Finally! Our Declining Manufacturing Base Becomes a National Security Issue

I have long argued that the way to address the big problems our government is currently all-but-ignoring, not least jobs and climate change, is to talk about how our current policies put us at significant national security risk. If nothing else, by demonstrating how these are national security issues, it’ll provide a way to reverse fear-monger against the Republicans trying to gut our country for profit.

Which is why I’m happy to learn that the intelligence community is assessing whether the decline in manufacturing in the US represents a national security threat.

The U.S. intelligence community will prepare a National Intelligence Estimate on the implications of the continuing decline in U.S. manufacturing capacity, said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) citing recent news reports.

Our growing reliance on imports and lack of industrial infrastructure has become a national security concern,” said Rep. Schakowsky.  She spoke at a March 16 news conference (at 28:10) in opposition to the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.The Forbes report referenced by Rep. Schakowsky was “Intelligence Community Fears U.S. Manufacturing Decline,” by Loren Thompson, February 14. The decision to prepare an intelligence estimate was first reported by Richard McCormack in “Intelligence Director Will Look at National Security Implications of U.S. Manufacturing Decline,” Manufacturing & Technology News, February 3.

Note that Schakowsky is a member of (and until January, was a Subcommittee Chair on) the House Intelligence Committee. It’s possible her own requests generated this concern.

But the concern is real. As our manufacturing moves to places like China and (significantly for this context), Korea, we’ve lost certain capabilities. Indeed, when Bush slapped tariffs on steel in 2002, a number of tool and die factories moved to Korea where they could still access cheap steel while still supplying the US market. And in recent years, the loss of highly-skilled manufacturing process capabilities has meant we face challenges in sourcing some of our key military toys.

While it shouldn’t be the primary reason to invest in manufacturing in this country, ultimately if we keep losing it we’re going to have problems sustaining our military machine.

Most of the folks running DC may not much care that our middle class has disappeared along with our manufacturing base. But convince them that our declining manufacturing base might imperil their cherished military might, and they might finally wake up.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. BoxTurtle says:

    But convince them that our declining manufacturing base might imperil their cherished military might, and they might finally wake up.

    It’s a good idea…but what if the ultimate plan is to invade India and South Korea. Our national security would require that we have control of our manufacturing base.

    This will cause much pearl clutching, as it would appear that the GOpers must choose between the Sacred Military Might and the Scared Outsourcing Efficiency.

    Boxturtle (And I’m sure the GOPers solution will somehow involve tax cuts)

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    Our Declining Manufactuing

    Unh, Manufactuing?

    Boxturtle (Generally bad policy for a dyslexic to point out spelling errors)

  3. klynn says:

    Remember how much we wrote about this concern during the auto crisis?

    And NOW they smell the coffee?

    Suddenly the spiral of economic violence is on the radar.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Marcy is a DFH, thus what she writes doesn’t matter. Unless it gets ‘legs’ and is reported in the MSM. In which case senior unnamed administration officals will deny it without mentioning the source. The last thing they want is for people to pay attention to a DFH.

      I don’t think congress is smelling the coffee. And I think they’ll bury any report that suggests a manufacturing policy or says bad things about outsourcing.

      Boxturtle (What will we do when the country selling us bullets is the next one to invade?)

      • jimhicks3 says:

        Wasn’t it Milo in “Catch 22” who said that since we all had a piece of the action it didn’t mater that he was outsourcing the bombing of our own troops?
        Have to read it again.

  4. klynn says:


    I tried doing a number of searches for the post you did on the foreclosure crisis recently where you named people affected by it who were never delinquent but were out right wronged through crazy processing errors. Can you post a link to the post? I am having no luck finding it.

    In light of the latest on the global settlement, it might be wise to repost it too.

  5. Arbusto says:

    Doesn’t our Government invoke the Buy American Act of the FAR/DFAR anymore, though it may have been eviscerated in the last 20 years.

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    I thought the idea is for GOP to return to its appreciation for quality education in the US, and a Republican natural resources conservation ethic based upon stewardship and sustainability. There are two threads the Republican capitalists seem to have cast aside in their lame attempts to stay the largest political opposition party. I read recently that in CA only 1/3 of voters are Republican; I guess that means neither Republicans nor Democrats have identified what it is that registered independents want in a political party.

    After assuring a well educated middle class, the Republican capitalist plan might proceed to keeping most design onshore, just offshoring rote work. That sort of emphasis could dovetail well with the slightly different aims and methodologies of the Democratic party of the future; i.e., the Democratic party still could find sufficient voters to stay the majority party.

    In the alternative, there is the longstanding futurist admonition that a surfeit of leisure is about to beset first world countries. This also seems to blend with the offshoring mfg-but onshore design duad.

    Around the time the Trash-80 computer was a solid, stolid desktop machine finally, that manufacturer introduced the TRS-100, one of the first notebooks. Reagan slapped an international trade dumping tax onto Japan memory chips, costing the enterprising purchaser who wanted 64 KB RAM instead of the base configuration 32 KB RAM, an extra $300., effectively doubling the cost of the *breakthrough* TRS-100. The Republican idea was to delay competition for IBM. Taiwan manufacturers exported a few machines to the US and quickly were characterized as gray market sources; essentially illegal copies of the IBM personal computer. Then-contemporary national security rules and regs forbade export of chips with an 8-bit wide data path.

