Responding to Defense Dependence: Policy Ideas and the American Defense Industrial Base

By Erik R. Pages | Go to book overview

1
Sounding the Alarm: Recognizing Defense Dependence

In 1980, a House Armed Services Committee report reached the following conclusion:

There has been a serious decline in the nation's defense industrial capability that places our national security in jeopardy. An alarming erosion of crucial industrial elements, coupled with a mushrooming dependence on foreign sources for critical materials is endangering our defense posture at its very foundation. 1

This congressional report was one of the first official recognitions of serious deficiencies in the American defense industrial base (DIB). 2 A number of factors contributed to the committee's alarm, but growing foreign dependence raised the most concern. The United States had relied on its superior industrial might to prevail in previous conflicts, especially in World Wars I and II. By the 1980s, as more and more weapons systems became dependent on foreign parts or technology, observers feared that this industrial strength might not be available to support U.S. troops in future contingencies. Among the industries considered to be affected by dependence were microelectronics, ferroalloys, machine tools, ball bearings, industrial fasteners, and advanced ceramics. 3 For example, import shares in the machine tool and anti-friction bearing industries rose in the 1980s to respective levels of at least 50 and 80 percent. 4

This research seeks to explain U.S. government responses to this turn of events. It does so by testing the utility of realist approaches in explaining American defense industrial base policy in the 1980s. It examines the importance of relative gains considerations in influencing U.S. policymakers' perceptions of the competitiveness of the American industrial base. This study further examines methods for integrating realism's emphasis on relative gains with concepts derived from the literature on agenda setting and the impact of policy ideas. In particular, it introduces concepts from the literature on policy learning as a means to help explain changes in U.S.

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