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Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

Posted December 05, 2008 3:00 PM by Steve Melito

While driving to work in my American-built car this morning, I listened to the latest radio reports about the sad state of the U.S. auto industry. Like you, I hoped to hear something new about the proposed $34-billion bailout. First, there were the requisite remarks about how the heads of the Big Three had driven to Washington for Congressional hearings, leaving their corporate jets behind. Next, there was talk about how some of these Michigan millionaires were now dollar-a-year men. Finally, there was a discussion about how an auto-industry bankruptcy would ruin the American economy.

Then the story got interesting.

Not the Arsenal of Democracy

In a radio interview with NPR's Renee Montagne, Retired Lt. Col. Dakota Wood of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA) punched through some rust spots in a secondary – but very important – argument in Detroit's defense. The Big Three believes that it's a vital part of U.S. national security. As Chrysler Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli warned a Senate committee on November 18, "the crippling" of the American auto industry "would undermine our nation's ability to respond to military challenges and would threaten our national security."

So let's join Dakota Wood on a tour of some facts. For the record, the CBSA is not part of the U.S. government. Rather, it is a self-described "independent, non-partisan research institute" whose mission is "to promote innovative thinking and debate about national security strategy and investment options."

According to Lt. Col. Wood, Detroit's Big Three no longer build tanks, planes, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs), Navy ships, or even Humvees. Instead, military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Oshkosh Corporation build the vehicles and military systems that America uses to fight and win wars. "Defense gear has become so specialized," Wood explains, that "an entire industry is now specialized in making it". The days when "you could take a truck and beef it up" – a common practice during World War II – are over.

An Industrial Insurance Policy?

Does America need an industrial insurance policy, however? According to Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, another Washington-area think tank, the answer is "yes". As Mr. Thompson explains, "we don't have a big enough defense industry" to rapidly increase production of military vehicles in the event of a national emergency. "We would have to turn to Detroit to do it," he explains. Thompson also warns that a bankrupt American auto industry would weaken the manufacturing sectors that supply steel, chemicals, and electronics.

"There is no country in the last 200 years that has managed to be a major power that did not have a strong manufacturing sector," adds Loren Thompson. "The argument that the world has changed forever and we don't need a manufacturing base is naive. I hope we don't follow through on this logic and end up losing a war."

So what do you think?

Resources:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97843617

http://www.csbaonline.org/2006-1/index.shtml#

http://lexingtoninstitute.org/mission.shtml

http://wiki.gmnext.com/wiki/index.php/GMC_Trucks_Helped_Win_World_War_II

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Anonymous Poster
#1

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/06/2008 12:12 AM

Given the shortage of armored Humvees for the toops in Iraq, it is obvious that the current Auto industry or even the suppliers (Tier 1 or 2) are capable of rapid shift into military equipment manufacturing. Why Chrysler did not go back into making tanks, given that they do not make money making cars? Perhaps it is a question for DOD purchasing (I guess they call it appropriation). The "bailout" could be tied into making special military hardware at lower price than the current cost-plus suppliers. Good for the military and for auto survival, eh? And... the surest way to repay the tax dollars...

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#2

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/06/2008 9:09 PM

Moose,

It would be interesting to find out why the big three no longer produce military vehicles.

One can speculate all sorts of reasons but it doesn't make much sense to me.

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#3

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/06/2008 11:11 PM

It might be the military does not trust the UAW to not strike when they put in an order. Or maybe the industrial war machine wants it's payback for lobby donations.

I know either way the soldier and the tax payer are still coming out short.

Brad

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#4

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/07/2008 1:26 AM

Hey Moose -

I heard the same thing you did on NPR. It's still not clear to me exactly how Detroit's big three would help in a time of all-out-war like we had during WWII.

However, I also heard Ralph Nader defending the bailout, on CBC's Sunday Edition program, for national security reasons, which is pretty amazing, considering his history with GM going back to the early 70's (which included testifying before congress against them). Ralph feels we need to maintain the big three to continue giving Japan competition.

Seems like re-tooling Detroit, Tom Friedman style, producing wind turbines and solar panels, might make more long-term sense for everyone, but I don't hear anyone talking about this yet in a serious way in congress.

I know from personal experience we already rely for national defense on foreign countries like France and Germany for specialty metals products, because our own capacity to do this is gone, and partly because the Euro-folks protected their "critical" industries from foreign competition with subsidies when cheaper manufacturers entered the markets in the 90's.

- Larry

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Anonymous Poster
#6
In reply to #4

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/08/2008 12:29 PM

Ralph Nader on the side of the auto industry - what strange bed fellows...

Travis

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#5

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/07/2008 8:38 PM

If the same management make tanks and vehicles for your troops i would fear for their lives but the CEO's could have bigger private jets offcourse

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#7

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/20/2008 10:58 AM

Interesting to say the least.

