Obama to protect U.S. goods from global threats

The new U.S. policy, to be unveiled Wednesday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Switzerland, is called the "National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security."
AP Photo/Christophe Ena

DAVOS, Switzerland - President Barack Obama has adopted a new strategy declaring for the first time that the United States has a national security interest to protect the nation's economic goods against terrorists, criminals and natural disasters in all corners of the globe.

The new U.S. policy, to be unveiled Wednesday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Switzerland, is called the "National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security," according to a White House document obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

It says potential economic threats to goods dependent on supplies from beyond U.S. borders are now a matter of national security and that the government must "resolve threats early."

And that's not just cargo shipments — all "cyber and energy networks" also are affected.

Businesses have often sought to cut costs by farming out many parts of their operations, leaving them potentially more at risk to disruptions outside the confines of their traditional areas of management. But with the economy increasingly globalized, businesses are becoming more dependent on each other — and more exposed to these risks.

"The global supply chain provides the food, medicine, energy and products that support our way of life," the document says.

"Many different entities are responsible for or reliant upon the functioning of the global supply chain, including regulators, law enforcement, public-sector buyers, private-sector business, and other foreign and domestic partners," it says. "The system relies upon an interconnected web of transportation infrastructure and pathways, information technology, and cyber and energy networks."

Obama in a preface to the new policy, which is effective immediately, said that "the global supply chain system that supports this trade is essential to the United States' economy and security and is a critical global asset."

The policy follows in the wake of a series of major natural disasters whose effects spill beyond one nation's borders.

"We have seen that disruptions to supply chains caused by natural disasters — earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions — and from criminal and terrorist networks seeking to exploit the system or use it as a means of attack can adversely impact global economic growth and productivity," the president wrote.

"As a nation," he added, "we must address the challenges posed by these threats and strengthen our national and international policies accordingly."

The March tsunami in Japan, for example, was devastating for that nation's economy and temporarily disrupted the production of automobile makers and other manufacturers.

Car exports, too, declined after the recent flooding in Thailand, where many Japanese automakers have assembly lines. Iceland's volcanic eruption in 2010 paralyzed air traffic, affecting passengers and cargo around the world.

The White House "strategy" is not an executive order. But it instructs federal agencies to immediately focus on "those components of the worldwide network of transportation, postal and shipping pathways, assets, and infrastructures by which goods are moved until they reach an end consumer."

It also suggests that all U.S. trade partners should be pressed to agree to what Obama calls "information-sharing arrangements, streamlining government processes, and synchronizing standards and procedures."

The strategy has far-reaching implications. It not only would apply to all cargo goods entering the country by ship, airplane or truck — the U.S. already inspects all of what it considers to be the highest-risk cargo — but also could set the stage for U.S. action to strengthen the security provided in other countries.

Obama is requiring all federal agencies and departments to report back to him within a year on how their efforts are going and make "recommendations for future action developed during the outreach process" of talking with other countries.