The simple fact is that the world produces much more steel and aluminum than it needs. A global shakeout is inevitable, and every country wants to make sure that its own industries are the ones that survive. The only question is: who will blink first? If one country has done a lot of blinking over the last twenty years, it’s the United States, as the Commerce Department report amply documents. Embracing a free-market approach, being reluctant to provide subsidies, applying very selective tariffs and never even thinking about nationalizing its strategic industries, the United States has consistently ceded market share to its statist rivals overseas. The Trump tariffs bluntly but effectively draw a line under twenty years of creeping retreat.
In its evaluation of the Commerce Department reports, the Defense Department flatly concluded that “the systematic use of unfair trade practices to intentionally erode our innovation and manufacturing industrial base poses a risk to our national security” and agreed with the Commerce Department’s conclusion “that imports of foreign steel and aluminum based on unfair trading practices impair the national security.” Of the three national-security responses offered by Commerce, DoD preferred the second option, targeted tariffs, over the first (global tariffs) and third (global quotas). But that’s a question of strategy, not principle.