America’s armed forces are the most powerful on earth. While other countries can boast significant ground forces and nuclear capabilities, the factor that separates the United States and places her at the top of the military food chain is the United States Navy.
With a total of 24 total aircraft carriers, 19 more than the next closest country (Italy), and as many as 15 more in the planning phases, a continued commitment to the conditions that fostered this extraordinary advantage in military mobility is crucial. That commitment begins with defending the Jones Act against the recent slew of off the mark critiques lobbed against it, especially in the wake of the devastating 2017 hurricane season and its effects on Puerto Rico.
Many on the Right, including noted columnist George Will, have attempted to marginalize the importance of the Jones Act. Will wrote in National Review that, “Spurious ‘national security’ concerns tend to descend into slapstick.”
On the contrary, the Jones Act is key to maintaining many economic and manufacturing advantages against an increasingly influential China. Just last year, China’s Tsingshan Group, the world’s largest steel manufacturer, struck a controversial deal with U.S.-based stainless-steel manufacturer Allegheny Technology Incorporated (ATI).
The deal came together quietly, with many American observers now looking for answers from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as to how and why a heavily subsidized Chinese company could receive such advantageous treatment. But to see China’s attempt to further deepen its influence and increase America’s dependence on its supply chain of raw materials should not come as a shock considering the massive trade imbalances and unchecked and repeated abuses in intellectual property theft, espionage, and cyber-crimes carried out by the Chinese against the United States in recent history.
At its core, the Jones Act mandates that all goods, including those needed to carry out military operations, must be transported by water between U.S. ports on U.S. flagged ships that are constructed in the United States and owned by U.S. citizens. They must also be manned by U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.
That is a good thing for American workers in the shipbuilding, shipping, and general maritime industry as it protects their roles from the job-crushing outsourcing that exists in so many other industries.
The Jones Act also has positive effects elsewhere in the American economy. The Foundation of the U.S. Domestic Maritime Industry estimates the Jones Act contributes $100 billion to the economy, including $29 billion in annual wages as well as the creation of 500,000 jobs—one shipyard job is estimated to create four others across other corresponding industries in the economy.
It can be argued that in light of Tsingshan Group’s deal with ATI, perhaps some expansion of the Jones Act may be in order. If the worst-case scenario of a massive global conflict presents itself down the road, the United States faces a logistical nightmare should our opponent in any aggression be a country relied upon by the United States for the raw materials needed.
In other words, if China decides to “cut off” America in the case of total war, the United States would need to rely further on its domestic raw materials industry that saw an almost 5 percent spike in shipments in 2018 as a result of President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum.
The issue of reliance on foreign production of raw materials should also receive increased scrutiny in light of last month’s cyber-attack against Norsk Hydro, a raw materials producer that boasts the 10th-largest output of aluminum in the world. The attack was carried out via ransomware known as LockerGoga.
Moreover, the importance of domestic raw materials production should also be highlighted as America eventually moves towards another round of major infrastructure spending. With the possibility of a $1 trillion bill materializing during the current legislative session, it would behoove the Trump Administration to keep the monies allocated for the raw materials needed to rebuild America actually in America.
Whether through ignorance or a lack of foresight, voices critical of the Jones Act have clearly missed the point. Our national security needs are promoted by the Jones Act now more than ever.
Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images