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US is showing renewed enthusiasm for economic warfare

Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Under U.S. President Donald Trump, we’re increasingly seeing warfare being boiled down to its essence: economics.

Let’s face it: All warfare involving America has an economic impetus. If national security was really the primary consideration, there would be fewer wars, and they’d end more quickly.

The idea of having to go to the other side of the planet to eradicate terrorists so they don’t come to America is nonsense. If you don’t want terrorists to come, don’t let them in. And if terrorist eradication was the real objective, the mission would involve identifying and liquidating them — not hanging around building new bases and embassies in their vicinity, then whining that they’re still a threat a couple of decades later.

Traditionally, economic development within the security complex has been more closely associated with intelligence work and the CIA than with the Pentagon. Although, much like in the TV series “Jack Ryan,” based on the popular Tom Clancy novels, the CIA treats economic intelligence like a second-class citizen.

In the series, Jack Ryan is a former Marine who’s injured in battle, gets a doctorate in economics and joins the CIA as an economic specialist in the National Counterterrorism Center. Ryan struggles to earn respect from his colleagues since the culture of CIA historically leans towards geopolitical intel and away from economics.

The reason for this is mostly self-serving. If the CIA focused more on generating new business and revenue rather than on its paramilitary role, it would have trouble justifying its bottomless budgets.

Under President Bill Clinton, that policy shifted. The Clinton administration was big on trade agreements, with Clinton notably signing the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (which created the World Trade Organization). To that end, the administration was interested in economic intelligence that could help shape a strategy to lock in trade agreements despite unreadable opposition.

For instance, in 1993, France under President Francois Mitterrand was blocking ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in the days leading up to the vote. The CIA mounted an economic espionage and influence operation that was detected by French domestic intelligence and ended with several CIA officers and the chief of station expelled from France.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA reverted back to more traditional, non-economic espionage and a more paramilitary role. But now Trump seems interested in once again waging economic warfare.

One of the Pentagon’s new missions is to work with other federal departments to secure sources for the minerals used in weapons production, circumventing China’s monopoly on them. After all, it’s difficult to put the screws to China on trade when the Chinese own a critical part of your defense supply chain.

Limiting foreign participation in U.S. technology companies is another part of the new Pentagon strategy. Last month, Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, announced a new program to “convene trusted sources of private capital with innovative companies critical to defense industrial base and national security.” Lord warned that Chinese investment in American high-tech is a potential threat to national security.

“China is increasingly attempting to erase research and development gains by leveraging and manipulating economic tools, like investment in U.S. companies with technology critical to our national security,” Lord said.

While the new program is seemingly good idea on the surface, the risk is that a closed market of handpicked investors could become a haven for crony capitalism. If the objective is to prevent adversaries from obtaining U.S. national security technology, well … that horse has long since bolted from the barn.

In 2013, the head of exports for the Israeli Defense Ministry resigned after the U.S. discovered that the missile defense technology it had passed to Israel was subsequently sold to China — leaving open the possibility that it could be sold to North Korea, Iran or any other nation.

Defense-grade cyber-spying technology has also escaped into the wild. Reuters reported earlier this year that former U.S. intelligence operatives working for the United Arab Emirates used a sophisticated spying tool to monitor targets by hacking into their iPhones. The targets were people who had been critical of the UAE.

It’s also alarming that U.S.-made weapons shipped to the Saudis and Emiratis for the war Yemen are reportedly being captured by Iran-linked Houthi fighters.

America’s national security was long ago sold to the highest bidder, and the world is now full of former U.S. defense and intelligence operatives willing to sell their skills and experience for profit. Economic intelligence is critical, but using it strictly for national security rather than for economic development is misguided.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.