President Biden’s just announced $2 trillion infrastructure plan is long overdue. Our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and critical industries need investment. On his trip to Steel City, President Biden announced The American Jobs Plan that will create new inclusive good-paying jobs as we rebuild our great nation.
As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must recognize the strategic importance of maintaining specific U.S. industries that are critical to our national and economic security. As part of President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, we must support domestic manufacturing industries like aluminum and steel that produce the raw materials necessary to rebuild America’s infrastructure.
In recent years, I authored a study on the military’s dangerous reliance on foreign nations for the raw materials and finished products needed to protect the United States. As a military leader, I know that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world largely due to our ability to manufacture the critical components that support our brave men and women in uniform, right here in the United States. A notable example is the dependence of our military aircraft and armored vehicles on our domestic production of high purity aluminum. As a U.S. Army Aviator during the 1980s, I saw firsthand the importance of aluminum in providing the lightweight strength essential to my aircraft’s wings in high-stress flight maneuvers.
We cannot rely on geopolitical rivals for the raw materials and critical components essential to U.S. national security. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that America must maintain control over critical supply chain such as pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and critical metals such as steel and aluminum. COVID has disrupted global supply chains on a wide range of goods, from automobiles to semi-conductors, as well as hindered global transportation networks.
Consider the ongoing disruption in COVID vaccine supply as European governments are refusing to allow vaccine exports to other countries. It is no stretch to imagine a similar situation; if the U.S. had to acquire high purity aluminum from Russia or the Middle East during a crisis, would they deny us the materials? The national security implications are obvious.
Indeed, over the past decade, our domestic aluminum industry has already borne the brunt of rampant overproduction in China, Russia, India, and the Middle East, as these strategic competitors cemented dominance of global steel and aluminum markets. The excess capacity and overproduction by these geopolitical rivals has devastated global prices for aluminum. Because aluminum is a globally traded commodity, however, pricing reflects the effects of the global overproduction regardless of the source of the aluminum; geopolitical rival or ally it does not matter.
The good news is that the Section 232 tariffs are working and are allowing our aluminum and steel industries to weather the worst of the global excess capacity crisis and are keeping our aluminum and steel industries viable, while allowing us to protect U.S. national security interests and create new American manufacturing jobs. The Section 232 tariffs, 10% on aluminum and 25% on steel, must remain in place so that we maintain supply chains critical for U.S. national security and can rebuild America’s infrastructure.
Our very national security and prosperity would be jeopardized if America is dependent on Russia, China, India, and the Middle East for aluminum that is needed to rebuild America’s infrastructure. When the Section 232 program was allowed to work effectively, U.S. primary aluminum production increased by over 50%, alongside an increase in downstream production and the creation of thousands of new aluminum jobs.
With only six U.S. aluminum smelters remaining, we’ve fallen a long way since 2000 when the United States was the largest producer of primary aluminum in the world, making it all the more urgent that the Biden Administration continue to protect U.S. aluminum production and thousands of good paying inclusive jobs.
There will be no Building Back Better without the supply chains needed to support infrastructure investment and sustain our defense industrial base. When it comes to rebuilding America’s infrastructure, U.S. aluminum and steel have an essential role to play in rebuilding America. Under President Biden’s leadership, we can create tens of thousands of new good paying middle-class-inclusive manufacturing jobs and use “Made in America” raw materials to rebuild America.
As we Build Back Better after the COVID-19 pandemic and President Biden pushes forward with his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, we must recognize the importance of supporting strategic domestic industries that have an important role in protecting U.S. national and economic security.
John Adams, a U.S. Army general, served more than 30 years’ active duty as an aviator and military intelligence officer. 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.”