- - Monday, August 26, 2019

There’s an old episode of “Star Trek” where a space businessman character unironically announces that “The speed of technological advancement isn’t nearly as important as short-term quarterly gains.” We, as the audience, are meant to scoff at his short-sightedness. After all, only the selfish could say something so wrong with such a sense of profundity. 

Alas, many in Washington seem to feel the same way, particularly regarding President Trump’s aggressive stance against China. 

There has certainly been some pain in the stock market since Mr. Trump announced a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods — an additional 10 percent tax on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods starting in September — escalating the ongoing trade war between the United States and China. While the president has largely dismissed the potential for an extended trade war between the two nations, the ongoing conflict has sparked concern among pundits and markets alike as stocks have taken a substantial hit, as the potential for detente between Washington and Beijing appears to recede.

Mr. Trump’s aggression has drawn criticisms from many sides. Big business is upset about anything that hinders its profits. Mr. Trump’s own supporters in the breadbasket are taking a hit, which the Democratic media is all too thrilled to highlight. And libertarians who enjoy pointless principled stands more than anything else can’t cluck their tongues enough.

But it’s still the right thing to do. While America must oppose China on the economic front, it’s likewise critical to stay ahead of them militarily as well. 

A potential space race between the United States and China presents a threat to world security. China is making impressive strides in its spacefaring technology, and Google has handed Beijing the “crown jewel” of its artificial intelligence efforts. These are advances that must be countered by America growing its defense and space programs accordingly. Alas, the Democratic House’s recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) demonstrates that this is unlikely to be the case. 

This NDAA includes reckless defense cuts, which the president must reject, specifically regarding the Air Force’s National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program, which the Air Force has insisted must remain on schedule or else. Designed to establish America’s spacefaring independence, the NSSL rids America of its dependence on Russian rockets, while taking critical steps toward establishing domestic launch alternatives. 

But the NSSL has encountered resistance, including opposition from House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, who added provisions to the NDAA that would fundamentally damage the program. 

The proposed changes would mandate that the Air Force reopen competition for launch contracts after its 29th mission, a move that would make it increasingly difficult for the Air Force to plan a proper launch schedule. That increases the potential for greater costs and the risk of delays. Mr. Smith’s changes also include a $500 million earmark specifically tailored to give specific companies an advantage, offsetting the program’s competitive landscape. These adjustments to the NSSL program would not be in the best interest of America’s space program, according to Defense Department officials, which suggested that the NSSL should stick with the Air Force’s initial plan. 

Conflict with China is inevitable. It’s an aggressive nation-state with literally 2,000 years of history and a sense of destiny. China’s military and economy are the world’s second-largest, and Beijing has its eye on capturing the gold medal from us. This is something that literally no one else on the planet wants to see happen, particularly none of China’s neighbors nor its American-flag waving subjects. The safest way to curtail its expansion is to undermine its industrial base.

Winning the 21st century space race will accomplish this. The speed of our technological advancement is much more important than short-term quarterly gains.

• Jared Whitley worked in the U.S. Senate, the White House and the defense industry.

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