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`Buy America` Provisions Are Critical to U.S. Defense
Trade Alert ^ | 5/2/02 | William Hawkins

Posted on 05/02/2002 1:42:48 PM PDT by madeinchina

On May 1, 1917 French Marshal Joseph Joffre addressed the U.S. Senate. Famous as the "Hero of the Marne" at the start of World War I, Joffre received a tumultuous welcome from the Senators. Yet, in spite of the official enthusiasm, the United States government was not ready for the war it had declared only a few weeks earlier, even though America had the largest economy in the world.

When the war started in 1914, the national income of the United States was larger than the national incomes of Germany, England, and France combined. American factories, supported by high protective tariffs, accounted for 32 percent of world manufacturing, compared to second place Germany's 14 percent, and France's six percent. Yet, when American troops went into combat during 1918, they did so armed with French machine guns, artillery, tanks, and airplanes. U.S. factories could not shift quickly enough from consumer goods to military hardware, especially for items never built in America before.

Manufacturing requires experience, not just some orders and a set of blueprints. And in some cases, British and French firms were reluctant to supply American firms with all the blueprints. This was particularly true in the aircraft industry.

There is an enduring lesson here. Though the aggregate size of a nation's economy is important, it is the composition of the economy - what industries are up and running, what skills are available in the workforce - that determines whether a country can respond to a national emergency. The gap between potential and actual strength has gotten wider as the pace of combat has accelerated, while the production times for modern weapons has gotten longer.

Today, the United States is not the unarmed nation it was in 1917. It has a fusion of defense and high-tech industries that have provided the Pentagon with capabilities unmatched anywhere in the world. But there are still significant problems in procurement. For example, U.S. forces have used precision-guided weapons in Afghanistan - in a small war against poorly armed militia groups - faster than they can be produced. How would the economy react to the procurement needs imposed by a major war?

It's not just large, sexy weapons - warships and tanks, that need to be reliably procured; it's all the components, from computer chips to special materials, that give the complex systems their punch. And its little things too, like the web gear infantry use to carry their equipment into battle, or the parachute a fighter pilot hopes he never has to use. As the old verse goes, 'for want of a nail' a battle may be lost. That is why there are 'buy America' provisions in the laws that govern military procurement - to insure that there are companies here that can provide what our fighting forces need.

Unfortunately, there are those who want more foreign firms to become suppliers for the American military. Despite last year's public outcry during the "Chinese beret" incident, legislation is quietly circulating in the Senate that would allow broad waivers of 'buy America' provisions so more defense items can be imported from overseas. One target for "reform" is the Berry Amendment, which covers food, clothing, tents, and anything made of natural or synthetic fibers - which is quite a list. This regulation already has a number of exceptions, such as for the purchase of local supplies during overseas operations. What the reformers want, however, is to bring foreign producers into the supply system on a regular basis, creating a reliance on their services both at home and abroad.

The main reason given for such a change is that it might save a buck or two. Major American defense contractors like Boeing, who already fill their commercial planes with foreign parts - including many made in China - want to put foreign parts in the planes they sell to the Pentagon. Foreign defense contractors, like France's Thales or Dutch-based EADS (European Aerospace, Defense, and Space Co.), want to compete with Boeing and other U.S. prime contractors and use their global networks of parts suppliers to fulfill potential contracts. Thales already manages 27 business units in North America from a headquarters located just outside Washington, DC.

Allowing foreign firms increased participation in American military projects is a "penny wise, but pound foolish" notion that would inevitably lead to more defense production moving offshore. All the pennies saved in peacetime will not buy a victory if there is a breakdown in production or supplies during wartime.

During the Vietnam War, Sony withheld TV cameras used to guide tactical missiles. In 1983, the Socialists in the Japanese Diet blocked the sale of ceramic packaging used in U.S. cruise missiles to protest Reagan administration policies. Last year, the Bush administration approached Holland and Germany about selling submarines to Taiwan; both countries refused, citing policy differences. And the gap between the United States and Europe on a host of foreign policy matters continue to widen. 1917 was a long time ago; and so was 1945; and even 1989.

