During my three decades in the U.S. Army, I defended America’s strategic interests alongside the finest men and women this country has to offer and the greatest equipment in the world.
When I jumped into the business world, I thought I was leaving national security to the younger generation. But I’ve learned that manufacturers have an important role to play in ensuring America’s safety and prosperity.
Let me give you one worrisome example I discovered from my new perch in the private sector about the link between domestic production and national security.
Many of the critical parts in the military vehicles we deploy are made of aluminum alloys, and those alloys can’t be produced without reliable sources of industrial magnesium. But magnesium production shifted away from America decades ago, and we are relying almost entirely on imported magnesium to make these critical parts.
Most of the world’s magnesium is produced by a single country that the Pentagon says is America’s “pacing threat.” That’s right, China controls nearly 90 percent of the globe’s magnesium production.
But the news gets worse. Over the summer, an energy crisis emerged that prompted China to cut back its magnesium production by anywhere from one-third to one-half. In the blink of an eye, a major strategic disadvantage became clear – China has the power to cripple our production of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters that I used to fly and countless other military vehicles, simply by shutting down its magnesium smelters.
My company is taking steps to correct this strategic error and bring magnesium manufacturing back to America, a step we believe is possible thanks to new technologies that will make the process far less toxic to the environment.
But this is about much more than just one product in one industry. For too long now, we have sat by and watched China create vulnerabilities for America in areas like rare earth minerals and medical supplies, not to mention its rapid expansion into maritime ports from which it controls the flow of goods around the world.
Solutions to these problems are emerging as we wake up and realize we can’t have true national security if we rely on other nations to produce the machines, equipment, and raw materials we need to defend our interests. It’s unrealistic and naïve for America to declare that one of our chief military aims is to deter Chinese aggression, and then expect China to give us the means to carry out this objective.
It is time for us to stop passively admiring China’s rapid economic growth and self-determination as if these are goals are beyond America’s reach. They are not.
Manufacturing was the lifeblood of the American colonies. It pumped new energy into the nation after a devastating Civil War. It made us an indomitable power in World War II. And it will fuel us once more as we learn the lesson that a country cannot offshore everything and remain a leading world power.
From 2010-2020, America saw its first sustained increase in manufacturing employment since the 1960s. Continuing this positive trend will depend on two factors: American ingenuity, which we know we have, and a realization that the best national security comes when we are in full control of all its inputs.