The new Bush-Cheney team has rightly made rebuilding the U.S.
military one of its top priorities. Unfortunately, its predecessor's legacy
is not only one of leaving the armed forces in a deplorable state requiring
such repairs; Messrs. Clinton and Gore also did much to diminish -- and, in
many cases, to eliminate altogether -- the defense industrial base that will
be needed to effect the rebuilding.
This was not, as the Leninists say, "an accident, comrade." Early
in the first Clinton administration, then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin
convened what came to be known as the Last Supper for the Nation's defense
contractors. He advised them that there would not be enough work for all of
them in the post-Cold War future. They were put on notice that there was
going to have to be a significant contraction in the number and production
capacity of their firms.
In the years that followed, some went out of the defense business;
many others were gobbled up by a few conglomerates. Recent, grievous
depreciation of stock values imperils the viability of one or more of even
these giant concerns.
Perhaps even more troubling was the encouragement the Clinton team
gave to foreign acquisition of U.S. defense contractors. This practice
often conduced to the transfer of key research and development and
manufacturing capabilities overseas -- further exacerbating the worrisome
trend towards ever-greater Pentagon dependence on overseas suppliers for its
gear. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday, Elaine
Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, pointed out a relatively
benign, if absurd, example this phenomenon: the black berets the Army has decided to issue to all its soldiers -- despite nearly universal opposition to the idea of degrading this traditional symbol of the service's elite Ranger units -- will be bought from Communist China.
Unfortunately, there are many other instances in which far more
sensitive military requirements are becoming reliant upon foreign
manufacturers. These include: precision gears and gear boxes; certain types of sophisticated microchips used in guidance systems and other weapons
applications; pan carbon fiber, the precursor to "stealth" composites; and
computer monitors and printed circuit boards. There are obvious national
security implications involved in having U.S. combat capabilities depend to a critical degree on companies -- and, in some cases at least, countries -- who may not prove reliable suppliers in time of need. As the military
increasingly turns to commercial off-the-shelf technologies, this trend will
Matters are made still worse by another consideration: Foreign
purveyors of sensitive dual-use technology (that is, equipment and know-how relevant to both military and civil applications) are, as a general rule,
willing to sell their goods not only to the United States but to the
military-industrial complexes of her enemies, as well.
The Clinton Defense Department's response to such developments was like that of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman: "What, me worry?" To the extent the subject received any policy consideration at all, the Administration's willingness to promote trade and "globalization" at the expense of American sovereignty and prudent security practices usually was
sufficient to trump misgivings expressed by more sober policy-makers in the executive branch and Congress.
Today [Tuesday], Clinton appointees who have burrowed into various agencies around town, including notably Pentagon official David Tarbell,
will be meeting in the hope of adding yet another U.S. technology of
critical importance to the American military to the list of foreign-
supplied equipment. This afternoon, the Committee on Foreign Investment in
the United States (CFIUS) will hold discussions with representatives of the
Netherlands' company known as ASML, the world's second largest manufacturer
of lithography machines used to produce high-quality silicon chips. ASML is trying to buy Silicon Valley Group (SVG) -- the planet's most creative innovator in lithography technology and the last American supplier of such equipment. If approved by CFIUS, the Dutch would also pick up SVG's subsidiary, Tinsley Laboratories, which manufacturers state-of-the art mirrors and lenses for the Nation's spy satellites and other military users.
Without assured access to the fruits of the work done by SVG and
Tinsley, such priority Bush programs as effective missile defenses and
information-based "revolutionary" weaponry would be rendered problematic.
Should ASML wind up selling these companies' high tech products to China -- as the Dutch (and many others) have done -- moreover, such technology could
well wind up being used against American personnel and interests.
A growing chorus from Capitol Hill, led by Senator Robert Bennett
and Representatives Jim Gibbons and Duncan Hunter, is calling on the Bush
Administration to take charge of the CFIUS process on the SVG deal. This
can most easily be done by taking another forty-five days to conduct a more formal investigation of this proposed transaction. This would, in addition, afford Donald Rumsfeld and his counterparts at other agencies a chance to put in place subordinates who share their commitment to rebuilding, rather than selling off, America's defense capabilities. As today's meeting of the CFIUS will underscore, there isn't a moment to lose.