Even without policy differences, foreign corporations may not have the "surge" capacity to meet American needs in a crisis or be willing to shift production from other uses. Such bottlenecks were evident even during a conflict as short as the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Foreign products may be attractive for reasons other than cost. The technology may be superior, or it may promote standardization and interoperability among allies. Yet, it is still important that the U.S. have the ability to manufacture whatever it needs, whenever it needs it. The best way to assure this is for an American firm to manufacture the item under license, though foreign firms may also be required to set up American factories. With the largest defense market in the world, Washington can make domestic production a condition of contract awards.

If the Berry Amendment is weakened, it will be only the first step in a larger assault on "buy America" provisions. A number of "reformers," including the pugnacious Sen. John McCain, have made no secret of their desire to open the entire defense industry to foreign competition. This is a very bad time to promote such a crippling notion.

During the 1990s, defense procurement was so low that many American firms left the industry, shifting to consumer goods or closing down altogether. Now that the U.S. is rearming again, American companies have the opportunity to recover, invest, and contribute to the nation's security. They should not be cut off at the knees by a sudden opening to foreign rivals. Experience argues for keeping military procurement on a 'buy America' basis.

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: defense; manufacturing

1 posted on 05/02/2002 1:42:49 PM PDT by madeinchina
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To: madeinchina
Thanks for BUMP posting this. It's all too true.:(
2 posted on 05/02/2002 3:08:45 PM PDT by doxteve
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: madeinchina
Great article!
4 posted on 05/02/2002 3:26:48 PM PDT by monkeywrench
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To: doxteve
Can't trust all those high class dirtwater countries. Doesn't anybody remember why our ancestors left there for here in the first place? It's back to colonialism. Can't trust them. They (EU)are blobing into one solialist state with trade as a weapon. Break up the EU before they break us.
5 posted on 05/02/2002 3:30:34 PM PDT by Surrounded_too
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To: willie green
6 posted on 05/02/2002 3:33:26 PM PDT by shaggy eel
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To: Stoner
I agree here though I'm normally for free trade industries related to National Defense need to stay within America( or in Countries we can occupy immediately like Mexico or Canada).
7 posted on 05/02/2002 3:34:21 PM PDT by weikel
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To: shaggy eel
Globalists don't believe national defense is a valid role for the military.
Their vision is to utilize it as a police force to suppress the citizenry.
8 posted on 05/02/2002 3:39:11 PM PDT by Willie Green
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To: madeinchina
"The activities characteristic of war may be split into two main categories: those that are merely preparation for war, and the war proper." - Karl von Clausewitz.

"It used to be said that armaments depend on policy. It is not always true, but I think that at this juncture it is true to say that policy depends, to a large extent, upon armaments. It is true to say that we have reached a position where the choice of policy is dictated by considerations of defense." - Winston Churchill, speech, House of Commons. May 2, 1935.

9 posted on 05/02/2002 4:04:13 PM PDT by PsyOp
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To: madeinchina
Not to sound pessimistic or anything like that, but, truthfully, how many corporations who make products, that Americans want to purchase in the first place, haven't already farmed out some aspect of their production to foreign countries? There was some fellow on a post recently who mentioned having bought a bike (not sure what kind). He was certain it was 'made in America', only to find out when he got the bike home that the handle bars were made in China! Even the supermarkets, if you look closely at the labeling, now seem to sell a great deal of products which at some point involved foreign involvement, whether it be the origin of the food itself, or the packaging, canning, etc. know what i mean?
10 posted on 05/02/2002 4:31:35 PM PDT by DontMessWithMyCountry
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To: MeanMFMan
Look at the problems we are having with our foreign policy because of our dependence on Arab oil, and imagine what nightmare scenarios could result from dependence on foreign military equipment.

That was my first thought when I read the article. We need to be self-sufficient, especially with our military, so that if the time comes that we need to stand alone, we can do so -- without having to play the political games of international diplomacy with countries that would rather destroy us.

Even our current friendly allies are susceptible to Arab blackmail for their oil, so it is not unreasonable to anticipate the need of being able to stand alone.

12 posted on 05/02/2002 9:43:57 PM PDT by bjcintennessee
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