The Critical Ascension of REEs in Global Politics and U.S. National Security
by Steve Dobransky
Abstract: This paper analyzes and evaluates the emerging issue of rare earth elements (REEs) as a critical component of U.S. foreign policy and a potential source for international conflict. REEs are essential in the production of many high-tech and valuable products, from computers and telecommunications to military equipment and hybrid cars. REEs are in relative short supply for most countries in the world, and China holds a virtual monopoly, producing 97% of REEs. The situation is becoming increasingly sensitive to the U.S. and world as China rises up and becomes more competitive and a potential hostile power in the future. The U.S. government and corporations are declaring very publicly that there must be a major policy effort to obtain and secure large quantities of REEs for the long term. This paper examines the latest efforts by the U.S. to identify, extract, and protect REEs. It reviews briefly the history and basic characteristics of REEs and then brings everything up to date. It highlights the new public relations attempts at informing/warning the public about REEs. And, it analyzes the current trends and future expectations regarding REEs. The paper concludes with a number of policy recommendations and suggestions for future research.
Rare earth elements (REEs) are a new political phenomena. They have emerged unexpectedly on the scene in dramatic fashion. REEs are the essential ingredients for advanced and future technologies, prosperity, and weaponry. Political scientists and other scholars have yet to analyze and evaluate this issue in any theoretical or empirical sense. The media and think tanks are increasing their coverage and prominence of the REE issue. More experts are delving into the new equation. But most of the reports and approaches are just initial assessments and basic information on the topic, although very technical. No strategic vision or game plan has been laid down in any comprehensive manner. No models, statistical equations, or theoretical applications have been developed. This paper addresses a number of these issues. It first examines the REE issue from its most basic elements and then proceeds to identify the various REE deposits and locations. It then evaluates the economic impact of current REE production and future trends, primarily from a U.S. perspective. It applies a number of theoretical approaches to the REE issue, including Realism and Liberalism. It offers both comprehensive national and international endgames, as well as methods to achieve these goals. It stresses the need to develop a strong REE policy as soon as possible, especially with the rise of China and its virtual monopoly of REEs. The paper concludes with a number of policy recommendations and suggestions for further scholarly research.
The Basics: Natural Elements, Deposits and Locations
Rare earth elements are the seventeen (17) elements in the periodic chart (21, 39, 57-71) that have become increasingly important to today’s advanced economy and society (see appendix for the complete list and descriptions). REEs are used in computers, touch-screen cell phones and other electronics, satellites, lasers, regular and hybrid cars, aircraft, medical devices, televisions, nuclear facilities, military weapons, including stealth technology and precision guided missiles, petroleum refining, fiber optic cables, miniaturization of many technologies, optics, fuel cells and batteries, energy efficient fluorescent lamps and carbon arc lighting for the motion picture industry, and many other current and future products being made. REEs, clearly, are essential components for modern living and a wide variety of high-tech products. They are a billion dollar industry. Trillions of dollars worth of products require REEs. There are no alternatives or artificial substitutes for REEs, although scientists are making every effort to find them.1
REEs are concentrated in the earth’s crust in substantial quantities, but they are widely dispersed and in smaller quantities near the earth’s surface. The first REEs were discovered in Europe around the early 19th century and then more were found sporadically throughout the rest of the century into the 20th century. Scientists identified the unique minerals and they tested them in a variety of ways. REEs were not found to be useful in most cases until around the mid-20th century and the large-scale emergence of the advance industrialized period in many countries. REEs, then, became the quintessential component for many new products, especially high-tech products that have been developed from the 1980s to the present. Many products like the iPhone and iPad require REEs. Green products like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars need REEs. The 21st century economy is becoming an economy that runs on REEs.2
The primary suppliers of REEs have changed over the decades, based upon the discovery, demand, and pricing of REEs. Until 1950, Brazil and India were key suppliers, although the supply and demand were relatively low in quantity, and the minerals were very close to the surface and, thus, easily accessible. South Africa emerged as a major supplier in the 1950s as new REE deposits were found. South Africa’s mining industry certainly benefited from this unexpected development, as much of its industry was geared originally towards diamonds and other precious minerals and raw materials. The United States, thereafter, discovered its own major source of REEs in a Mountain Pass, California mine (in the upper Mojave Desert) during the 1960s and became the world’s leading supplier into the 1980s. At the present time, all of these mines remain in existence and new ones have been developed in these countries and others, including Australia, Canada, Russia, Vietnam, and even Greenland (Denmark). Notwithstanding the many REE deposits throughout the world, China has been the undisputed primary source of REEs since the 1990s, supplying more than all the world’s REE mines combined.3