    I am not sure any of these historical lessons apply much to the Rust Belt; but the complex factors capitalism fosters led to the dispersed personal computing paradigm, which, in turn, created the need for some sort of amorphous architecture to interconnect desktop computers and other personal computing platforms; DARPA*s internet technology supplied that signaling matrix and Mosaic shipped.

  7. robertarend says:

    If this nation had the anemic manufacturing base of today back in December 7, 1941, we would all be working under the rising sun of one conquerer or the Nazi flag of the other….

  8. hijean831 says:

    As our manufacturing moves to places like China and (significantly for this context), Korea, we’ve lost certain capabilities capacities.

    Fixed. If there were a place to do the work, we have plenty of people capable, and I daresay eager, to accomplish it.

    I get Really Pissed Off at Rachel when she makes the related claim that, since we’ve outsourced embassy security (for example), the Marines just don’t know how anymore. Where the fuck does she think Wackenhut and Blackwater get their pre-trained people?

    • prostratedragon says:

      If there were a place to do the work, we have plenty of people capable, and I daresay eager, to accomplish it.

      Eager, sure. But those capabilities erode by the year. And it won’t take a demographic generation for the Wackenhut boyz to be trained in-house, where the focus of their training can be controlled to something perhaps other than what the USMC trains to.

      (I don’t watch any of the tv news people, please leave me out of that. I’ve been worried about these precise points for several years.)

      • hijean831 says:

        But those capabilities erode by the year.

        Disagree as to the speed of capability erosion. Manufacturing is manufacturing – there may be new machinery and/or processes, but someone who understands ‘the business’ probably pays attention to those changes, and even if not, wouldn’t take much time to come up to speed.

        And it won’t take a demographic generation for the Wackenhut boyz to be trained in-house, where the focus of their training can be controlled to something perhaps other than what the USMC trains to.

        Only to the extent they take over training FOR the military. Until then, I expect it’s part of their model to have the taxpayer pick up the tab. Atrocities scandals belie the need to train out human rights sensibilities – the folks they’ll attract won’t need it, those that would are hardly likely to pursue careers with them.

        • oldnslow says:

          Disagree as to the speed of capability erosion. Manufacturing is manufacturing – there may be new machinery and/or processes, but someone who understands ‘the business’ probably pays attention to those changes, and even if not, wouldn’t take much time to come up to speed.

          You are incorrect.

            • oldnslow says:

              Making things is not like any other job. Manufacturing, especially complex, multi-system multi-function things, is never cut and dried. Developement of proccesses and techniques can take years. It is not a light switch you can just turn on. People to nurture the developement are not plug and play replacable. It takes years to make a good machinist or a good manufacturing engineer

              • hijean831 says:

                Agreed. I’m saying those years of knowledge don’t go out the window overnight, you’re making MY point.

                In case I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t claiming that new high school or even college grads could leap in to fill a manufacturing breach (not that there wouldn’t be entry-level roles), I’m saying that we have a boatload of knowledge that’s being marginalized, when not ignored altogether.

        • PJEvans says:

          We don’t have the tools or the knowledge to build a Saturn-5 any more. (The people who did that are all long retired, if not dead.) So we’re not going back to the moon with an American-built rocket.

          With a lot of technical stuff, if you don’t use it all the time, or pretty nearly, you lose the skills and the knowledge fast.

      • hijean831 says:

        we’re really losing the know-how at this point, at least per some studies

        I’d be interested to know what leads to those conclusions. Supposedly we’ve lost 40k manufactories in just the last decade, the lost jobs would include entire org charts – doesn’t mean those folks have forgotten how. Nor that we couldn’t relearn it.

  9. Knut says:

    In some ways the ‘decline’ in manufacturing as popularly conceived is a false problem with respect to national security, just like the so-called ‘decline’ in productivity. We no longer fight massive land wars that require oodles of manufactured trucks, tanks, munitions, etc., to win. So from that perspective, whether we have the capacity to produce them or not is irrelevant to national security. What is relevant to national security is declining standards of education, declining social cohesion — due in large part to the predatory actions of the rich on the middle and lower classes — and the absence of policies that are specifically designed to yield full employment and produce the kind of goods that people desperately need (like health-care).

    Under the circumstances, the best security would be to try to stay out of wars altogether. We haven’t won any to speak of since 1945.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, even on telecom we’re falling behind. It’s not just about building tanks. You’ve got to manufacture phones and computers and chips and whatnot, and we’re doing increasingly little of all of that.

      • TobyWollin says:

        And when you don’t, that means that there are fewer and fewer places for people like engineers and technicians to work and create new products too, which means that there is less and less incentive for smart clever American youngsters to go that route. and considering that for many many bright kids from the lower end of the food chain, engineering and other technical areas which pay well straight out of a BS program was the way OUT, this is just one more way people at the bottom…stay at the bottom.

