What if there were rare minerals so valuable to many of the United States' most advanced weapons systems that their disappearance from the marketplace could threaten America's national security interests? And, what if those rare minerals were, in fact, almost solely in the hands of the country's fiercest global competitor — who held a monopoly over them?
Well, guess no more — it's true. Despite years of concern in the United States and around the world, China still holds a monopoly on rare earth elements (REEs) that are critical to a number of advanced weapons systems, mobile devices and emerging green . And the situation isn't likely to change any time soon.
"China holds a commanding monopoly over world REE supplies, controlling about 95 percent of mined production and refining," James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, told the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently. "China's dominance and policies on pricing and exports are leading other countries to pursue mitigation strategies, but those strategies probably will have only limited impact within the next five years and will almost certainly not end Chinese REE dominance," he added.
According to the 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the national intelligence office, REEs are essential to civilian and military technologies and to the 21st-century global economy, including green technologies (e.g., wind turbines and advanced battery systems) and advanced defense systems. Rare metals are also critical in most mobile devices, disk-drives and televisions.