June 30, 2011

Summer Minerals Reading List: “Elements of Security: Mitigating the Risks of U.S. Dependence on Critical Minerals” and “Rare Earth Elements in National Defense: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options”

Not surprisingly there has been greater attention to
critical minerals recently, including potential U.S. vulnerability with
dependence on rare earth elements. The increased focus can, in part, be
attributed to recent events in the South and East China Seas, where
if you recall there was a tense diplomatic row between China and Japan last
year that prompted Beijing to allegedly suspend exports of rare earth minerals
to Japan
. As the conversation about rare earths and U.S. vulnerabilities
continues in Washington, there are two important reports that you should add to
your minerals reading list.

Last month, CNAS launched Christine Parthemore's new report, Elements of Security: Mitigating the Risks
of U.S. Dependence on Critical Minerals
. The report explores a range of potential vulnerabilities that
stem from dependence on several minerals that the United States will need for
defense supply chains and clean energy goals in the decades ahead and offers
several cost-effective, proactive measures to prevent mineral issues from
impinging on security, foreign policy and economic growth plans in the years
ahead. Among the recommendations Christine makes, international cooperation
figures prominently, including promoting information sharing with our
international partners and U.S. companies that do business abroad. “For
instance, more open dialogue can provide important information to companies on
emerging government concerns and geopolitical trends that may affect their
businesses,” Parthemore writes.

A recent CRS report, Rare Earth Elements in
National Defense: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options
, offers
another choice for the Department of Defense to leverage the relationships with
our allies. According to that report, “Congress may encourage DOD
to pursue joint ventures with other nations, as many other nations are seeking
alternatives to a near total dependence on rare earths from China. These
partnerships may take place at any stage of the supply chain
.” Yet CRS
rightly cautions that these international partnerships need to be developed
carefully. “It is critical for DOD to consider the implications of sourcing
utilized by these partner nations. For example, if DOD relies on a partner
nation for rare earth metals, and that nation procures their oxides from China,
this partnership may not provide the requisite security of supply.”

Like many resource challenges, bolstering international
cooperation with our allies will become increasingly important for navigating
changes in the global security environment. Indeed, many of these challenges
are too difficult for the United States to address alone – especially as many
other states have just as much at stake – if not more – than the United States.
Yet in order to accomplish international cooperation, the United States will
need to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Christine
crystallized why ratifying UNCLOS is important in her report, writing that  “ratifying
this treaty would increase the ability of U.S. policymakers to promote the rule
of law and freedom of navigation around the world and also to participate in
important discussions about critical minerals.
” Indeed, U.S. reluctance to
ratify UNCLOS will continue to weaken our negotiating hand by putting the
United States on the sidelines of international discussions that are moving
forward among treaty signatories. For example, “Today, the United States cannot play a
full role in the Arctic Council because it has not ratified UNCLOS, and its
position of promoting the rules enshrined in this treaty rings hollow to
international audiences,”
Christine said in her report.

If you are laying around the pool this Fourth of July
holiday or need some leisure minerals reading as you take up under the shade of
that nearby Willow tree, these are two reports worth your time. I guarantee you
that the reports will – as they have done for me – further your understanding
about U.S. vulnerability on rare earth minerals and what policymakers need to
do to mitigate the risks.