The Administration's Case
From the start, U.S. officials have contended that they faithfully followed the process created by Congress to ensure that national security issues are addressed when foreign companies invest in the United States. In short, the officials argue that they performed the due diligence that Congress required of them. They have also explained that the UAE holding company, Dubai Ports World, is not buying U.S. ports or the right to oversee port security, but merely ownership of a company that operates some port facilities. This ownership provides Dubai Ports World no unique access or opportunities to make mischief because security requirements at the port would be the same for any company, foreign-owned or not. These points are true, but they ignore a broader truth. Concern about port security is reasonable. America's ports are vulnerable. Americans want to know why that is and what can be done to make U.S. ports safer.
The Truth About Port Security
The Administration has a number of programs already underway to secure U.S. ports. They will not make ports 100 percent secure. Ports are designed to move masses of things quickly, and that is a large part of what makes seaborne transport a bargain. Trying to turn a port into Fort Knox is a bad strategy that would undermine maritime trade. The best way to make a port safe is to keep bad things and bad people out of the port to begin with. That requires three initiatives:
- Fund the U.S.
Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is central to every aspect of
maritime security at home and overseas, and yet its modernization
program has been chronically underfunded. Its ships, planes, and
sensors are old and outdated. Congress needs to shift spending from
wasteful port security grants to real security by investing in the
Public-Private Information Sharing. The U.S. government needs
to focus its intelligence and law enforcement assets on the direst
threats. That requires access to commercial information that helps
it to understand the global supply chain. Right now, all of this
information-whether concerning U.S. or foreign-owned ports and
shipping-is not available in a usable format. The U.S. must require
more and better data before cargo is loaded on ships bound for its
- International Cooperation is Essential. The weakest links in the chain right now are not modern ports like in Los Angles, New York, Singapore, and Dubai, but ports and shippers in the developing world. A concerted international effort will be required to ensure that developing countries can meet global shipping and port security standards.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.