Recent reports of China’s corner on current production of rare earth minerals have caused quite a stir. In the recent proliferation of authors and institutes looking at U.S. mineral dependencies, it’s no longer just natural security geeks who have taken notice; the coverage has been widespread and mainstream.
With that in mind, today I’m looking at the second article in a three part series published in The New Yorker by Richard J. Barnet. The articles were excerpted from his book, The Lean Years, which examined the worldwide status of natural resources. A few weeks back, my colleague Mike “Ninja” McCarthy did a great review of the first essay, “The World’s Resources I- The Lean Years” that looked at “non-human energy sources.” The second part in the series, published on March 31, 1980, “The World’s Resources II- Minerals, Food, and Water” (subscription required), focused on the three distinct areas mentioned in its title. Although all sections of his essay are important and are clearly interrelated, I have chosen to look mostly at his first section on minerals, which echoes his own analytical focus in the essay.
As Christine promised in yesterday’s post on the new Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force – which recommends that the United States ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – this week’s Reading Old Magazines feature is about some of the original security thinking behind its negotiation. The UNCLOS was concluded in 1982, but two years earlier, Elliot L. Richardson, the President’s Special Representative to the Law of the Sea Conference, published an article in Foreign Affairs called “Power, Mobility, and the Law of the Sea” (subscription required). In this piece, Richardson explained some of the history of UNCLOS negotiations, but he also laid out exactly what the United States was hoping to achieve in the end. It’s a fascinating read, because it offers a view of a complex, ongoing U.S. diplomatic initiative, presented by the man responsible for negotiating the U.S. position.
The energy shocks of the 1970s caused many Americans to rethink energy in fundamental ways. The October 1973 OPEC oil embargo proved just how heavily U.S. energy supplies relied on the whims of a few countries; the 1979 energy crisis hammered it home, as did the sharp price spikes resulting from the Iranian Revolution.
Not surprisingly, these events set off a public debate on U.S. energy policy (and provided the impetus for the Energy Security Act of 1980). Richard J. Barnet, a former Kennedy administration official and the founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, weighed in on the debate in his book about natural resources, The Lean Years, from which three parts were excerpted in The New Yorker in 1980. The March 17, 1980 issue of the The New Yorker features the first excerpt in the series, “The World’s Resources I—The Lean Years” (subscription required), which introduces what Barnet called the “five critical resource systems—food, water, human energy, non-human energy, and non-fuel minerals.” None of these systems is entirely separable from the others, of course. For example, we use energy to harvest crops, use minerals as components in machines used to mine more minerals, etc. For analytical simplicity, though, Barnet examines one system at a time, and devotes his first essay entirely to non-human energy.
This week’s edition of Reading Old Magazines takes us back to the dawn of the international environmental governance debate. Writing for the April 1970 issue of Foreign Affairs, George Kennan, a prolific defense strategist, diplomat, and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, defined a world beset by the “crisis of human environment.” In “To Prevent a World Wasteland: A Proposal” (subscription required), Kennan, in a clarion call, challenged the world to protect “the earth’s resources on which [our] survival depends,” and designed the blueprint for a world environmental organization that could accomplish the task at hand.
I would be remiss if I did not preface this post by noting that the sense of urgency with which Kennan wrote – a man whose list of accolades includes the title of “father of U.S. containment policy” –is perhaps telling of how he defined security: to include those challenges that extend beyond the Soviet bloc, with solutions that exist beyond military means.
In medieval times, sieges were used to prevent an enemy from accessing fresh water, food and other supplies. Using the natural environment against foes has been a common wartime technique throughout history. In 1991, Peter Gleick examined just how these things tend to play out in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in “Environment and Security: The Clear Connections.” Gleick, cofounder of the Pacific Institute and eminent scholar on the intersection between natural resources and security issues, particularly water security, broke natural resource-security interactions into four categories: resources as strategic goals; attacks on resources; resources as military tools; and disruption to environmental services.
For this week’s Reading Old Magazines I decided to focus on minerals, given the news pieces yesterday on rare earth materials. I chose one with a great title from the journal Economic Geography, “The Changing Relation of Natural Resources to National Security,” by Harold J. Barnett, a senior economist at RAND, Washington University economics professor, author of many books and articles on economics and natural resources, and a director at Resources for the Future when he wrote this article.
Security scholarship underwent a well-known and tumultuous phase of introspection in the late eighties and early nineties, brought on by a fundamental restructuring of the international order. Out of the post-Cold War period came a discourse on the proper place of the environment in calculations of national security, and from that first wave of environmental security literature comes the conceptual framework behind the Natural Security Program. In due deference, today’s edition of Reading Old Magazines looks back to consider the two sides of that turn-of-the-last-decade debate as represented by Jessica Tuchman Mathews’s “Redefining Security” and Daniel Deudney’s “The Case against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security.”
We turn to critical minerals for this week’s Reading Old Magazines, with the May 1952 article “Our Future Dependence on Foreign Minerals” by Dr. Alan M. Bateman (pdf), then a Yale geology department chairman and a former director for metals and minerals of the Foreign Economic Administration during World War II (and for whom geology fellowships and professor chairs are now named). Published in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, this article came in the midst of the Korean War and worries that major shortages would again affect U.S. defense capabilities.
This article paints a distinct picture with statistics of reserve to consumption ratios, consumption rates, and import dependencies. As of 1952, as the author writes, “of the71 mineral substances currently on the national stockpile purchase list, only 8 are produced in any large quantity in the United States; and the Defense Production Administration lists in critically short supply some 44 metals, 9 chemical minerals, and 18 nonmetallic minerals.” Of course, things change: while it was projected at that time that the United States would move from importing 26% of its titanium requirements during World War II to 80% by 1975, as of 2006 it stood at just 67%, according to the National Academies of Science.
The problem at that time was, as the title suggests, that the United States was running low on reserves of many minerals critical to industrial and military might. For the first time, there was a clear picture that the country would persistently need to depend on
Reading Old Magazines this week will be short and sweet: a brief tale of two seemingly unremarkable Time magazine articles that appear to have had undue influence on two members (including the chairman) of the Senate Foreign
“Do the world’s environmental problems threaten American national security?” wonders Geoffrey Dabelko in this autumn 1999 Wilson Quarterly piece, “The Environment Factor.” In this article, Dabelko, director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a longtime scholar on the frontline of the environmental security debate (and, full disclosure, my former boss) explores the evolution of environmental issues within the national security community.
For Dabelko, it was journalist – now CNAS senior fellow – Robert Kaplan’s Atlantic Monthly article, “The Coming Anarchy,” which explored the nexus of environmental challenges and state failure in West Africa, that jumpstarted the debate in Washington in the 1990s. Kaplan’s article praised scholar Thomas Homer-Dixon’s work on the complexity of resource scarcity and the potential for civil strife and violence, and “sketched a dark view of the global future.” As Dabelko writes, “The environment will be the national security issue of the 21st century, Kaplan declared, and Homer-Dixon held the keys to understanding it.”