China discovered extremely large and accessible REE mines throughout its territory, especially in Inner Mongolia (the Bayan Obo deposit, mostly), during the 1980s and 1990s. The great growth and potential of the computer industry among other new technological products encouraged the search and expansion of REE mining in China. Furthermore, China’s movement towards a more capitalist market and opening up to foreign companies and investors, paved the way for the quick and massive development of REEs. In 1992 Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping declared “There is oil in the Middle East; there is rare earth in China.”4 The Chinese government made every effort to apply REEs to manufactured products, especially made in China. Moreover, China undercut significantly REE prices on the world market in order to drive out of business or reduce substantially foreign companies and mines dealing in REEs (which, nevertheless, was good for consumers but very bad for non-Chinese competitors). Within the last 20 years, China has become the largest supplier of REEs in the world, providing 97% of the global market. China, however, is estimated to have only around 30% of the world’s proven REE reserves. Thus, old and new REE mines beyond China can still replace a large percentage of the China’s current monopoly, but the low REE costs, intense competition and locations of high-tech manufacturing firms have been key factors up to now in discouraging an international and corporate market challenge to China.5
The Economic Impact
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that there are 110 million tons of REE proven reserves throughout the world. China has approximately 36 million tons of estimated reserves, Russia 19 million, the U.S. 13 million, Australia 5 million, and India 3 million, for a total of 76 million tons. The rest of the REE reserves, around 34 million, are located in many other areas throughout the world. Interestingly, it was reported recently that Japan just discovered the largest REE deposit imaginable at around 80-100 billion tons, which would be nearly a thousand times larger than all the pre-existing REE reserves combined.6 Scientists and others are in the process of verifying this discovery, which just happens to be the first major find under the ocean floor. If confirmed, then this would alter greatly the REE equation and enable Japan to become a major supplier of REEs. Until now, REEs were found around mountain ranges and other typical mining sites. The new Japanese find indicates that large quantities of REEs can exist in the seabed and, possibly, under any major body of water, such as the Great Lakes, which means a whole new realm of search and discovery. In fact, there are a large number of Canadian REE sites around the Great Lakes region, which suggests that there could be potential REE sites on the American side of the Great Lakes and maybe even underneath the Great Lakes.7
In 2010 there were 133,000 tons of REEs consumed by international industries, up from 120,000 tons in 2009. In 2008, there were 74,000 tons of REEs consumed. Thus, there has been a significant increase in REE consumption in the last few years. It is estimated that there will be approximately 170,000 tons needed in 2015.8 China sells 97% of the world’s REEs, and its domestic industries use about 60% of them (domestic being Chinese and non-Chinese multinational corporations). This means that approximately 37% of China’s REEs are exported. But this may change drastically in the next couple of years. The Chinese government has attempted to “encourage,” or essentially coerce, foreign manufacturers to relocate to China by imposing very high export tariffs up to 25% as well as value added taxes (VAT) up to 17% on REEs (this is one of the reasons why fluorescent light bulbs with REEs, for example, have risen significantly in price in the last year). China claims to be protecting its supply and the environment, but it has little if any taxes on REEs used in China and then exported as complete manufactured products. Many American companies and others have been “persuaded” by these taxes to move their industries to China in order to remain competitive and survive in the markets.9
In addition to the high tariffs and other anti-market forces, China has been trying to cut back substantially on its REE exports. Since 2009 China has imposed limits on REE exports to approximately 30,000 tons per year, down from 60,000 tons in 2008. China, once again, claims that this is to help protect its environment (which would be acceptable grounds under international trade rules), but few agree with the argument since China’s domestic REE usage continues to increase while its domestic REE prices are well below the raw export prices—thus, suggesting protectionism, i.e. economic mercantilism. All this means that relocating to China offers companies the best access and cheapest means to utilize REEs for their products, as well as possibly be the only option in the future based upon current trends and Chinese policies. China’s REE domestic consumption, moreover, is expected to rise from 60% to 70% by next year, which likely will lead to even less REE exports.
