Dubai Ports Controversy--Posner's Response to Comments
A number of good comments, as usual. I will respond very briefly.
One comment points out that since only 5 percent of incoming containers are inspected, the real danger of lethal cargo is created is in the foreign ports (operated by foreign companies) in which the containers are loaded into ships bound for the United States. However, U.S. port security can be thought of as a second line of defense should dangerous cargo not be detected in the originating port. A second, very pessimistic comment considers port security basically hopeless--if terrorists obtain weapons of mass destruction, they will find a way to slip them into the United States. That is certainly true with respect to bioweaponry: smallpox virus sprayed in any international airport would create an epidemic in the United States. But probably the greater danger is a nuclear or radioactive ("dirty") bomb, which would probably come in by ship.
I would like to know how much it would cost to inspect 100 percent of the cargoes that enter the United States.
I don't agree, by the way, that it is "protectionist" to trade off foreign investment benefits against security costs. I don't think it would be protectionist to forbid Iran to buy Boeing or provide janitorial services at the Pentagon.
Finally, I do think that an excellent point made in one of the ccomments is that had the deal gone through, Dubai would have had a real stake in enhancing port security, since if a terrorist attack occurred at a port operated by Dubai Ports World, it would be a disaster for Dubai.
In retrospect, the Administration could have made a better case for the deal. But I suspect that the political opposition would still have precluded acceptance of the deal.