        • oldnslow says:

          We have stopped training engineers and scientists. An engineer knows very little out of school. Takes about 4-6 years or so with a really good mentor to be a good engineer. U.S. manufacturing has shelved those people. The keepers of the institutinal knowledge, without whom the organization withers and dies, were the first laid-off in the name of short-term profit. These take generations to grow.

          If you don’t make anything, where will you get bullets when you need to fight? Your enemy? Probably not a viable plan.

          • darms says:

            Likewise we’re losing essential blue-collar skills like welders, machinists, tool & die makers, even the capacity to make the machine tools themselves here in the US. These skills cannot be taught per se, only the basics. They take years of hands-on experience to do well.

  10. bailey2739 says:

    Business in the post-industrial world IS worthy of great argument. But, until someone sees a way to make money from it I’m afraid the force of the pendulum will overwhelm discussion.

  11. BMcGarth says:

    Bet ya Bill Clinton ain’t worried ……Bill left the WH without having so much as the down payment for his Westchester county Home(NY).

    Now Bill Clinton along with properties is worth over 100 million bucks…..I guess the gift of outsourcing to the corporations helped some.

    This is the elephant in the room that folks are ignoring.

    And he ain’t the only one folks… sickening.

  12. jedimsnbcko19 says:

    The only issue in the USA has been the Economy.

    the OBAMA CON GAME can’t hide the facts below:

    Info from Economy In Crisis

    Deindustrialization is creating ghost towns in some areas of the United States. Even some of America’s biggest cities are now only a shadow of what they used to be. Since 1950, the population of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has declined by more than 50 percent. In Dayton, Ohio 18.9 percent of all houses now stand empty.

    third world nations are not super powers! people (some say the USA is already a 3rd world nation, we have the economy of one)

    2 fact
    The U.S. trade deficit continues to grow. The trade deficit was about 33 percent larger in 2010 than it was in 2009, and the 2011 trade deficit is expected to be even bigger.

    most people don’t know this fact, if the USA got in a major war, they would have to hope and pray that chinese made parts for our ships, fighter jets etc. (do you still think the USA is a super power?)

    #5 Due to rampant economic decay and record numbers of foreclosures there are areas in most of our major cities that now look like “war zones”. For example, the Huffington Post is reporting that there are now approximately 15,000 vacant buildings in the city of Chicago and there are approximately 60,000 vacant houses and apartments in the city of Las Vegas.

    USA major cities do a good job of hiding the deep poverty that taking over the USA. U don’t have to leave the USA to visit the 3rd world, just go across town.

    OBAMA Hoover economic policies are not working.

    the WH is not fooling anyone, no president should expect to win a re-election when his nation has sky high un-employment

  13. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Which is why I’m happy to learn that the intelligence community is assessing whether the decline in manufacturing in the US represents a national security threat.


  14. speakingupnow says:

    Decreased manufacturing results in fewer innovations (by the country no longer manufacturing).

    Why? Because often the best ideas for improving products or a completely new but “better” product come directly from those who work with the product daily.

  15. one_outer says:

    I’ll wager that this won’t matter to the PTB. If we’ve learned anything in the past decade it’s probably that these bozos aren’t capable of thinking even six months ahead.

    This is how oligarchies fall apart. They shoot themselves in the foot through their own arrogant ignorance. I vote for no one does anything about manufacturing and the military suffers. W/E, at least then we won’t be sponsoring the world’s largest terrorist organization anymore.

  16. nonpartisanliberal says:

    National security? All our real enemies are in Washington, D.C. and the state capitals.

    • dakine01 says:

      Back when I worked DoD projects, the definition of “American made” was then only 51% of an item had to be made in the US to be considered American made so that F15 is probably allowed to trumpet that it is American Made and do so without any problems

  17. donbacon says:

    we’re going to have problems sustaining our military machine.

    That’s actually a good thing, isn’t it.

  18. Synoia says:

    You worry too much about the outsourcing.

    With the Wall St Money Machine we can make all the money we need to buy those expensive machines for war, with the MIC’s outsourced factories.

    How will we get the money from Wall St? Taxes, by rising taxes…, rasing taxes? On Wall St? Oh shit.

  19. koppie59 says:

    Years ago an author, Kevin Phillips, wrote a book and pointed out that when a country loses it’s manufacturing base the great decline begins.

  20. Tina O says:

    hey there mr president, we don’t like this way of life, a way of life that has become cheap. I have much more within my heart then to let yall get away this, US criminallity.

    Love always,


  21. Deep Harm says:

    I have no doubt that the Big Money is interested in restoring manufacturing capability in America NOW…now that wages have been driven into the basement…now that bargaining rights are an endangered right…now that their tax rate is next to nothing or nothing at all…now that Obama has agreed to revisit federal regulations. Finally, they have what they wanted all along; never mind the consequences of their scheme for national security, the economy and everyone else.

  22. selise says:

    via warren mosler: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen: national debt the greatest national security threat

    “Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen has described our national debt as the greatest national security threat facing our nation, and it’s easy to see why: The world’s biggest debtor nation cannot remain the world’s sole superpower indefinitely.”

    warren sez:”The larger threat to our national security and well being in general comes from the likes of Mullen actually believing that nonsense.”