When combining the data given above on REE production and China’s export limits, the following chart can be made:
|Year||Total||China (97%)||Export Max||Export %||Actual Export % / Change|
Computer and camera companies and large chemical businesses are recognizing that it is best to move to China. Companies dealing with touch-screen computers, liquid-crystal displays, energy-efficient light bulbs, cell phones, and many other popular products and components are being forced to consider that if they do not move to China, they will be beaten by a competitor which moves to China or originates there. Even Apple Inc. has had to have much of its production done in China. The Chinese government, likely, is violating the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, especially on the export controls, but many corporations and governments are too fearful and weak to complain, recognizing the major economic consequences that could follow. It is only just recently in March 2012 that the U.S., the European Union, and Japan initiated a joint official complaint with the WTO against China’s REE practices. The WTO, however, tends to be more lenient towards developing countries in terms of protecting domestic industries and profiting from natural resources, so it is not a guarantee that the WTO will rule against China, although any advanced industrialized country would be found guilty on all counts. The only thing assisting foreign companies in this situation, ironically, is China’s substantial black market for REEs, which is estimated to be as high as one third of its previous exports in 2008; in other words, most of China’s 60,000 tons of REE exports in 2008 are still leaving China, only much of it is technically “illegal” according to the Chinese government.10
Literature and Media Review of REEs
There have been a number of books, articles, and reports on REEs over the last several decades. There have been no scholarly materials from the political science profession. Most of the books have been standard analyses of the scientific characteristics and mining of all or particular REEs. The books are basic introductory-like texts (although they would appear very sophisticated to the novice) geared mainly towards geological, mining, and other similar interests. There are just a few specific publications that approach the topic from a political, economic, and national security viewpoint, although hopefully the public will be seeing more of them soon. In terms of articles and reports on REEs, there have been a growing number of them in recent years.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2010 Critical Materials Strategy is a 166-page report. It is a comprehensive study on REEs and other key elements such as lithium and cobalt. It presents many details and specific locations and trends, along with statistics and graphs. It also lists which elements are critical in the short and medium terms, and it warns that U.S. supplies could be at risk of disruption in the future. It identifies a number of government programs that assist corporations and researchers in the REE area. Moreover, it highlights the basic strategies other countries are using to deal with REEs, including Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and South Korea. The report provides a long list of references, and it gives a number of specific Congressional legislation that have been proposed to deal with REEs.11
Cindy Hurst’s “China’s Rare Earth Elements Industry: What Can the West Learn?” is a very good and detailed analysis of the REE issue. Hurst, an analyst for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, wrote the 2010 paper for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). The research offers some of the best descriptions and uses for each of the seventeen REEs. It focuses a lot on China. And it makes a few suggestions like long-term stockpiling and joint ventures between the U.S. and other countries in order to develop a more diverse group of REE suppliers beyond China.12
Stephen B. Castor and James B. Hedrick’s “Rare Earth Elements” is one of the most technical research papers on the topic. Castor and Hedrick break down each of the seventeen REEs into a detailed analysis and they show how each element gets extracted and processed for the end market. They are extremely detailed in characterizing and categorizing each of the elements into further subdivisions, including light and heavy rare earth elements. They also give us the specific shipment percentages that the U.S. imports and from whom, as well as China’s specific percentage of exports. They also provide a good explanation of where REEs tend to be located, from iron and carbonatite deposits to lateritic, placer, peralkaline, vein, and other deposits. One finds in the article that there are a wide variety of locations that REEs can be found but there are no simple guidelines.13
In addition to the studies above, the USGS has written many reports on REEs. The USGS is part of the Interior Department and it plays a major role in searching both land and sea for natural resources, along with mapping every inch of territory. The USGS has over 10,000 scientists and other experts collecting and analyzing natural resource samples and monitoring hundreds of locations. All of their reports can be found online at the USGS’s website and in published U.S. government documents. The most significant USGS report recently is the 104-page PDF “The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States—A Summary of Domestic Deposits and a Global Perspective.” This report was written by Keith Long, et al. in 2010 and it is a very comprehensive research paper, covering the history and basics of REEs to specific U.S. and foreign REE mines, including maps, pictures, and graphs of REE sites. Another notable USGS report is “Rare Earth Elements in U.S. Not So Rare,” which points out that REE deposits are located in fourteen U.S. states and provides a number of details on the REE mines and ongoing research.14
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has taken an active lead in REEs among the major think tanks. It hosted a conference panel in 2010 that included key officials from the DOE and USGS. The CSIS’s website includes the video of the keynote speaker and panel. The online site also includes a number of important articles written on REEs. The CSIS has a specific Energy and National Security Program section that includes REEs. The CSIS is keeping a close watch on REEs and is trying to address a number of important and emerging questions on the issue.15
Furthermore, a number of short articles on REEs have come out in the last 1-2 years that have tried to alert the public to the importance of REEs and China’s potential growing threat. Adam Aston’s “China’s Rare-Earth Monopoly” in Technology Review is a concise piece on attempts to find alternatives to REEs. Aston notes that the U.S. government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) has given approximately $7 million to the universities of Nebraska and Delaware, as well as GE Global Research, to find ways to make products (especially magnets) with significantly less REEs or with potential substitutes, such as nanocomposites. And he points out that the U.S. House and Senate are working on legislation to promote the entire REE logistical chain, from extracting and refining to manufacturing, and to give loan guarantees to encourage new mining activities.16
