Don’t Be Fooled: The TPP Is Not About National Security

Jeff Faux

While the TPP has become a lightning rod for labor and other progressive organizations in the United States, the TTIP has slipped mostly under the radar stateside. (Cool Revolution/ Flickr)

This arti­cle was first post­ed at The Globalist.

Dur­ing the 1993 U.S. con­gres­sion­al debate over the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gress­man with a sol­id pro-labor vot­ing record asked me why I thought NAF­TA would be bad for work­ing people. 

After I had giv­en my answer, he respond­ed: Well, you may be right about the eco­nom­ics.” But we have a 2000-mile bor­der with Mex­i­co. The Pres­i­dent told me we need NAF­TA to make it secure.”

Who can argue against nation­al security?

NAF­TA was the eco­nom­ic mod­el for the ever more cor­po­ratist trade deals that fol­lowed, includ­ing the cur­rent­ly pro­posed 12-nation Trans-Pacif­ic Partnership.

The argu­ments for NAF­TA also set the pat­tern for the debates over those deals. When­ev­er the eco­nom­ic case crum­bles, nation­al secu­ri­ty” becomes the fall­back rationale.

After a quar­ter cen­tu­ry of off-shored jobs and depressed wages in the wake of cor­po­rate-dri­ven trade de-reg­u­la­tion, the claim that the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship will make life bet­ter for Amer­i­can work­ers is so dis­cred­it­ed that both Hillary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump are opposed. 

Oba­ma, the Republican

But the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship and Barack Oba­ma still want it, and they will try to get Con­gres­sion­al approval in the post-elec­tion lame duck” ses­sion before the new pres­i­dent takes office. 

True to form, their sales pitch has shift­ed from the claim that the TPP will make Amer­i­cans pros­per­ous to the claim that it will make Amer­i­ca safer.

Defense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter says pass­ing TPP is as impor­tant to me as anoth­er air­craft car­ri­er.” Like­wise, eight for­mer Defense sec­re­taries assure Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers that approv­ing the TPP will con­tribute to a safer world for us, our chil­dren and our grandchildren.” 

Obama’s for­mer chief econ­o­mist Alan Krueger now tells us that trade agree­ments are pri­mar­i­ly about for­eign relations.” 

Plung­ing Mex­i­co into turmoil

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the for­eign pol­i­cy case for these neolib­er­al trade deals has fared no bet­ter than the eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy case.

The nation­al secu­ri­ty argu­ment for NAF­TA was that:

  • it would reduce ille­gal immi­gra­tion and
  • it would trans­form Mex­i­co into a pros­per­ous, First World democ­ra­cy under the rule of law.

But with­in a few years, the eco­nom­ic dis­lo­ca­tion trig­gered by NAF­TA led to mil­lions of job­less Mex­i­cans head­ing north across the border. 

In response, the U.S. gov­ern­ment has built 670 miles of hi-tech fence — with anoth­er 700 miles planned. It has also deployed almost 20,000 guards to patrol it with dogs, guns and drones. In effect, we are already well on our way to build­ing Don­ald Trump’s wall.

Far from mak­ing Mex­i­co more sta­ble, NAF­TA helped plunge the coun­try into law­less­ness and social tur­moil. The huge increase in trade over­whelmed U.S. Cus­toms, mak­ing it eas­i­er to ship mar­i­jua­na and cocaine into our eager market. 

Drug car­tels fought over the prof­its, spread­ing crim­i­nal vio­lence through­out the coun­try. The State Depart­ment now warns Amer­i­cans against trav­el­ing to Mex­i­can bor­der states where U.S. cit­i­zens have been the vic­tims of vio­lent crimes, such as homi­cide, kid­nap­ping, car­jack­ing and rob­bery by orga­nized crim­i­nal groups.” Quite a way in which trade aggres­sive­ly makes us more secure! 

The Chi­na problem

Six years after sign­ing NAF­TA, Bill Clin­ton, pushed by cor­po­rate lob­by­ists, agreed to the Per­ma­nent Nor­mal Trade Rela­tions (PNTR) deal with main­land Chi­na. It that allowed U.S. investors to pro­duce goods for the U.S. mar­ket made by exploit­ed Chi­nese workers. 

