New to the Endangered List: America’s Infrastructure

    Charles Benard

    Security, Americas

    Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross holds a news conference to make an announcement, after a background conference call with Commerce, Justice Department and Treasury Department officials at the Department of Commerce in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

    The desire for inexpensive goods cannot override our need for national security.

    The Trump administration is right to say that we need significant changes to our trade strategy. What should it be and how it balances economic and trade interests with national-security concerns such as distinguishing between allied or adversarial power, is complex. No trade grand strategy balancing these factors has emerged yet. What we have had, however, has been a focus on individual sectors like communications/technology, aluminum and steel, farm or dairy products and automobiles. This has occasioned a lot of anger and outrage from the G7 partners and elsewhere, but in truth, we haven’t even yet scratched the surface of what our national interest requires.

    This March, President Trump imposed worldwide tariffs on steel and aluminum, but exempted Canada, Mexico and the EU. A few days later, he imposed tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum from those countries he had previously exempted.

    It is of course important to assure that the American industry is robust, but our trade strategy needs to be about much more than that. There are four key concerns:

    1. For important goods, the United States must not be dependent on only one supplier. Even if this supplier is in a friendly country, a natural disaster or a bankruptcy or a host of other unpredictable disruptions can then leave us abruptly high and dry.

    2. If this sole or most important supplier is in an adversarial country, added to this is the possibility of deliberate disruption and the ability to exert undue pressure.

    3. In the case of some products, their component parts or assembly, we are vulnerable to tampering, the inclusion of spyware or malware and the ability to disable items remotely.

    4. Outsourcing increasingly amounts to giving away U.S. technology, including to hostile countries, losing our edge, and essentially funding the research-and-development sectors of those countries.

    Today, none of the “Made in America” efforts look at where the individual components are made. Where do the circuit boards and other individual components come from?

    Is it possible to build any technology product using parts where everything is sourced in the United States? Even if you could, where do the raw materials come from? For items assembled here, where do the parts originate?

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