U.S. Steel Acquisition Bolsters American Competition with China

U.S. Steel Acquisition Bolsters American Competition with China

A Japanese bid for U.S. Steel won’t threaten national security, quite the contrary.

It’s easy to invoke national security nowadays, especially when one has weak arguments and wants to make their concerns seem important. One such example is the collective clutching of pearls over the recent announcement of Nippon Steel’s move to acquire U.S. Steel. According to critics, such a move is equivalent to the United States selling the Pentagon to the Japanese, when, in fact, it’s simply the smart move of a major company from a United States ally wanting to produce and sell more steel in America.

In my thirty-two years of service as an officer in the U.S. Navy, one thing drilled into my thick skull was the importance of maximizing precision and accuracy in my military analyses and operational recommendations. The critics of this deal use neither.

The Congressional Labor Caucus called for the Biden Administration to conduct a comprehensive sales review. According to the caucus, a Japanese company acquiring U.S. Steel “raises questions about the implications of this acquisition for U.S. national security and domestic steel production capabilities.” However, those national security questions are unspecified. Similarly, several senators, led by Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH), wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her to block the sale as she is also the chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). 

Their letter says the sale “was not entered into with U.S. national security in mind” and that the acquisition will allow Nippon Steel to subvert current tariffs on imported steel without explanation or substantiation. Yet Nippon will only operate in the United States to produce and sell steel domestically. Interestingly, Cleveland Cliffs, a steel company based in Vance’s state of Ohio, had previously proposed to buy U.S. Steel, which was rejected, explaining his sudden interest in the sale.

Regardless, neither letter explains how a company based in Japan—one of America’s closest and strongest allies and the largest host nation of overseas American service members—harms national security. The fact is, current American steel production is minuscule compared to that of the Chinese. The world’s largest producer, by a wide margin, is China Baowu Group, a company owned by the Chinese government that pledges complete loyalty to the government’s national security interests. Meanwhile, U.S. Steel clocks in at number twenty-seven worldwide, producing roughly one-tenth of what China Baowu produces. Furthermore, six of the world’s ten largest steel producers are Chinese companies, and of the top thirty, the Chinese manufacture ten times more steel than the United States. 

However, Nippon’s acquisition of U.S. Steel would create the world’s second-largest steelmaker and a close competitor to China Baowu Steel in terms of production capacity, empowering America and its allies to counterbalance Chinese manufacturing. Furthermore, Nippon is no stranger to the United States, having operated there since 1984 and employing about 4,000 people with no national security concerns. Nippon Steel President Eiji Hashimoto has also expressed his desire to create a free-world champion in a Chinese-dominated sector. 

Some have raised concerns about Nippon Steel’s actions toward American and Allied prisoners of war during World War II. Those actions are horrific and without excuse. However, these atrocities took place eighty years ago when the United States fought alongside the Chinese against the Japanese Empire. Now, the tables have turned, with the United States stationing thousands of troops in Japan to counter potential Chinese threats. Japan, like Italy and Germany, is now a staunch ally of the United States, as is the United Kingdom, despite its despicable treatment of American prisoners during our War for Independence. Times change, alliances change, and we must evaluate our allies by their conduct today, not yesterday. 

Let’s not forget that back in 2006 and 2007, when the Department of Defense (DoD) was ramping up production of Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicles (MRAPs), each needing four tons of steel plate, only two U.S. steel manufacturers were certified by the DoD to produce steel—International Steel Group, which was owned by Arcelor Mittal of the Netherlands, and Oregon Steel Mills, which the Evraz Group of Luxembourg owned. There was no incident, and the companies fully supported U.S. national security needs. 

As former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis noted in 2018, “the U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each only represent about three percent of U.S. production.” Even then, U.S. Steel doesn’t even sell steel to the military. Yes, the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) should do its due diligence and examine this deal as it does all others, without preconceived notions and based upon law. But CFIUS could benefit from considering the House Select Committee’s December 2023 report on the Chinese Communist Party, which recommends Japan be added to the whitelist of Excepted Foreign States, making it easier for Japanese and American companies to do business. 

Just because someone calls something a national security threat doesn’t make it one. When such claims are made, it is imperative for those making them to explain how they are valid rather than expect us all to gasp in horror and pick up pitchforks to march on the U.S. Steel headquarters. That would get me laughed out of a military briefing, and CFIUS shouldn’t take such claims for gospel, either. 

Bob Carey is the executive director of the National Defense Committee, a veteran-serving nonprofit advocacy organization. He is a former senior executive service program director in the Department of Defense, former national security adviser to two U.S. senators, former senior policy adviser to the energy secretary, and a retired U.S. Navy captain.

Image: Shutterstock.com.