Don't Outsource U.S. National Security to the French

Paul Rohrer

3/24/2008 1:45:36 PM - Paul Rohrer

“The malice of the wicked is reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous,” warned Winston Churchill leading up to World War II. While Churchill spoke of Western vacillation in the face of Nazi tyranny, he could have easily been referring to the state of affairs in the U.S. leading up to the attacks of September 11, 2001, a mindset that appears to be returning as the memory of those attacks fades.

Consider the Pentagon’s decision to award a lucrative contract to build a new generation of Air Force tankers to the French company EADS and its minority partner, Northrop. For the first time in history an essential weapon in the war on terror could be controlled by a foreign cartel whose government is hardly known for taking an uncompromising position on taking the fight to the terrorists or the states that sponsor them.

When the U.S. and thirty other nations, including Great Britain and Japan, removed Saddam Hussein from power, the French just said “non.” Then-president Jacques Chirac denounced the “pitfalls of unilateralism” and claimed in a fiery speech to the French diplomatic corps that liberating Iraq would be a boon for the terrorists. The French foreign minister promised to make Saddam pay, only to beat a fast retreat. While U.S. soldiers gave their lives and limbs in Iraq, high-ranking French politicians and Chirac cronies like Patrick Maugein took bribes and gifts from Saddam’s oil ministry in the United Nations oil-for-food scandal.

One would think that this conduct would not be rewarded with a $35 billion military contract, but to bipartisan howls of protest, the Pentagon has now outsourced U.S. national security to France. While French president Nicholas Sarkozy has been friendlier to the U.S., recent losses by his party at the polls suggest his views are in the minority.

The tanker deal is so absurd that it could only happen in the nation’s capital. Consider this: EADS has received tens of billions in illegal subsidies from the French and other European governments in violation of international law. The U.S. Trade Representative, whose offices are steps from the White House, filed the largest lawsuit in its history before the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, across the Potomac the Department of Defense hands EADS billions in U.S. tax dollars and refuses to even take into account EADS illegal trade practices.

These foreign subsidies made the A330 aircraft---which EADS will retrofit for the tanker contract----possible as competitor to the Boeing 767. French and European protectionism is being used to undercut U.S. contractors, kill U.S. jobs, and undermine free trade. The DOD originally included an offsetting provision in the evaluation criteria for these subsidies in order to address trade concerns, only to drop it after Congressional pressure.

Even more disturbing are the dangers the tanker contract poses to U.S. national security. After being lobbied by EADS, the DOD changed its own rules preventing the export of new technologies---like anti-missile technologies---that EADS may develop as a result of the contract, and which it is now free to export to rogue nations like Iran and North Korea. Nor are such concerns without foundation. EADS officials recently showed up at an air show in Iran.

The DOD also gave EADS a special exemption from the “Berry amendment” which requires domestic processing by contractors of specialty metals like titanium for national security reasons. The DOD also made mid-stream and unexplained changes in evaluation criteria that favor the larger aircraft that EADS is offering, and disfavored the more efficient mid-sized 767 Boeing aircraft.

The United States uses two-thirds of the world’s tankers, which are critical to refueling the fighters and bombers that are on the front lines in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other hot spots in the war on terror. Since the dawn of aviation, the tanker fleet has been U.S. built and supplied. EADS has never built a tanker in its history. Little wonder that DOD has acknowledged that without its inexplicable changes in the rules, Boeing scored higher on its evaluation criteria, with significantly more strengths and experience than EADS.

As for worries over EU retaliation, European defense acquisition policies are already highly protectionist; incredibly, just weeks ago, the French objected to a proposal to open these markets to U.S. contractors.

Awarding the tanker contract to build an essential tool of the 21st century war fighter in the global struggle against terrorism to EADS undermines U.S. national security interests and trade policies. Without even taking into account national pride or patriotism, the Department of Defense throwing a contract to French-based EADS is so contrary to good sense and U.S. interests that it should be reversed by Congress and the Bush administration.