Executive Briefings

Is American National Security at Risk From Imported Military Gear?

National security has been used to justify some pretty silly protectionism in the United States. The Berry Amendment, to pick an egregious example, prohibits the Defense Department from importing any kind of clothing, including "outerwear, headwear, underwear, nightwear, footwear, hosiery, handwear, belts, badges, and insignia." The International Trade Administration, an arm of the Commerce Dept., implausibly insists that the Berry Amendment "has been critical to maintaining the safety and security of our armed forces."

Sometimes, though, imports really can imperil national security. For Pentagon planners, the nightmare scenario is a war with China in which the foe stops supplying critical components to the U.S. military — or triggers malware embedded in Chinese-made computer chips that cripples missiles and fighter jets. To guard against that, the Defense Department does its best to prevent the use of Chinese microelectronics in military gear.

The key is to protect legitimate security interests without forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab for wasteful protectionism.

Senator Chris Murphy, a first-term Democrat from Connecticut, has leaned on the jobs argument for his 21st Century Buy American Act, which he says would close "loopholes" that the Pentagon has used to get out of Buy American rules, acquiring parts from other countries that are available in the U.S. He's also seeking audits of the Pentagon's purchasing practices.

"The United States has shipped money and jobs overseas — a whopping $187bn in just the last 9 years alone," he said in a 2016 press release.

In an interview on June 14, Murphy said national security is a key concern as well, saying, "If our defense supply chain becomes too internationalized, it puts us at risk." He said that the U.S. had to scramble for replacement parts when a European company refused to supply parts for a weapons system because it morally objected to the war in Iraq. A Murphy spokesman, Chris Harris, did not immediately respond to a request for details.

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Sometimes, though, imports really can imperil national security. For Pentagon planners, the nightmare scenario is a war with China in which the foe stops supplying critical components to the U.S. military — or triggers malware embedded in Chinese-made computer chips that cripples missiles and fighter jets. To guard against that, the Defense Department does its best to prevent the use of Chinese microelectronics in military gear.

The key is to protect legitimate security interests without forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab for wasteful protectionism.

Senator Chris Murphy, a first-term Democrat from Connecticut, has leaned on the jobs argument for his 21st Century Buy American Act, which he says would close "loopholes" that the Pentagon has used to get out of Buy American rules, acquiring parts from other countries that are available in the U.S. He's also seeking audits of the Pentagon's purchasing practices.

"The United States has shipped money and jobs overseas — a whopping $187bn in just the last 9 years alone," he said in a 2016 press release.

In an interview on June 14, Murphy said national security is a key concern as well, saying, "If our defense supply chain becomes too internationalized, it puts us at risk." He said that the U.S. had to scramble for replacement parts when a European company refused to supply parts for a weapons system because it morally objected to the war in Iraq. A Murphy spokesman, Chris Harris, did not immediately respond to a request for details.

Read Full Article