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Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

The 10 generals and flag officers say our national security & critical infrastructure is at risk.

As the Trump administration continues its investigation into whether steel and aluminum imports pose a threat to national security, a group of military leaders are weighing in with a warning:

“America’s increasing reliance on imported steel and aluminum from potentially hostile or uncooperative foreign governments, or via uncertain supply routes, jeopardizes our national security. If U.S. manufacturing capabilities are compromised, we will be forced to rely on countries like China and Russia to supply our military and critical infrastructure needs.”

That... doesn't sound good.

The 10 retired generals and flag officers sent a letter to President Trump this week urging him to wrap up the national security investigations into steel and aluminum imports and “implement effective and enforceable remedies to maintain and strengthen our manufacturing sector.”

The letter is the latest in a series of messages sent to the White House urging immediate and comprehensive action on unfairly traded imports. Several Members of Congress from both parties have sent letters, as have key industry executives and labor officials, asking the Trump administration to do something to address the ongoing imports crisis.

But the latest letter comes directly from military leaders who know the security risks of a depleted defense industrial base. As the officers note, steel and aluminum are critical to the making of everything from “ships, tanks, and armaments to bridges, rail systems, our electrical grid and energy infrastructure.”

“While only a percentage of domestic steel and aluminum production is geared toward traditional defense purposes, U.S. companies must remain commercially viable to innovate and produce products that meet military specifications,” the officers write. “And, our critical infrastructure is just as vital to a strong nation as is our weaponry.” 

We’ve written quite a lot about the Section 232 national security investigations into steel and aluminum since President Trump announced them in April, including warning that inaction is now making the overall crisis worse. And there’s been a lot of talk about how important steel and aluminum is to communities across the country, which is a hugely important part of the conversation, of course.

But the military leaders’ letter highlights an often overlooked aspect of this debate. If America loses its ability to make steel and/or aluminum — something that is more possible than many folks might realize, considering there’s just one smelter left that can make the high-purity aluminum — we could lose significant military capabilities and might not be able to quickly ramp up in a crisis.

“These warfighters know that steel and aluminum are the backbone of a strong military and a strong nation and we must be able to protect our interests,” said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, which represents both steel and aluminum workers. “It’s time to act to combat the illegal, unfair and predatory trade practices that have decimated production and employment and put our national security and critical infrastructure in peril.”

Brigadier Gen. John Adams, U.S. Army (Ret.), one of the officers who signed the letter, outlined many of these risks in the report ReMaking American Security. Already, the military is shockingly vulnerable to major disruptions in the supply chain, and losing the ability to make our own steel and aluminum would only worsen the problem.

Adams also discussed this on a recent edition of The Manufacturing Report podcast, which is worth a listen: