Eroding U.S. industrial base comes with a price


Eroding U.S. industrial base comes with a price
by Diane M. Grassi                                                            

The United States of America has historically enjoyed self-sufficiency in times of both war and peace but in order to better assess its present place in the world as concerns its military and economic strength, it is important to reflect on its foundation. There is daily talk from Wall Street to Capitol Hill with respect to spread sheets and global policy, but it perhaps falls short when it comes down to addressing the average U.S. wage earner, and how both will ultimately affect jobs and the country’s national security and defense.

It is important to note, that as our forefathers were fighting for independence from England during the Revolutionary War, seldom do we hear about the underlying and overwhelming task they endured in order to supply an army without an industrial base. In order for success, the Colonies depended upon France and the Netherlands for everything from blankets and clothing to gunpowder, muskets, munitions, and food. Benjamin Franklin bartered a deal with France to ship across the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Netherlands’ St. Eustatius Island, in order for George Washington and his troops to have the means to defend themselves…


In light of the French Revolution at the turn of the 18th century, when the Netherlands were seized by Napoleon and President John Adams came close to war with France, a primary U.S. ally just years earlier, selfsufficiency was the order of the day. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was asked by President George Washington and the U.S. Congress to officially document U.S. policy on industrial and military self-sufficiency. It read, Not only have the wealth, but the independence and security of a country, appear to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufactures. Every nation, with a view to those great objects, ought to endeavour to possess within itself all the essentials of national supply. These comprise the means of subsistence, habitation, clothing and defense. The possession of these is necessary to the perfection of the body politic: to the safety as well as to the welfare of the society.

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century secured the U.S.policy of self-sufficiency, transforming it into a global power. Due to the strength of its industrialization the U.S. was able to defeat its enemies in World War I. With the advent of the automobile, which Henry Ford learned to mass-produce, weaponry and machinery produced for World War II benefited from the automobile factory. Production of Sherman tanks, Army jeeps, airplanes and PT boats evolved from such civilian U.S. factories. And in the 1950’s the industrial base was modernized for the Korean War effort.

The industrial base and manufacturing for the U.S. military were necessarily intertwined. But following the end of the Cold War there has been a deliberate decomposition of U.S. industry, unprecedented in American history. There are a number of factors which have contributed to U.S. dependence on foreign trade, primarily with India and China, which has not only led to millions of U.S. manufacturing and engineering jobs permanently lost, but paints a grim picture for the long term stability of the U.S. military supply line.

The dependence on foreign oil and the subsequent OPEC oil embargo in the 1970’s, the U.S. policy of deregulation of corporations of the 1980’s, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 allowing China to become a member, collectively accelerated U.S. dependence on cheap labor offshore. Thus, dependency and reliance on suppliers from all over the world for military equipment and machinery components and parts, required for their manufacture, leaves the U.S. vulnerable.

The Defense Department runs a program called the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Materials Shortage (DMSMS) at the Tank Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM). Its purpose is to identify shortages of parts, processes and materials necessary to procure for military buyers. A problem for military acquisitions has been procuring weapon system metal castings as a direct result of plant closings. The majority of castings now come from China and other third-world countries. Along with the foreign dependence on metal castings manufacture its research and development also followed the foundry industry offshore.

DMSMS program managers are aware that there are problems in finding sub-parts and components. Not only have replacement parts started to rapidly diminish, but the chemicals needed in their manufacture have as well. Without specific chemicals certain processes cannot be done. For example, there is only one company left in the U.S. that produces a roller cutter for armored plate or heavy steel which was an indirect consequence of supplying armor kits for U.S. Humvees in the War in Iraq. When the Pentagon learned there was an immediate need at the end of 2004, it called for expediency in their manufacture. Sadly, it took almost a year due to the limited facilities producing such.

Another issue arose when a foreign corporation purchased the only U.S. company which produced a chemical used for a common binder which secures windows and aluminum panels in aircraft. The company eventually folded when it could not meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Now the U.S. must depend on the company’s offshore subsidiaries.

Similarly, the bearing industry which produces ball-bearings, roller-bearings and anti-friction bearings is an endangered U.S. industry, key to the production of military gear and plays a part in homeland security. They are components necessary to produce electric motors for conveyor belts such as in factories, steel mills, in airports, in mining, and with the equipment used to manufacture automobiles. And bearings are critical to the mechanical components of major weapons systems. Losing bearings manufacturing to foreign shores directly impacts the capabilities of weapons manufacturing should there be a change in the geopolitical landscape and a cut-off from U.S. suppliers, whether through war, terrorism, or Mother Nature.

With the military build-up of China over the past decade by benefit of applying commercial technologies to military weaponry and its having become the largest offshore manufacturing base for U.S. corporations, the U.S. continues a delicate balancing act with a Communist nation as its biggest trade partner. With a U.S. trade deficit with China reaching over $200 billion in 2005, multi-national corporations, once U.S. companies operating in the U.S., are now just based in the U.S.

And with a demand by China for foreign direct investment as their incentive to buy U.S. products, companies like Boeing are acquiescing by not only building major portions of airplanes in China, but also creating Research and Development opportunities for Chinese engineers, in order to show its commitment. Intel and Microsoft have also followed suit with major investment in directly hiring engineers in China.

Endless conflicts of interest abound when it comes to foreign dependence in order for the U.S. to maintain its infrastructure, electrical grid, military weaponry and supplies, air travel and homeland security, to name a few. When smaller U.S. specialty industries vital to the industrial base become extinct on our shores, they now appear huge in a world where alliances are tenuous at best. A global economy at the expense of U.S. sovereignty, security and standard of living is something that the Colonists would not have stood for. They would have found another way. Maybe America still has time to do the same.


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