In addition to Aston, The New York Times and a few other newspapers have published articles on REEs. Keith Bradsher, a major contributor on REEs, wrote in the NYT on August 24, 2011 “Chasing Rare Earths, Foreign Companies Expand in China.” Bradsher stresses the importance of REEs and how China has taken the lead over the last several decades. He notes that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao used to be a geologist who studied REEs in graduate school in Beijing in the 1960s. This suggests that China’s political and academic leadership recognized the importance of REEs early on and it explains why China developed such an extensive and aggressive REE policy. Bradsher captures the growing power and trends in REEs and provides several important statistics and costs. He highlights a number of U.S. and Western companies that have been forced to relocate to China, and he states that “China’s tactics on rare earths probably violate global trade rules, according to governments and business groups around the world.”17 Bradsher points out that governments are waiting on a case before the WTO in which China used similar tactics on a non-REE mineral to control access and impose certain costs to limit exports and promote Chinese domestic industries. He, nevertheless, does not state whether China will adhere to any WTO decision that would cost it billions, as well as whether the U.S. and other Western countries would punish seriously China and risk a subsequent trade war.18
Scott Canon with the McClatchy Newspapers wrote “U.S. Hunts for Domestic Sources of ‘Rare Earths:’ Industry Fears Chinese Control Over Minerals Vital to Technology” in July 2011. Canon focuses on China’s growing monopoly of REEs and several U.S. corporations trying to address the problem and get the government to be more active on the issue. Canon acknowledges the DOE’s 2010 report on critical materials, and he reports that General Electric and other U.S. manufacturers have gone before Congress and requested that the U.S. government play a much more active role in promoting and protecting domestic REE production. He states that some members of Congress have expressed their concern and consider this a major national security issue. Canon, furthermore, examines recent efforts in southeast Nebraska to find and extract REEs from deposits caused by underground volcanic activity around 500 million years ago. This suggests that the lava that spilled out and cooled in the past can leave large amounts of carbonatite deposits that may include REEs. The rocks in this area also were more magnetic and denser, which was another result of the magma cooling and incorporating a variety of elements. Canon states that a Canadian company called Quantum Rare Earth Developments is currently examining the core samples and data left by the previous REE owner, Molycorp Minerals. He informs us that Molycorp searched the Nebraska area for REEs in the 1970s and 1980s but then gave up because of the market costs at the time. Canon goes on to say that Molycorp owns the only sizeable REE mine in the U.S., the Mountain Pass mine in California. He states that Molycorp operated the Mountain Pass mine for decades but shut down the mine a few years ago to modernize its processing plant at a cost of $530 million. He declares that Molycorp plans to re-open the mine in 2012 and produce an estimated 40,000 tons of REEs annually, which would be about one third of the world’s current usage.19
The Political Dimension
The United States government has been relatively quiet until recently on the topic of REEs and the ongoing developments in China. Although government reports have been made and communicated to the public through various media outlets, most high-level politicians including the President, have not made this issue a high priority. It is clear that major economic warfare has been occurring for the last two decades and the U.S. government has not yet started to respond to all of the attacks. U.S. corporations have been threatened and coerced by the Chinese government and laws, and the U.S. economy and national security are becoming extremely vulnerable to Chinese manipulation. The 2010 DOE Critical Materials Strategy report put it very diplomatically that the U.S. economy can be brought down quickly to its knees without REEs, and U.S. national security can be threatened seriously without a substantial and stable supply of REEs. The Defense Department came out with a 2011 report to Congress declaring that REEs are critical to many advanced weapons systems and equipment and that China’s continued monopoly on REEs is potentially a serious threat to U.S. national security. The DOD recommends that America’s military and economic manufacturing base be protected better from any possible disruptions of REE supplies. Most recently, the DOD has teamed up with Toyota and Canada’s Ucore Rare Metals and Matamec Explorations to mine and increase supplies of REEs. In short, the U.S.’s future is based primarily on the continued development and expansion of REE-related products and weapons, yet virtually everything is heading in China’s direction—largely because of China’s political and economic policies and the U.S. government’s lackluster response. Congress is working on some legislation but nothing is on the horizon other than some relatively small financial support and nothing aggressive appears to be in the works to protect and promote America’s REE-security.20
In terms of legislation, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have introduced a number of bills and held hearings on promoting domestic REE industries. Specific bills in 2010, for example, were H.R. 4866, H.R. 6160, and S. 3521; they were introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper (D-PA), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), respectively (note the bipartisanship and wide geographical range). Rep. Coffman also introduced a bipartisan bill H.R. 1388, the Rare Earths Supply-Chain Technology and Resources Transformation Act of 2011 (RESTART Act), which was based upon H.R. 4866. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sponsored the Resource Assessment of Rare Earths (RARE) Act of 2011, which called on the USGS to carry out a three-year study of global REEs. Most recently, on July 12, 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012, which called for improving and speeding up the process for new REE mining projects. The House recognized the need to create a long-term policy for maintaining a large REE strategic reserve. The Democratic-controlled Senate, however, appears reluctant to approve the House measure, since the Obama Administration has voiced its concerns on environmental, government oversight, and legislative wording factors. Other REE-related legislation is expected to be proposed in the near future. None of these major bills have passed yet, mainly because of a lack of urgency among many, as well as concerns over budgetary costs, environmental issues, government involvement in the economy, and a potential escalation of a trade conflict with China. The primary Congressional committees and subcommittees that deal with REEs are the House Committee on Natural Resources, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and the Senate Subcommittee on Energy.21
