Anne Applebaum’s column in the Washington Post today echoes my post last week that criticized current legislative proposals to ban foreign ownership of critical infrastructure. Applebaum lists numerous examples of foreign-owned critical infrastructure in the United States, including sanitation systems, highways, refineries, and chemical plants in the piece, to illustrate the depth of what H.R. 4881 is proposing.
She concludes with the following points:
The process of confiscating, nationalizing or otherwise forcing the sale of “critical infrastructure,” or even “port operations,” broadly defined, could go on for years, would cost billions and would certainly destroy this country’s reputation as a safe place in which to invest.
Instead of doing so, it might make more sense to institute a secure system of identity and background checks for all port or refinery employees, especially since it’s not necessarily more difficult to penetrate a U.S. company than a French or Arab one. It might also make sense to sit down and define “critical infrastructure” and to set priorities and think harder about which objects, American or foreign-owned, pose genuine dangers. But that would be complicated, expensive and time-consuming. It could only succeed with the support of a bipartisan Congress, one willing to devote the time and money to genuine security, and one whose leaders were willing to explain to the American public that in the globalized economy — a system whose rules we essentially wrote — it’s no longer possible to pick and choose whose investments we want. That sort of bipartisanship, alas, is still very far away.
In fairness to Congress, there are a number of solid legislative proposals on the post-DPW questions of port security circulating around the House and the Senate right now. But a blanket ban on foreign ownership of critical infrastructure is certainly not one of them.