PNTR, Clin­ton told us, was a clever geopo­lit­i­cal strat­e­gy to pull Chi­na in the right direc­tion” i.e., toward greater democ­ra­cy and into the role of America’s junior part­ner in Asia.

After six­teen years, Amer­i­cans are now told that Chi­na moved in the wrong” direc­tion. Inter­nal­ly, it remains a harsh author­i­tar­i­an state. 

Exter­nal­ly, flush with dol­lars from its mas­sive trade sur­plus­es with the Unit­ed States, Chi­na has expand­ed its armed forces and employed its eco­nom­ic pow­er. It is busi­ly pry­ing U.S. out of its hege­mon­ic posi­tion in South East Asia.

In response, the Unit­ed States is build­ing up its net­work of mil­i­tary bases and sup­ply­ing more weapons and train­ing to China’s neigh­bors — all of which are, iron­i­cal­ly fol­low­ing, what the U.S. has labeled as, China’s wrong” mod­el of author­i­tar­i­an capitalism. 

Today, U.S. and Chi­nese war planes and ships are buzzing each oth­er in the South Chi­na Sea over ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes that have noth­ing to do with the secu­ri­ty of the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States. 

Short of war, the U.S. can no more stop Chi­na from dom­i­nat­ing the South Chi­na Sea than Chi­na can stop the U.S. from dom­i­nat­ing the Caribbean. China’s trade with its neigh­bors already dwarfs their trade with us. The gap, and Chi­na’s influ­ence, will inevitably grow.

Pre­serv­ing credibility?

If any­thing, the loom­ing TPP deal will make it worse. By weak­en­ing the stan­dards for local con­tent,” it will increase the pro­por­tion of TPP coun­tries’ exports to the U.S. that are made in China. 

More­over, despite their cur­rent nation­al secu­ri­ty rhetoric, the TPP nego­tia­tors actu­al­ly dropped the pro­vi­sions in pre­vi­ous trade deals that allowed the U.S. gov­ern­ment to stop for­eign acqui­si­tions of U.S. firms if deemed a threat to nation­al defense. 

As the argu­ments in favor of TPP dis­solve one by one, its pro­mot­ers’ last-ditch claim is that we need it to pre­serve cred­i­bil­i­ty — oth­er­wise known as sav­ing face.” Fail­ure to approve the deal, says the Pres­i­dent, would call into ques­tion America’s lead­er­ship in this vital region.”

Real­ly? Cer­tain­ly, the lead­ers of the oth­er nations involved under­stood that Con­gres­sion­al approval was not a sure thing. They will be dis­ap­point­ed, of course, and any U.S. diplo­mat who assured them that it was a slam-dunk will be embar­rassed. So what? 

The TPP would not be the first agree­ment nego­ti­at­ed by the U.S. admin­is­tra­tion that Con­gress has turned down. The Law of the Sea, for exam­ple, was nego­ti­at­ed in 1982 and we still have not rat­i­fied it. 

Unit­ed States will remain a major player

Just ask your­self, has the U.S. Navy lost cred­i­bil­i­ty as a result? Do oth­er nations not ship their goods to us? Do we still not assume the role of guar­an­tor of free­dom of the seas?

As for cred­i­bil­i­ty, the Unit­ed States suf­fered a humil­i­at­ing mil­i­tary defeat in Viet­nam, and we are still by far the most respect­ed mil­i­tary force in the region.

The U.S. will remain a major play­er in the Asia whether or not the TPP is approved. And our Asian part­ners” are not like­ly to stop using us as a piece in their polit­i­cal chess games with Chi­na because they can’t get to sell us even more under­wear and elec­tron­ic gad­getry than they do now. 

Like the oth­er trade deals since NAF­TA, the TPP is a device for multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions to dri­ve down the wages of Amer­i­can work­ers. No one should be fooled by the effort to paste over that ugly eco­nom­ic real­i­ty with a hap­py-face stick­er labeled nation­al security.”

Jeff Faux is the founder of the Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, where he is cur­rent­ly a Dis­tin­guished Fel­low. His lat­est book, excerpt­ed in this issue, is The Ser­vant Econ­o­my: Where America’s Elite is Send­ing the Mid­dle Class.
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