Regarding government funding for REE activities, Congress authorized in 2010 $15 million for research to the DOE’s Office of Science, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), and ARPA-E. It also gave ARPA-E $35 million for research on next generation batteries that do not require REEs.22 Congress continues to support Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which established the Loan Guarantee Program that provides funding for companies, products, and new green ideas (although it should be noted that Solyndra was a beneficiary of this program and received $535 million), as well as the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program, and tax credits.23 And, the U.S. government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the stimulus bill) provides more than $80 billion for clean energy and $37 billion for electric vehicles, batteries, electrical infrastructure, solar, wind technologies, and other green products; all of which are related to REEs and are sure to increase exponentially the demand for REEs in the coming years.24
In addition, Congress supports other U.S. government organizations that complement the DOE and its specific REE-related offices. These include the Office of Science and Technology Policy (Executive Office of the President), the USGS and other relevant Interior Department offices under the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation Enforcement (BOEMRE), and the Defense Department, including the National Defense Stockpile Program (run by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)). The government, moreover, supports the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Departments of State and Commerce, and the U.S. Trade Representative in their dealings with REEs as well as a number of other executive organizations, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.25
This is a critical point in time for both American and international politics. China has been emboldened to violate WTO regulations and has attempted to tax and regulate REE exports to such an extent that relatively little leaves China solely as a raw material. The Europeans and others have taken the same path as the U.S. and have been relatively silent and inactive on the manner, carrying out studies and making reports but not preparing fully a proper offense or defense against China, except for the more recent WTO complaint. The world economy is at a crossroads and China is going in for the kill, so to speak. China realizes that too many American and foreign companies are dependent on REEs and cannot afford any major breakage or delay in supplies. Thus, all American, European, and other international companies are extremely vulnerable to China’s demands. The Western governments have deferred to their corporations and have stood mostly on the sidelines. The recent claims that China threatened to cut off its REE supplies to Japan over a territorial dispute have only exacerbated the situation, although China claims that it did not call officially for the export ban. Many countries and corporations are on edge and just one slight reduction in REEs or a price increase can cut them out of markets and cost them billions of dollars and maybe even their entire businesses.26
The political dimension of REEs has not been developed or debated fully by Americans,or by the rest of the world. Many politicians and corporate executives have transnational interests and cannot argue for more aggressive policies without risking possible severe consequences. Most of the Western public are not aware of REEs and, thus have not demanded redress of the issue. Political scientists and other scholars in general have not been attuned to the REE issue and, therefore, have not made any significant attempt to examine the issue, let alone make recommendations. A number of journalists and think tank members have been lighting the torch and waving it to get others’ attention but so far few people have taken notice. With such relatively little interest by the general public or intense demands by a fervent and powerful few, the REE issue is riding below the political radar screen to the grave disadvantage of all. This issue has the potential to bring down America and greatly undermine its well-being and security, as well as the rest of the world. American prosperity and stability, and the world’s strategic balance, may well hang in the balance on the REE issue. If China consolidates its position and maintains a long-term monopoly of REEs, then it will ensure that most high-end and valuable products with REEs will be manufactured eventually in China and, thus, much of the world’s wealth will shift to China and be utilized there. China, then, will attain the level of the new—and, possibly, sole—superpower in the world in the coming decades.27
In the end, REE’s may be equivalent to future world domination, if one country continues to control virtually all of the REE production. China, certainly, believes that REEs are at least a critical component of major world power status and prosperity. American political leaders should take note and develop a strong sense of urgency on the manner. The U.S. government may want to change direction and develop a grand vision to correct the last 20 years of major Chinese aggression in the REE market. The near future may be America’s best and, possibly, last chance to alter the REE equation for the benefit of itself and the entire world.
A number of political science theories and models can be applied to the REE issue in order to build a greater and more enriched understanding of the issue. Since no scholars have applied yet political theories to REEs, the following general assessments on REEs will be made using several of the major theories. Although many theories and models can be applied to REEs, this paper will utilize Realism/Neo-Realism, Liberalism/Neo-Liberalism, Constructivism, and Radical/Marxist/Dependency/World-System theories.
