May 26, 2022

At Hearing, Senator Warren Questions General Cavoli about National Security Risks from Climate Change and Importance of Oversight on Ukraine Spending

Video of Hearing (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned General Christopher Cavoli, Commander of the U.S. Army Europe and Africa and nominee to be Commander of the United States European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe about the security challenges that climate change poses to U.S. national security interests and the importance of Congressional oversight of taxpayer dollars to aid Ukraine

When Senator Warren asked General Cavoli to elaborate on what he meant when he said that climate change will be a “critical consideration in all we do”, General Cavoli confirmed that American national defense strategy lays out the risks of climate change, spoke about the destabilizing effects and risks of conflict due to climate change in Africa and Europe, and reiterated the importance of climate change considerations in defense policy. 

In response to Senator Warren’s questions about Congressional oversight of taxpayer dollars to Ukraine, General Cavoli committed to providing Congress with all legally required reports on the spending and said “I, and we, owe it to the American taxpayer to have a thoughtful application of those funds and a full accounting of them.” 

In 2019 Senator Warren introduced the Department of Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act, which would require the Department to achieve net-zero emissions from non-combat infrastructure by 2030 and incorporate climate change-related risks into the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy, and operational plans for the Department of Defense. Senator Warren secured several of the bill's provisions in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, including requiring the Department of Defense to create a formal tool to assess climate-change risks and to submit dedicated funds to adapt to those risks. Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022 also requires the Department of Defense to incorporate climate resilience into its planning and operations.  

Transcript: Nomination - Cavoli
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services 
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and General Cavoli, it’s good to see you again. Congratulations on your nomination. 

General Christopher Cavoli, Nominee, Commander, United States European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe: Thank you, ma’am. 

Senator Warren: Your deep expertise in European affairs makes you particularly qualified to serve in this role at this critical time.

Now, it’s clear that Vladimir Putin never anticipated that his illegal invasion of Ukraine would unite so many countries around the world. This committee primarily focuses on our military power, but this crisis made clear how important it is to invest in all of our tools of influence to advance U.S. interests. Prioritizing diplomacy and coordination with our allies has obviously paid huge dividends.

Diplomatic success, however, does not happen overnight. This is the result of long, time-consuming, investments.

So let me start by asking, General Cavoli, do you think it’s important for the United States to provide robust funding for the State Department and USAID? 

General Cavoli: I do, senator. 

Senator Warren: Would you like to just say an extra word about that? 

General Cavoli: Absolutely. The United States, like many nations, attempts to lead with diplomacy. 

As you noted, for diplomacy to be effective, it can’t happen at the moment it’s needed. It has to be developed over years of relationship-building. And that requires resources and funding. 

I benefit, as an officer, when our diplomacy is robust. I benefit, as an officer, and I think we benefit as a nation, when our diplomats are armed the way they need to be to conduct the business of the nation. 

Senator Warren: Good, I appreciate that. Climate change is another major security challenge that we need to work harder on. The most recent annual threat assessment found, and I want to quote it, “climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to U.S. national security interests” unquote. 

The world’s dependence on fossil fuels and authoritarian petroleum and petrostates significantly undermines our interests and safety. In your response to the committee’s advanced policy questions, you said that climate change quote “will be a critical consideration in all we do”.

Can you just elaborate a bit on that, General? 

General Cavoli: Sure, senator. First, of course, our national defense strategy lays that out, so, you know, it is something that we have to consider in everything we do. 

But, you know, right now, I’m responsible for Army activities in Africa. Africa suffers from desertification. That desertification leads to intense competition for resources. Name your location, you can find it. 

The grain shortage that we were discussing earlier is exacerbated by an ongoing drought in India. All of this is having an impact inside my AOR in Africa, which will spill out, possibly, into other areas. 

So yes, it’s something that I take thoughtfully and seriously. If we look at my European AOR in my current job, of course, the opening of seaways in the Arctic, which has been increasing and accelerating in recent years, is changing the military geography of the high North, which is something that NATO and US-EUCOM are both dealing with as well right now. 

Senator Warren: Well, I appreciate your thoughtful response here. This is a crisis that often gets overlooked when we’re talking about national security, and as you rightly point out, it is deeply threatening to all of us. 

There’s one last area that I’d like to talk about. Over the past few months, Congress has provided tens of billions of dollars in emergency spending to support the Department’s response to Russia’s invasion. I support that spending, but I’m very concerned about the risks of waste without proper oversight.

DoD owes this committee a backlog of several years of reports on the future years defense plan for the European Deterrence Initiative. I’ve spoken to both your predecessor and DoD about the importance of providing these reports. A letter I received from the Comptroller last week claims that yet another component of DoD will provide the report. Now, I’m getting sick of the run around here. DoD has not complied with the law. 

Not having these reports hurts oversight and planning for your Command.

So, General Cavoli, I understand that this is not your primary responsibility, but you will be the senior military leader overseeing this spending. So will you make sure that this committee receives the reports that are required by law, and that we will receive them this year?

General Cavoli: I will continue to submit all that data that I’m required to, ma’am. We have done that in the past and I commit to doing that in the future. 

Senator Warren: I appreciate that and I will hold you to that. You know, it’s very likely that you and the President will come to us again with additional supplemental requests. If you want Congress to continue to approve tens of billions of dollars you need to show us how you are making sure that that money is spent responsibly.

General Cavoli: Senator, if I could just make a comment. It is not lost on me, how much money we’re talking about here. And I, and we, owe it to the American taxpayer to have a thoughtful application of those funds and a full accounting of them.

Senator Warren: Good, I appreciate it and I look forward to the reporting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.