As a brigadier general with a 30-year career in the U.S. Army, national security is my number one concern. On 9/11, while serving at the Pentagon as deputy director for european policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, I participated in immediate disaster recovery operations at ground zero and saw firsthand the threats posed to U.S. national security interests by countries that don’t share American values.
In recent years, I authored a study on the military’s growing and dangerous reliance on foreign nations for the raw materials, parts and finished products needed to defend the United States. Among the materials that I studied were alumina and bauxite, concluding that America’s growing reliance on imports of these and other materials is a threat to U.S. national security. I also participated in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 investigation into aluminum imports and the need to ensure that the U.S. aluminum industry remains viable to support the nation’s national security needs.
Today, the 50th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, members of Congress, union leaders and I gathered to discuss this clear and present danger to U.S. national security. The current state of the domestic primary aluminum industry is simply unsustainable from a national security perspective. In the Middle East, Russia, and Asian countries both inside and outside of China, the governments have stepped in to illegally subsidize their own domestic aluminum producers.
Since 2009, during a period in which global aluminum prices have come under pressure, state-owned smelters outside of China in the Middle East, Russia and Asia added 17 million metric tons of new capacity. During that same period time, our aluminum industry has played by the rules and that has resulted in a nearly 60 percent reduction in U.S. primary aluminum capacity and in the loss of more than 4,000 American jobs.
Aside from the significant numbers of jobs lost, U.S. producers of finished products that are directly used in U.S. military and critical infrastructure are becoming increasingly dependent on imports. High-purity, American-made aluminum is used in defense platforms including F-35, F-18 and F-16 fighter jets and other military aircraft, littoral combat ships, armor for the light tactical vehicle program, tank hulls, missile structures and more. Yet, this vital material is only produced in one remaining smelter in the United States, producing at only 40 percent capacity and under great economic pressure to compete with Chinese dumping. U.S. primary aluminum producers have lost nearly 100 percent of their high-purity sales to suppliers in Russia and the Middle East.
In April 2017, President Trump and his administration announced the Section 232 investigation, leaving hope for impactful policy change. This little-known provision, carried out under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, would allow President Trump to “adjust imports” that threaten to undermine national security. The U.S. Department of Commerce is soon expected to take the next steps forward as part of the long-awaited Section 232 investigation into the national security threat of aluminum imports. Following on from this, President Trump will have 90 days to decide a course of action based on Secretary Wilbur Ross’s recommendations, a decision that could save the jobs of thousands of aluminum workers.
I urge President Trump to take immediate action on this issue and impose meaningful relief for America’s aluminum industry. Global overcapacity threatens America’s ability to protect the homeland and develop weapons and military technology that keeps us safe. We can no longer delay safeguarding these critical industries and we must act now. America’s industry will not survive the time it takes to coordinate and develop a multinational response. Significant comprehensive relief across all aluminum imports is needed to restart idled production for the approximately 70 percent of U.S. smelters that have been forced to close their doors in the past decade.
It’s an issue that transcends party lines. Illegally-subsidized foreign aluminum is distorting global pricing and flooding American marketplaces, driving down domestic prices, depleting production, and forcing manufacturing facilities across the nation to close their doors. Relief is needed and needed soon to ensure that this historic and vital American industry can stay afloat. Relief against China alone won’t revitalize the industry.
The collapse in the price of primary aluminum is due to rampant global overcapacity inside and outside of China driven principally by government subsidization of state-owned-enterprises. State-owned smelters outside of China are equally distortive as the highly-distorted Chinese smelters. Market-based players in the United States are forced to bear the brunt of these government interventions in the market.
Imagine a world where we are 100 percent dependent on China, the United Arab Emirates and Russia to equip our armed forces and build critical infrastructure. We need broad and effective relief to protect thousands of American jobs and ensure that the U.S. primary aluminum industry will continue to play a vital role in U.S. national security. Now is the time for decisive action. The U.S. military, along with communities across the country, are anxiously awaiting President Trump’s Section 232 decision on aluminum as we work together to keep America safe.
Brigadier General John Adams retired from the U.S. Army in 2007. His final assignment was as deputy U.S. military representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military committee. He is the author of “Remaking American Security” and the president of Guardian Six Consulting.