When examining REEs, Realist theory will stress the power and security dimension. Realists and Neo-Realists will argue that the U.S. government and all other governments should treat the REE issue as a zero-sum game and a vital threat to the balance of power. They will demand that the U.S. government, as the major world power leader, pursue an avenue of hard-ball politics with the Chinese. They, certainly, will point out that China is using REEs and all of its government resources to protect and promote its national interests. They would expect and encourage the U.S. government to do the same and to make every effort to find and develop new REE deposits throughout the U.S. and world, in order to assure national freedom and prosperity for the long term. Realists would argue that the government should promote federal funding, organizational support, tax breaks, and every other government power and resource that exists or can be created to develop a much more diverse supplier base that can ensure a stable supply of REES well into the future, regardless of Chinese policies. Realists would demand that the U.S. government and others build up a large stockpile of REEs, similar to the strategic oil reserves, in order to prevent China or any other country from disrupting and threatening unexpectedly America’s military and economic interests. Realists and Neo-Realists will expect the U.S. to alter quickly the REE “balance of power” and ensure that China no longer supplies the majority of REEs to the world. Realists also would demand major national efforts to resolve China’s multiple violations of WTO rules and its blatant efforts to coerce foreign corporations to relocate to China; although they would acknowledge China’s national right and interests to do this, Western realists still would make the argument since it is against their own countries’ interests. Realists and Neo-Realists, in the end, would never have allowed this situation to become what it is today, i.e. a world that is completely dependent on China for the vast majority of REEs.28
Liberal theorists on the REE issue will stress the international dimensions and free market standards of REEs. They would demand greater cooperation and trust with China and other countries. They would be hard pressed regarding China’s recent actions to cut substantially its exports and greatly increase the export tariffs and VAT, but they would acknowledge that this, at worse, is within the rights of countries to do so and, at best, will rely on the WTO and others to correct the situation. They would encourage China to change its policies and be more open and less regulating on REEs. Liberal theorists would suggest that free market economics is at work here and that China is offering the cheapest REEs on the planet. They would point out that the U.S. and other countries have had decades to develop and sell their own REEs and that they have opted out of the market or have relegated themselves to minor supplier roles. Liberal and Neo-Liberal theorists would emphasize international rules and regulations and the need for a specific international REE regime to ensure the free and stable flow of REEs at reasonable prices. They would add that a specialized regime beyond the overly broad WTO should be set in place given the great importance of REEs to much of the world’s economy. They would conclude that economic competition is fierce and that governments should stay out of the competition as much as possible and focus on maintaining a certain set of fair and agreed-upon rules and regulations. Liberals believe that the REE issue will work itself out over time, trusting in countries and corporations, since it is a relatively new issue that needs to find its equilibrium. They would advise that corporations deal primarily with the issue and that it is their choice to relocate to China or anywhere else in the world and to purchase REEs at whatever the market prices are. They would stress that comparative advantage lies with China on the issue at the current time and that corporations must follow the hidden hand or else fail. They would state that any government interference beyond the free market would undermine international trust and cooperation, and any Chinese interference to lower prices is an unexpected boon on REE-related products. And they would argue that if China attempts to increase significantly its prices or cut more of its exports in the future, then other countries can develop more REE mines and, thereafter, corporations can move elsewhere. There may be a delay and some pain in between, but Liberal and Neo-Liberal theorists would argue that these are the ebb and flow of international power and economics. And, as long as the issue remains relatively peaceful, the world can benefit greatly from these exceptionally cheap and abundant REEs, regardless of where the REEs come from or where they are manufactured.29
Constructivists will argue that REEs are not a reason to be concerned about as long as the language and imagery remain peaceful. Constructivists will state that as long as the world does not see REEs as serious competition or conflict then there will not likely be an escalation and potential conflict. They will point out that this is free market competition and that if the REEs were based mostly in a Western and friendly country then there may be less consternation. But, since most REEs are in China and a communist country at that, then there is a greater and unnecessary fear that China is or can be a rival and future threat. Constructivists will caution that this issue can get out of hand if misperceptions and miscalculations are made regarding Western images of China. There are a growing number of media news stories and fictional portrayals that make China to be America’s next arch rival. U.S. military strategists foresee China as a potential major threat in the coming years. There is still the possibility of war over Taiwan at any time. Constructivists will state that all of these issues and more, whether real or imagined, can alter the national and international equation on REEs and turn the issue into a potentially inflammatory issue. Constructivists will conclude that the U.S. government and public would be wise to temper their concerns and negative attitudes and imagery of China. They would dismiss the fear that China will use all of this newfound power and wealth to bring down or attack America. They would point out that there can be friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries as long as both have a positive image and attitude towards each other and then act accordingly. REEs are a symbol of trust and cooperation and, thus, constructivists will use the continued sale and flow of REEs as a benchmark for good international relations and perceptions.30
Radical, Marxist, and other Dependency and World-System theorists will argue that REEs are another example of capitalist industrialized countries exploiting the raw materials of the developing world. They would point to this issue as proof that the vast majority of the wealth and trade is still coming from Western countries, and that multinational corporations (MNCs) are just an extension of capitalism. Thus, MNCs in China would confirm that the major powers are still dominating the undeveloped countries and exploiting their raw materials at low, cut-throat prices. China, on the other hand, is rising and it is communist to some degree. Many of these theorists would hold out hope that China may be altering the equation and using its raw material power to bring the capitalists to their knees and to negotiate a much better deal with the major industrialized powers. Some Radicals and Marxists, however, may suggest that China is selling out and being integrated into the capitalist system and that few Chinese will truly benefit from this growing REE arrangement. Dependency theorists, on the other hand, will argue that China and all other developing countries are still dependent on the major capitalist countries for investment, technology, and markets and that REEs will only worsen and consolidate the situation between the metropolis (major powers) and satellites (developing countries). World-System theorists, furthermore, will argue that China is a semi-peripheral country and is rising up to possibly become part of the core countries. China is large enough and has substantial resources to make it a major contender. This will not alter much since it is one country in the middle that has been expected for decades to likely ascend to the core. There will be alterations in major power relations, but the expansion of wealth and power will mean a bigger pie, so to speak, and China will get a larger portion than it previously has had. And all the other peripheral countries will not benefit from this arrangement. In fact, many will lose out since more companies will relocate to China instead of other developing countries in order to get in on the REE rush. Thus, World-System theorists will see the REE equation as further proof of their approach and explanation to international affairs.31
