Follow us on social

Shutterstock_1688164231-scaled

Surprise: China COMPETES bill is boon for military spending

Legislation set for debate this week goes way beyond semiconductors and uses paranoia over not 'keeping up' to get more money for defense.

Analysis | Reporting | Military Industrial Complex

This week, the House of Representatives considers legislation that would authorize hundreds of billions of dollars in new federal spending on supply chains, research, foreign affairs initiatives, and more.

Though this bill, the America COMPETES Act, has been framed as an alternative to similar legislation passed by the Senate last year to address domestic semiconductor manufacturing, the massive America COMPETES bill could actually pave the way for increased military spending in the years ahead.

National security and competition with China are a major part of the messaging around the bill, with both President Biden and key Congressional Democrats framing America COMPETES as a way to "combat" or “outcompete” China. Now to be clear, China’s “state-led efforts to develop an indigenous, vertically integrated semiconductor industry, unprecedented in scope and scale” may be of legitimate concern to Members of Congress and the Biden administration. But it is worth noting that in 2019 China ranked only fourth in the world in semiconductor fabrication capacity, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Three U.S. allies — South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan — combined to compose 5.5 times the “fab” capacity of China.

Nevertheless, Division A of the America COMPETES Act — and its parent legislation, the CHIPS for America Act, which was included in the fiscal year (FY) 2021 defense policy bill — is framed around “national security” and the threats posed by China. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned upon introduction of the CHIPS for America Act in June 2020 that the “Chinese Communist Party aims to dominate the entire semiconductor supply chain.”

Lawmakers have been sufficiently spooked to authorize $54 billion in semiconductor (or ‘chip’) spending under the America COMPETES Act, for domestic semiconductor incentive programs already approved by law under CHIPS for America. That may be small compared to the likely FY 2022 military budget of $740 billion, but it’s no small potatoes.

The military also directly benefits from the chips largesse in America COMPETES. The Department of Defense, a likely beneficiary of significant budget increases this fiscal year, receives $2 billion under America COMPETES to “establish a public-private partnership” to “incentivize the formation of one or more consortia” to “ensure the development and production” of “secure microelectronics.” (I’ll pause while you wrap your head around the layers of bureaucracy Congress is setting up here; it took me awhile.)

For some, that additional $2 billion for the military (on top of the $25 billion budget boost they’re likely to receive when Congress finally figures out appropriations for FY 2022) is actually not enough. Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) has a proposed amendment to the legislation that would have the Secretary of Defense identify “additional military funding [needed] to effectively respond” to China’s military. Rep. Fallon’s amendment would also include a “certification” — a professional and Congressional word for “complaint” — that America COMPETES provides no funding for the Department of Defense “to carry out military operations to counter the People’s Republic of China.”

Despite complaints from Rep. Fallon and other House Republicans that the bill doesn’t include enough funding for the military, these defense hawks may get their wish in due time. Multiple sections of the bill, and at least one proposed amendment, could pave the way for more military spending down the road. Allow me to take you on a brief tour of this military-adjacent language:

Section 10224 contains no funding but requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish a “program for AI [artificial intelligence]-enabled defense research.”

Section 30210 asks the Secretaries of Defense and State to “present a plan for strengthening the community of civilian defense professionals in Taiwan” (this is the section Rep. Fallon would amend, asking the military to tell Congress how much money the military wants to respond to China’s military).

Section 30222 authorizes $225 million over five years for State Department international military education and training (IMET) programs.

Section 30224 asks the Secretaries of State and Defense to expand programs that “provide capabilities to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region” (this includes support for providing “air and missile defense systems,” “anti-ship cruise missiles,” “land attack cruise missiles,” and “long-range precision fires” missiles to Indo-Pacific allies).

Section 30247 authorizes $67.5 million over five years for the “International Military Education and Training Program” in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Section 30261 calls for “deepen[ing] bilateral defense consultations” with India.

Section 30263 asks the Secretaries of Defense and State to “develop a multi-year strategy” for supporting “U.S. interests” in the Indian Ocean.

Section 30299E calls on the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security to report on how the U.S. can “provide assistance” and build “capacity” of civilian and national security institutions in the Pacific Islands.

Furthermore, a proposed amendment from Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) would authorize $655 million in five-year funding for foreign military financing assistance in the Indo-Pacific region and $40 million for a “pilot program” that would have countries enter into foreign military financing compacts with the U.S.

I don’t include any of the above provisions to suggest they are wholly good or wholly bad. Many of the countries referenced above have important economic, diplomatic, and/or security relationships with the United States, and several (like Taiwan) have to deal with aggression and interference in their affairs from China.

But beware when the reports and requests outlined above are submitted by military officials to members of Congress in the months and years ahead. The common thread through all could be requests for more funding, more programs, more personnel, more weapons, and more goods for the U.S. military. And in that way, the America COMPETES bill is more than just a monster bill that will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars now. It may increase the military budget far into the future.

(fotogrin/shutterstock)
Analysis | Reporting | Military Industrial Complex
||
Diplomacy Watch: A peace summit without Russia
Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war — and the peace

Diplomacy Watch: How close were Russia and Ukraine to a deal in 2022?

QiOSK

The RAND corporation’s Samuel Charap and Johns Hopkins University professor Sergey Radchenko published a detailed timeline and analysis of the talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators just after the Russian invasion in February 2022 that could have brought the war to an end just weeks after it had begun.

Much of the piece confirms or elucidates parts of the narrative that had previously been reported. In the spring of 2022, the two sides appeared relatively close to a deal, one that, according to the authors, would “have ended the war and provided Ukraine with multilateral security guarantees, paving the way to its permanent neutrality and, down the road, its membership in the EU.”

keep readingShow less
Blinken ignores State recommendation to sanction Israeli units: Report
L-R: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after their meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on Monday, January 30, 2023. DEBBIE HILL/Pool via REUTERS

Blinken ignores State recommendation to sanction Israeli units: Report

QiOSK

State Department leadership is ignoring a recommendation from an internal panel to stop giving weapons to several Israeli military and police units due to credible allegations of serious human rights abuses, according to a major new report from ProPublica.

The alleged violations, which occurred before the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, include extrajudicial killings, sexual assault of a detainee, and leaving an elderly Palestinian man to die after handcuffing and gagging him. Secretary of State Antony Blinken received the recommendation in December but has yet to take action to prevent the units involved from receiving American weapons.

keep readingShow less
What will NATO do with its giant Arctic footprint?

US Army Special Forces soldiers assigned to 10th Special Forces Group move out on skis into the Swedish Arctic on 23 February 2022. (NATO)

What will NATO do with its giant Arctic footprint?

Global Crises

As NATO commemorated its 75th anniversary this month, the direction of the alliance’s posture toward the Arctic region has been called into question.

The recent accession of Sweden means that seven of eight of the world’s Arctic nations fall under NATO’s security umbrella, with Russia being the outlier. While some analysts see the addition of Sweden and Finland as an opportunity for NATO to “increase its footprint” and “deter Russia,” the last thing the alliance needs is to scour for another avenue for confrontation with Russia.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest