It doesn’t make much sense to go around trying to make enemies. But it also doesn’t make much sense to ignore potential threats. What does make sense is for a country to prepare for possible threats and hope for the best while being ready for the worst.
During the Cold War, Americans called such a policy “containment.” The goal was to avoid going to war with the Soviet Union.
Not a bad strategy since such a war would’ve likely involved the exchange of nuclear weapons – and possibly resulted in the end of civilization. Instead, the U.S. maintained a mighty military, built successful alliances with friendly nations, and eventually drove the USSR into bankruptcy when its communist policies predictably failed to deliver sustainable economic growth.
Today, America’s closest near-peer competitor is China, and an updated containment approach is needed. But that’s a difficult task since Beijing doesn’t play by the same rules that other countries do. Unfortunately, last year we learned that a major Pentagon contractor, Airbus, doesn’t play by the rules, either.
Airbus is doing business in China. In fact, it is so eager to sell and deal there that the company is bribing Chinese officials.
“Airbus engaged in a multi-year and massive scheme to corruptly enhance its business interests by paying bribes in China and other countries and concealing those bribes,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a news release. “The Department will continue to work aggressively with our partners across the globe to root out corruption, particularly corruption that harms American interests.”
Airbus, a European company, agreed to pay some $3.9 billion in penalties to settle its legal problems. That is a lot of money. In fact, it’s the largest such penalty ever handed out.
But it should be only part of the long-term penalty. The company should also have to spend a few years without getting any American military contracts. Airbus simply cannot be trusted with any military secrets right now. It is time to contain both China and Airbus.
The theory of the new containment approach the U.S. should take with China was helpfully explained in a recent Wall Street Journal article.
“The objective should be stopping China from overturning the balance of power and building a future in which authoritarianism is dominant,” historian Hal Brands wrote. “Put another way, the U.S. must contain China’s ability to reshape the international order produced by the U.S. victory in the Cold War.”
Clearly, allowing Airbus to do business with the Pentagon while bribing officials to do business in China threatens our ability to contain Beijing.
China’s government is looking more like an oligarchy run by a man who has tapped himself as dictator for life. Nonetheless, it also has plenty of nuclear weapons, and is always pushing the limits.
“Beijing is trying to become the globe’s dominant power and usher in an autocratic century. If it succeeds, the world that America built through its Cold War victory will be consigned to history,” Brands wrote. “Undertaking another urgent, enduring effort to contain an advancing rival won’t be easy, but it is the best way of averting a still darker future.”
The Justice Department is taking Airbus’ violations seriously. “International corruption involving sensitive U.S. defense technology presents a particularly dangerous combination,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General David P. Burns of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the Department’s continuing commitment to ensuring that those who violate our export control laws are held to account.”
Is the Pentagon willing to be as serious and deny Airbus access to American military projects and information?
There is simply no reason for an American military contractor to be doing business in China. Pick a side, and go all in with that side. It is far from clear what side Airbus is on. We just can’t trust the company as a Pentagon contractor right now.
Drew Johnson is a government watchdog who serves as a budget, tech and energy policy expert at several free market think tanks.
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