Endgames and Game Plans
The U.S. and other Western countries must alter fundamentally the current REE structure as soon as possible. The situation is reaching critical mass. The U.S. and other advanced industrialized countries have become very vulnerable to Chinese manipulation, not only on REEs but on many other issues well beyond. Any Chinese threat to cut off or reduce substantially REEs or to greatly increase their prices can be a major influence, or coercive instrument, on any person’s calculations when negotiating or arguing with China. Just the threat lying in the background could be sufficient to force the U.S. and others to back down and give in to China. Therefore, the U.S. and others must make every effort to reduce China’s overall annual supply percentage to less than half in the near future, preferably in the next 10 years, and then try to reduce it even further to no more than one quarter or one third of the world’s annual supplies after 10 years. Ideally, China can sell REEs on the world market but there will be enough non-Chinese supplies and reserves to replace China if its REEs are completely shut off or reduced significantly for whatever reason. In short, the U.S. should have enough of its own REE capacity and reserves to sustain itself at 100% levels without any Chinese supplies. This should be a major goal to reach in the next 20 years, if not sooner.32
The U.S.’s primary goal must be to become as self-sufficient as possible on REEs. The next step is to become as independent of Chinese REEs. The U.S. needs to diversify its REE supplies with domestic and non-Chinese companies. It has to continue searching for alternatives to REEs that are as productive and cost effective in the same types of items. To this end, the government needs to increase greatly its funding to corporations and the scientific community to find REE substitutes that are more widely available, cheaper, and safer for the environment in all stages of development. In addition, the U.S. needs to increase the recycling of used products with REEs, which Japan is doing currently on an extensive basis. The U.S. government should fund substantially new local, state, and national programs as well as give tax credits and maybe even payments (as some states do for bottles and cans) to encourage the search and return of many unwanted and discarded electronics and other goods that have REEs. This could lead to a direct and easy collection method for all future products with REEs; i.e., they can be tagged from here on with a specific recycling symbol like other existing products so citizens can separate and dispose of REE products in particular containers (then, possibly, receive a payment or tax credit). The U.S.’s first priority, however, is to deal with existing annual supplies and near-future needs (2-5 years) and then to focus on building up a strategic reserve. The U.S. should encourage other countries to find, develop, and sell a much greater proportion of REEs. The U.S. can invest in and initiate joint ventures, and provide appropriate foreign aid. Japan already has begun to carry out an aggressive foreign aid and joint venture program with Vietnam, and this will likely expand to other countries that have REEs.33
The U.S. should make REEs the equivalent to the next gold or oil rush. The U.S. government should make an all-out effort to entice corporations and others to search for REE deposits throughout the country and world. It should provide major funding and tax credits to all who participate. Billions of dollars should be invested in the government’s REE program. One of the first things the U.S. government should do is to establish a new central base of REE operations, i.e. a new bureaucracy devoted entirely to REEs. It should work with mining, oil, and other natural resource companies that have extensive experience in discovering key raw materials. It should coordinate with these companies to collect and analyze new soil samples and data in order to determine what minerals and resources may exist at specific locations. It also should lead the effort in sifting through all previous soil samples and data collected by corporations and U.S. government organizations over the last century or more. There could be many cases in which organizations may have come across and collected inadvertently REEs while searching for oil or some other specific resource. Finally, the U.S. government should establish a specific section in this proposed new REE organization whose primary purpose is to lead a comprehensive and thorough search for new REE deposits throughout the country and world. It should coordinate with the Interior, State, and Commerce Departments as well as major foreign aid organizations to facilitate an extensive and vigorous REE operation on a global scale. The potential profits should be stressed to encourage both public and private efforts at finding and developing new REE sites.34 /p>
There are no exact signs or geographical markers for REE deposit locations. There are no easy ways to search and identify potential areas. REEs have been found throughout the world in a variety of distinct places. One interesting commonality in a number of finds is a large amount of carbonatites, sometimes formed by lava a long time ago. This suggests that one of the general places to focus REE searches is around volcanic sites, active or dormant. The West Coast, Hawaii and the Pacific, as well as other volcanic locations throughout the world, both on land and under the sea, may turn out to be REE treasure troves. Even the Middle East has signs of ancient volcanic activities, including Jordan and the surrounding area. Japan’s REE discovery in the Pacific Ocean’s seabed is a possible indicator that there could be massive REE deposits underwater. Searching areas where oil is or used to be in substantial amounts may be valuable. If hydrocarbons are or were profuse in an area, then there may be other elements around these resource-rich environments. If anything, oil companies would have collected large amounts of data in these areas and, thus, would allow for quick analytical processing.35