Problem is that modern warfare is done by remote control, as in gulf war one and two. the troops one went in after the opposing force was pummeled to the point they couldn't surrender fast enough. Ground troops have turned into a police force, the current occupation is a classic case of how not to do it, someone forgot to win over the populace. on the other hand, how does one determine who the enemy is if everyone dress the same?

Back to the original line of thinking, a strong industrial base provides tax revenue for spending on a strong military, without one you can't fund the other. What is required is a change in foreign policy so the requirement to pummel someone who has a different opinion isn't required.

The actual chance of another conventional war on the scale of the one that the big three were legislated into helping with is about as slim as cold fusion working out.

Someone very elequently put is recently the failure of the big three is actually a 40 year car wreck and anybody who has closly followed the history of the big three can tell you the solution is actually very simple. Unfortunatly for us whatever is implamented will be rife with political patronage and pork barreling and in the end nothing will be acomplished. Ford will survive more or less as it is GM and Chrysler will merge into somthing new, ten go through a chapert 11 or similar process and emerge as somthing different. Over paid managers and the bean counters who screwed up everything will all bet bonuses and continue to dictate what people want, nothing will change in the reality we call the North American Auto industry. Sad really.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/20/2008 12:47 PM

Well that's pretty much it, but do you have to be so blunt? A 40 year car wreck is pretty well put.

How do we wreck thee? Shall I list the ways? Let's see.

1) (not listed in order of importance) Outsourcing

2) Big Unions

3) Bigger Corporations

4) Government interference

5) Lack of government interference

6) Public acceptance of whatever the add agencies sell them

7) Madison Avenue

8) Wall Street

9) Greed

10) Corruption

11) Appathy

12) Arrogance

I could go on but it's Christmas time and I want to be a good Grinch.

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Anonymous Poster
#10
In reply to #8

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/20/2008 1:40 PM

oops forgot to log in so I appeared as a guest, silly me.

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/25/2008 10:44 PM

What do you suppose is China's bid to control or manage the GM/Chrysler debacle?

Oh if it weren't for our national security interest China may bid?

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Anonymous Poster
#12
In reply to #11

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/25/2008 11:31 PM

China already hold so much US debt they essential control things in any case. they could hardly do a worse job with GM.

Funny thing, for years everyone decried China being the big nasty, controlled everyone's lives, not being part of the world economy. Now they are experiencing the wonders of capitalism, people have more freedoms now than ever, just what people here wanted, but no one wanted to have to compete. What did people expect would happen?

Ever been to a dollar store? where does all that junk come from, and the outcry if one was to close...

Can't have things both ways, and if you are old enough, you may recall the same things being said about Japan in the 60s and 70s unfair competition, killing the market place.

To be competitive, major corporations have to think long term, not just to the next fiscal quarters results, get the accountants back to accounting and out of the cooperate board rooms. Put people in charge that actually have vision, those who can think for themselves and not worry about the bottom line this quarter or even this fiscal. Can't happen you say! What about Microsoft, Virgin, Tata, Sony, just to name a few.

Time to look outward, not inward, forget protectionism for failing ideas and become competative.

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/26/2008 1:15 AM

Well said...

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Anonymous Poster
#14
In reply to #13

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/26/2008 1:23 AM

thank you.

now if I could just get a job, but not much out there for out of the box people over 50.

Guest 12

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Anonymous Poster
#9

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/20/2008 1:34 PM

thank you, I appreciate the accolades.

I should maybe post my view of what has happened and how fix the problem, and maybe I will if I can find the time.

The whole thing (Big Three) has been so screwed up over the years, but the solution is so eloquently simple, problem is, no one would dare to do it.

I get a giggle over the Auto Czar thing as well, probably pick someone who has raised to his level of incompetence to head up the whole thing rather than a 'Car Guy' who may actually have some new and innovative ideas.

I wish I knew who to call to offer my plan, getting through to anyone is next to imposable, and the few congressman's staff i did manage to contact seemed to be totally clueless. The responses I have received are an amazing collection of platitudes and meaningless babble, how do these people get a position of responsibility?

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#15

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

12/26/2008 1:31 AM

What do I think?

Does Detriot matter to U.S. national security? NO!

What I think is that if GM and Chrysler tanked the remaining auto makers be they of U.S. origin or not would replace them and the supporting economies may be better for it.

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Anonymous Poster
#16

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

01/09/2009 12:37 AM

"We don't have a big enough defense industry," Thompson says. "If there was an emergency and we had to surge production of military vehicles, we would have to turn to Detroit to do it."

==>> http://www.nopycars.com

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Does Detroit Matter to U.S. National Security?

01/09/2009 10:36 AM

The question is will we get what we paid for or bent over the barrel and sent Hummers without armor?

How many died from no armor because of GM's greed? Is that not treason?

Brad

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