The Danger of Single Resource Imports

March 25, 2024

Metals and their massive significance on modern society may not regularly be on your mind. The technologies they make possible have become so integrated into our daily lives, it’s easy to take them for granted. But many scholars, economists, and security specialists are raising warnings that should concern everyone and have us questioning how we source metals. 

Did you know that the United States relies heavily on China for the supply of many critical minerals? These minerals are essential for various industries including defense, aerospace, electronics, and renewable energy. Dependence on a single country for these resources makes the U.S. vulnerable to supply disruptions, whether due to political tensions, trade disputes, or natural disasters; and that should send alarms ringing to all sectors from manufacturing to medicine, transportation to renewable energy. 

For the past two decades, China has been moving at an unrelenting pace to integrate and upgrade its rare earth supply chain to complete the circle from mining to processing, to manufacturing.

From a global perspective, China has about one-third of the world’s rare earth reserves. On the surface this may not seem cause for alarm. However, taking a more critical view, China now accounts for 63 percent of global rare earth mineral production, 85 percent of rare earth processing capacity, and more than 92 percent of the high-strength rare earth permanent magnets manufactured. (Source: Brink)

Why Does This Matter To You? 

Critical minerals are vital for the production of advanced technologies and weapons systems used by the U.S. military. If the supply of these minerals is compromised, it could undermine the readiness and capabilities of U.S. armed forces, jeopardizing national security interests. Further, China's control over the global minerals market gives it significant geopolitical leverage. Beijing could exploit this leverage to coerce or pressure other countries, including the U.S., on various political, economic, or security issues. This could undermine U.S. influence and interests in key regions around the world.

National Security

A secure and stable supply of critical minerals is essential for maintaining the readiness and resilience of the U.S. defense industrial base. Any disruption in the supply chain could hinder the production of essential defense equipment and infrastructure, compromising the nation's ability to respond to security threats effectively.

Did You Know?

  • A single F-35 Lightning, a stealth, multirole combat aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, contains more than 920 pounds of Rare Earth Elements.
  • Each DDG-51 Aegis destroyer warship requires around 5,200 pounds of Rare Earth Elements

The Future Of Innovations

Many emerging technologies critical for U.S. economic competitiveness and national security, such as electric vehicles, renewable energy systems, military equipment, and advanced electronics, rely on a steady supply of Rare Earth Elements and other strategic minerals. Dependence on Chinese supply chains could hamper innovation and technological advancement in these sectors, potentially putting the U.S. at a disadvantage.

Did You Know?

  • A typical electric vehicle requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car. This includes gold, silver, cobalt, graphite, and copper, all of which are produced or in advanced development in Alaska.
  • A 3MW wind turbine can contain up to 4.7 tons of copper. Alaska has some of the largest copper mineral discoveries in the nation.
  • Silver and zinc are needed for solar panels, and both are mined in Alaska. Greens Creek is the largest silver mine in the U.S., and Red Dog is one of the world’s largest zinc mines.

Over reliance on China for rare earth elements means that the U.S. is economically dependent on a single country for crucial components needed for its high tech industries. This dependence undermines our country’s economic sovereignty and could potentially impact the U.S.’ ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Alaska: A Game Changer

With its vast mineral discoveries, Alaska could be a major player changing the dynamics of domestic mining production. 

Gold, silver, zinc, lead, and germanium are currently actively mined in Alaska. This includes Hecla Greens Creek Mine, the largest producing silver mine in the U.S., and Red Dog Mine, one of the world’s largest zinc mines and the first mine to achieve the stand-alone Zinc Mark for its sustainable practices. Alaska also contains vast untapped deposits of copper, cobalt, and graphite.

The U.S. must reduce its dependence on China and diversify its sources of critical and other minerals. Expanding domestic mining capabilities in Alaska could hold the key to establishing a reliable supply chain essential for national security and economic prosperity.

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