May 11, 2011

Geopolitics Key As U.S. Weighs Critical-Mineral Needs

The United States must consider geopolitics above all in planning to secure rare earth elements and other minerals vital to itsenergy, defense and high-tech sectors, according to a report released today by the Center for a New American Security.

Christine Parthemore, director of the natural security program at Washington, D.C., think tank, said the United States does notneed domestic production of all the materials but must understand its needs and how geopolitics can affect supplies.

China controls 95 percent of the global supply of rare earth materials, investing heavily in their production and using access tolure high-tech industries. As its domestic needs for those materials have grown, Beijing has been clamping down on exports,spurring a rise in global prices.

Last fall, after Japan detained a Chinese fisherman in a territorial dispute over the East China Sea, China cut off rare earthexports to that country. Peter Leitner, a former strategic trade adviser to the Pentagon, said that incident showed China'swillingness to use its market dominance to influence politics.

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