Op-Ed piece submitted by Montana Senate Republicans Feb. 9, 2023:

By: Sen. Ken Bogner R-Miles City, President Pro Tempore of the Montana Senate, and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps

Credit: Montana Legislation
Credit: Montana Legislature

One of my top priorities this legislative session is strengthening Montana’s position against hostile foreign nations like China. National security is primarily a responsibility of the federal government, but as a Marine who served in Iraq, I believe elected officials at all levels of government should be improving our security.

One thing we can do at the state level is work to keep our adversaries out of our critical infrastructure. My Senate Bill 203 prohibits foreign adversaries from buying or leasing things like telecommunications equipment, transmission lines, and oil refineries in Montana. Unlike other states that are pursuing similar legislation, I’m also taking it a step further by including agricultural land as critical infrastructure.

I’ve included agricultural land in my bill for two primary reasons. One is that agriculture is critical to Montana’s economy and our food security. The second is that sensitive sites in our state, like Malmstrom Air Force Base’s nuclear missiles, are surrounded by rural farm and ranch land. China recently purchased 300 acres of farm land near Grand Forks Air Force Base next door to us in North Dakota, raising alarm bells in Washington, D.C., national security circles about potential espionage.

I know many Montanans would like the Legislature to ban all foreign and even out-of-state ownership of our land. I understand that sentiment, but it’s not constitutional under the U.S. Constitution. Targeting adversarial foreign nations and corporations controlled by them is a reasonable step that we can take.

Other nations are becoming more bold and more creative in how they challenge the United States. The recent incident with the Chinese balloon highlighted these issues for the general public, but China in particular has been using asymmetric tactics against us for years.

As a nation, we need to focus our national security to strategically engage with China for the long term. Our goal needs to be to move away from dependence on China for goods and manufacturing capabilities, while at the same time avoiding direct conflict. We should avoid another endless foreign war and the devastation that kinetic modern warfare between major powers would bring. At the same time, we must push back on human rights violations, intellectual property theft, and the invasion of Americans’ privacy. Policies like SB 203 are actions we can take to communicate our resolve and displeasure without engaging in military tactics that escalate tensions between our nations and increase the risk of miscalculation by either side.

Governor Gianforte’s decision to ban the social media app TikTok, which can function as a mass surveillance tool of the Chinese Communist Party, from state government equipment and networks is a step in the right direction. Legislation was recently introduced in Congress to crack down on foreign ownership of land, but we all know how slow and dysfunctional the federal government is, so we shouldn’t hold our breath while we wait for them to act.

Senate Bill 203 is a serious move we can make immediately to improve our national security.

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