I recently read a history of the French Air Force–The Rise and Fall of the French Air Force, Greg Baughen–which includes much analysis of aircraft design and construction. One historical fact I thought was interesting: in 1939, the French licensed the design of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine (the engine that powered the Spitfire and Hurricane, among other airplane) and contracted with the Ford Motor Company to manufacture these engines.
But when war was declared on September 3 of that year, Henry Ford–who had strong neutrality and ‘antiwar’ beliefs–pulled the Ford equipment and people. No Merlins for you, Mr Frenchman!
Closer to our own time, during the Iraq War, the Swiss company Swatch Group refused to supply contracted components for the JDAM missile. In this case, there was a US company that could provide the items, and the Swiss refusal was ultimately overcome by diplomatic pressure.
In this retro-reading post, I cited an old copy of Mechanical Engineering magazine, which discussed the shortage of certain chemicals for which the US was largely dependent on Germany:
America did not make much progress (with aniline dyes) owing to certain complications and the lack of consolidated action. What was produced here was in most cases equal to the imported product, but owing to the greater facilities for producing the color, the greater attention given to research, substantial government financial aid, and, primarily, the exceedingly low labor cost abroad, competition was out of the question. Hence up to 1914 we had practically no dye industry and depended on Germany not only for dyes but also for many valuable pharmaceutical preparations as well as for phenol, the basis for many of our explosives.
This problem was solved by intensive efforts during the First World War.
Prior to 1914, most people, including government people, probably thought (if they thought about it at all), “Well, dye for fabrics isn’t exactly a strategic resource…sure, we like wearing & seeing attractively-colored clothes, but it’s not really a matter of life and death”…but missed the connection to the pharmaceuticals and the explosives.
If we do wind up in a military conflict with another major power, the time constants are likely to be relatively short–more comparable to the time pressures the French faced in 1940 than to our situation in 1914, separated by oceans from any immediate threat to the country.
And today, we have a report on US companies investing significantly in Chinese semiconductor companies and related software providers.