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August 9, 2013


Yesterday I wrote of the loss of our manufacturing base to China and other slave wage venues and its tragic effect on our economy. Today’s effort will treat the loss of our manufacturing base from the perspective of our national security. I hope to show that loss of our manufacturing base to offshore venues is more than just losing jobs here in that such loss critically affects our national security as well. (Background information for this is found in the summer edition (2013) of USW @ Work, a publication of the United Steelworkers Union, of which I am an associate member.)

The basic premise of this essay is that the decline of American manufacturing since 2000 has left the U.S. military vulnerable to a disruption in its supply of weaponry and technology, thus putting national security at risk.

The foregoing conclusion is not mine (though I have adopted it); it is that of a retired general of the army, Brig. Gen. John Adams. It is found in his report released this spring entitled “Remaking American Security.” In the report the general concludes that “U.S. warriors and workers are inseparable and equally essential elements of our national defense,” pointing out that some rare and essential materials needed for the military’s most advanced weaponry are extracted or produced elsewhere, most notably in China. United Steelworkers president Leo W. Gerard said the report highlighted the importance of government investment in innovation and manufacturing. He said that “It has been clear for decades that our national defense needs do not begin and end at the walls of the Pentagon.”

I have often written that WW II was not entirely won on the battlefield; that the civilian workers back home were “war heroes” as well. They provided the ships, guns and tanks we needed to end the fascist threat presented by Nazi and Japanese warlords. The general is right; there is an inseparable bond between those who do the fighting and those who provide American soldiers and sailors with the necessary means to carry out their mission(s). (I can personally appreciate this as I sailed on several ships during and after WW II that I did not design or build.)

The general’s report was presented in a news conference by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) with several politicians from both political parties in attendance. Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama noted that he had seen first-hand the toll that unfair trade, outsourcing and currency manipulation have taken in Alabama, noting further that “these problems” have a snowball effect because they hurt not only business and families, but also the government “by increasing unemployment and shrinking the tax base.” As for national security, he observed that “Each time the United States and its military has to rely on foreign sources to meet our national security needs, we weaken America.”

I generally do not agree with Republicans on policy matters, but I do agree with Representative Mo Brooks on his observations – he is spot on. So what are some of these “foreign sources” he was referring to in his response to the general’s report? They are, as Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut correctly noted, an over-reliance on China as a supplier of technology and materials. He could have gone on to cite an example from the general’s report of the element lanthanum. Ninety percent of this element is found in China, along with other rare earth elements essential to other manufacturing and technological needs in this country. We are hardly self-reliant; we import 90 percent of the lanthanum we use. We are more at the mercy of the Chinese in importing its rare earth elements than we are in importing oil from the Mideast (i.e., 90 percent vs. some 50 percent).

How important is this element to national security? There is no substitute for it in the manufacture and production of night-vision goggles, those our Navy Seals used in the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s abode in Pakistan, which I think all can agree was important.

The general’s report set forth numerous other examples of imported necessities which are essential to the production of military equipment ranging from Humvees to helicopters and which are largely produced overseas – imports such as machine tools, semiconductors, lithium-ion batteries and high-tech magnets. We cannot relocate the happenstance of rare earth elements from China to, for instance, Arizona; but we can relocate the industries that use them (and industries generally) back to this country. It is dangerous policy (or lack of policy) which leaves production of what is necessary to provide our military with what they need in the hands of potential enemies (or even politically unstable countries). Such production plainly needs to be within our own borders as we work on substitutes for the now indispensable rare elements under monopoly control of China (and reducing our oil imports as well).

Those who put their lives on the line deserve our best efforts in supporting them, and while the present system of overseas manufacture may make Wall Street happy as it lines its pockets with overseas profits, it plainly is not in the best interests of either America’s military or its unemployed civilians who could otherwise be manufacturing the goods and equipment needed by the military. We need to undo some of these giveaway trade pacts that have resulted in the erosion of our manufacturing base and endangered our national security. We need to protect the country and its people rather than a few profit-seekers, and we need to adopt policies to that end while ridding ourselves of old “policies” that have not worked and are not working. We can change; it doesn’t have to be this way.

President Gerard summed up the situation in a nutshell when he stated that: “The statistics do not lie: Since 2000, we have lost more than 31 percent of this country’s manufacturing jobs. Unless we can reverse the effects that short-term corporate greed, globalization and unfair trade have had on our economy over the past 13 years, these negative trends are sure to continue.” He is right, and with the plight of American manufacturing tied to national security, perhaps his words have added significance.

I know of no other country that has voluntarily given away 31 percent of its manufacturing base during the past 13 years via giveaway trade agreements, but then I know of no other country that has been subjected to the daily Wall Street barrage of “free trade” and other such fictions (aka corporate propaganda) for the past 13 years, and all the while effectively writing the new trade rules for presentation to captive congress people for addition to “trade agreements.”

Why we as a matter of policy continue to protect the interests of a relatively few Wall Street profit-seekers over the interests of millions of unemployed Americans (and now even our national security) remains a mystery to me. We need to have the 31 percent loss of manufacturing base return home for a lot of good reasons, and it is a doable project. The process is political; our economy and now our national security are at stake – or we can alternatively continue enriching the rich. Your call.  GERALD  E


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