Saturday, March 28, 2009

Supply Chain disruption

On any given day, millions of containers carrying up to 32 tons of goods each are moving on trucks, trains and ships in and out of ports. This movement has become remarkably affordable and economically expedient for global supply chains of manufacturers, retailers, and until now, the US military.

The possibility that "foreign terrorists" would seize control of a public port, or bring in a dirty bomb to explode it inside a port facility near a large city, would haunt Homeland Security ever since 9/11. In the past port security compromised port efficiency by constantly packing and repacking at checkpoints. This proved very costly. As a practical matter, some considered that process a non-tariff barrier to trade.

Today only about 5% of containers entering the US are inspected like this, and the Department of Homeland Security is suggesting upgrading its ports to operate much like Hong Kong's port where every container passes through a gamma-ray machine and a radiation portal to detect nuclear weapons. Just one bomb that sneaks in through a port could prove disastrous - not just for the city affected, but for the entire economy afterward. In the words of author and policy analyst Stephen Flynn, "The entire intermodal container system will grind to a halt."

In effect, every guerilla warfare operation has realized that one of the most effective ways to cripple an empire is to disrupt its supply chain security, and make every movement of goods and commodities extremely risky.

It is for this reason that protesters, playing on the government's fear of 'homegrown terrorists', would find that supply chain disruption in their own backyards could prove costly for the occupying forces as well. In the past just a group of about 40 people has proven very costly, up to $500,000 for just sitting and blocking traffic. These are, in effect, non-tariff barriers to trade. So much so that the Army will not use the sea-port system for the future shipment of military vehicles. Instead, it will fly all of the military vehicles to Afghanistan for the upcoming surge.

But is this because of activists in the US? And if so, is it a victory or an acknowledgment of Port Militarization Resistance (PMR)? Difficult to say.

Guerrillas are busy disrupting the military supply chain in Pakistan as well, and the US and NATO forces may be using air travel as a way to get supplies deep into the land instead of driving them through port cities.

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