IG: Pentagon Reliance on Chinese Pharmaceuticals Creates National Security Risk

Report calls for moving supply chains away from China

U.S. general Mark Milley and Chinese general Li Zuocheng in 2016 (Mark Schiefelbein/AFP via Getty Images)
September 22, 2021

The Defense Department's reliance on Chinese supply chains for pharmaceuticals poses a severe national security risk, a Pentagon inspector general's report warns.

The U.S. military's ability to treat soldiers and personnel worldwide relies on products made and shipped in foreign countries. The Pentagon does not produce its own pharmaceuticals, so it relies on the American commercial sector to procure vital medicines for the armed forces. As the commercial sector increases its reliance on foreign countries the department follows suit, the report, which was released Wednesday, found.

"Pharmaceutical supply disruptions could compromise the standard of care to [Defense Department] beneficiaries," the report concludes. "A disruption of the supply of foreign-made [active pharmaceutical ingredients] to domestic manufacturers could cause a drug shortage that affects every level of the U.S. health care system."

Some 72 percent of commercial pharmaceuticals are procured from foreign countries, and 13 percent come from China, according to a 2019 Food and Drug Administration study. During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, China threatened to withhold life-saving drugs from American citizens over the growing rift between Washington and Beijing.

China's ability to weaponize public health does not end with pharmaceuticals or the coronavirus. A national intelligence assessment found that the Chinese Communist Party uses American medical data to collect the DNA of U.S. citizens, the Washington Free Beacon reported in February. China may aim to use the data to target Americans for surveillance or manipulation purposes.

The inspector general's report calls for lawmakers to pursue remedies for the Pentagon's reliance on Chinese goods.

"We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment develop and issue implementing guidance for [Department of Defense] supply chain risk management for [Defense] materiel, which includes pharmaceuticals, [and] pursue Federal legislation requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to include [active pharmaceutical ingredients] and final drug product country of origin information of the pharmaceuticals' lot on the pharmaceuticals' packaging," the report says.