomed to develop psychiatric disorders as well. Among the “risk factors” listed, the National Security staff (pp. 95-6) includes female gender, ethnic minority, and lower socioeconomic status. In Chernus’s words, “once they [women, minorities and the poor] start going crazy they’re less likely to survive.” Here’s how the report (p. 96) phrases that last claim:

The social, psychological, and behavioral impacts of a nuclear detonation will be widespread and profound, affecting how the incident unfolds and the severity of its consequences.

Chernus compares the report’s frequent optimism about survival rates to Eisenhower-era policy discussions about civil defense. “The big problem, in his [Ike’s] view, was ‘how you get people to face such a possibility without getting hysterical.’”

Though the report concerns the likely aftermath of even a single terrorist nuclear use, the discussion of psychological response and potential survival rates reminded me instead of the prescient film Dr. Strangelove –made not long after Ike’s presidency ended.

Near the end of the film, President Merkin [a-hem] Muffley asks the title character the following question:

But look here doctor, wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

The nuclear strategist Strangelove largely dismisses this particular psychological concern and asserts that the privileged white men in the room should be protected as priority survivors in the post-apocalyptic world:

Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy… heh heh…at the bottom of ah… some of our deeper mineshafts. The radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep. And in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided…

A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess… that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.

…a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

By Dr. Strangelove’s reckoning, the female-to-male ratio in the mineshafts should be about 10-to-1 — and “women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.” That’s a different post-war psychological concern, eh?

Indeed, the gender politics in the film are obviously quite provocative, essentially equating male sexual fantasies with war and nuclear planning. The latest Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation suggests that absurd nuclear fantasies continue to influence today’s security policymakers.

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You can’t create national security policy in a vacuum

Stephen Biddle has a spot-on piece over at Foreign Policy on how Presidents, and Obama in particular, must take into account domestic politics when setting national security strategy.  With the release of Bob Woodward’s latest book, Obama’s Wars, many have jumped on the President’s alleged quote that he can’t lose the entire Democratic Party to justify the need to set a troop draw-down date for Afghanistan as evidence that he’s putting politics above national security (as if anything can be separated from politics).

Biddle responds:

…I do know that it’s no sin for a president to consider the domestic politics of military strategy. On the contrary, he has to. It’s a central part of his job as commander in chief.

Waging war requires resources — money, troops, and equipment — and in a democracy, resources require public support. In the United States, the people’s representatives in Congress control public spending. If a majority of lawmakers vote against the war, it will be defunded, and this means failure every bit as much as if U.S. soldiers were outfought on the battlefield. A necessary part of any sound strategy is thus its ability to sustain the political majority needed to keep it funded, and it’s the president’s job to ensure that any strategy the country adopts can meet this requirement. Of course, war should not be used to advance partisan aims at the expense of the national interest; the role of politics in strategy is not unlimited. But a military strategy that cannot succeed at home will fail abroad, and this means that politics and strategy have to be connected by the commander in chief.

State leaders must always balance the domestic and international when formulating policy.  What may be possible internationally may not be sustainable domestically, and vice versa.  Ignoring either one typically leads to disaster.  Political scientists have long argued that outcomes are the result of simultaneous negotiations between domestic and international audiences, as well as the difficultly states face when trying to sustain public supporter for wars of choice.  Condemning leaders for being prudent may make for good copy, but it makes no sense given all we know about policymaking.

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Visualizing National Security Rhetoric

Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy according to Wordle:

Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy according to Wordle:

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Aasif Mandvi, Our Future Overlord

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I just saw this clip from last Thursday and I think the inversion of US/South Asian security ethics is just brilliant.

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“Freedom Fries” A Threat to National Security

When I make the connection between health and national security in my classes, we usually talk about pandemics or bio-warfare. But check this out: a new study from the Army Times tells us that unhealthy diets also drastically reduce America’s military readiness.

Turns out 35% of young Americans between the ages of 18-24 are unfit to serve in the military because they’re too fat, up from 6% 20 years ago. Noah Schactman has more.

Is this any surprise, really?

Perhaps the US government should declare a global war on cholesterol in the name of national security. Only instead of using unmanned drones to target those freedom-hating global corporations who market high-fat meals to our kids, perhaps DHS could just team up with USDA to get fresh fruits and vegetables into our public schools, and pop / candy machines (and fast-food propaganda) out. Updating the USDA’s definition of “junk food” would be a start. Clearly, the safety of our shores depends on it!

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