Furthermore, the Great Lakes region may hold some interesting finds. Besides being the birthplace of refined oil, it is filled with natural resources as a result of the Ice Age. There may be REEs underneath the soil and at the bottom of the lakes themselves. Canada’s numerous REE mines on its side of the Great Lakes suggest a possible reciprocity on the U.S. side. Mining companies (including sea salt companies) may be useful in examining previous and current data for REEs, and they may help in new searches and analyses. Moreover, large-scale mountain ranges (particularly in relatively arid regions) are another obviously potential search point, from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains and everything around and in between. The Denver Post has published a number of exciting articles on REEs, including one that argues that REEs will be found in large amounts in the region and that they will bring massive new wealth and jobs. China’s largest REE mine, in fact, is also a major iron deposit location. There should be substantial mining data in the public and corporate realms. This, at least, would be a way to get off to a quick start and reduce the overall areas to search for REEs.36
On a global level, the U.S. government should help promote and coordinate international efforts to break China’s REE monopoly. The U.S. should help fund and assist all corporate and public efforts throughout the world to find and process new REE supplies. The U.S. should buy and invest in foreign REE mines and corporations. China already is doing this throughout the world, including in Australia, and trying to do so in Greenland. China, notably, in 2005 even made an attempt to purchase Unocal, the owner of Molycorp and, thus, the primary unit operating the U.S.’s largest REE mine in Mountain Pass, CA. Only after a U.S. public, media, and Congressional uproar did China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) withdraw its offer. China’s failure was mainly because of American nationalism and energy concerns and not REEs, which most people were not aware of at the time and, thus, the implications of China obtaining Molycorp through Unocal (although China must have surely known). Moreover, Europe appears to be a very undeveloped and unsearched region for REEs. The European Union should be encouraged and supported in efforts inside and outside its territory to find more REE deposits (from the Alps and Carpathians to the Urals, as well as the mountain ranges in Norway and Scotland; maybe even Ireland). Furthermore, many developing countries and regions could be home to substantial REEs. There are a number of small deposits already on six continents, but there are likely much more if searched for in an extensive manner, possibly in the Himalayas region, the South and Central American mountain ranges, and maybe in and around Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania, Africa). Turkey and the Caucasus could be good potential sites. In addition, the Arctic and Antarctic regions may very well contain substantial REE deposits. One major Canadian REE site is located in the Arctic Circle, suggesting that there could be many more REEs in the surrounding area.37
Over time, a large surplus of REEs may be found and stockpiled, but the search must commence soon and on a very wide scale. The U.S. should have an REE strategic reserve that can last for at least a few years (the U.S.’s strategic oil reserves, actually, have only about two months-worth of oil to meet current import needs). The U.S. and other governments should ensure that REEs are sufficient and stable year round to meet existing and near future demands and at a reasonable price set by markets and not by one country alone, like China. There could be many more REE deposits throughout the world and the U.S. needs a variety of people, both in the public and private sectors, to help carry out this massive endeavor, as proposed above. In the end, the U.S. and others will benefit greatly from the much larger supply of REEs to meet rapidly growing demand and to keep prices low. This should be a 20-year plan, with major benchmarks in 2, 5, and 10 years. It is a grand vision of REEs that should have an aggressive game plan on a worldwide scale.38
The U.S. should bring together the best minds and groups from the corporate, university, and national security fields, and then formulate a grand strategy for REEs. This group needs to examine fully the political, economic, and security aspects of REEs. It has to analyze all of the domestic and foreign policy dimensions. REEs can create major economic prosperity for any city, region, or country that has them and, thus, can alter quickly the political dynamics. Moreover, there has to be sufficient numbers of people educated and trained in REEs to be ready to move in to the appropriate jobs in these REE areas. Scholars and others have to identify the specific needs and skills that are required to support the local REE industry and personnel. The domestic U.S. is one research area to examine in detail and make recommendations. The foreign research area is another but more complicated arena.
When it comes to rapid and potential resource prosperity like REEs, there is the potential risk of increased foreign domestic and neighboring conflicts as well as terrorism. Resource wars and insurgencies are not uncommon. Thus, scholars and other experts have to come up with specifically tailored plans to secure these REE areas for the long term. This will include U.S. and allied military forces, private security, and/or local/native forces. All will have to be trained and equipped sufficiently to ensure a relatively secure REE location and, thereafter, shipping routes out of the country and on to the destination point in the U.S. or elsewhere (roads, railroads, ports, sea lanes, airports, and air routes). This will require more military and intelligence resources and personnel, as well as the appropriate number of translators and experts in each of the REE countries. Thus, more government and university programs need to be designed to create a fully trained REE bureaucracy and corporate workforce.
The U.S. must recognize the major responsibility and undertaking of a national and global REE campaign. Wherever there are high-valued resources in the world, there tend to be more internal socio-economic problems and crime as well as international competition and potential conflict. One or more major world or regional powers may seek to interfere in REE countries and cause problems. One cannot even rule out that China may try to undermine this new effort to end its REE monopoly by resisting directly or indirectly through proxies in some form of Cold-War-like format. Therefore, the U.S. and its friends and allies need to formulate an REE grand strategy that prepares for a high level of security and possible conflict and, on the other end, attempts to reduce the chances of escalation into a hot war through deterrence, negotiations, and foreign assistance.
In addition, the U.S. government needs to fund much more research in improving the environmental record of REE sites and, at the same time, reduce the extreme environmental regulations that discourage the creation of new mines and make new and existing mines overly costly, especially compared with Chinese REEs. Universities should take the lead in developing new methods and equipment for mining and refining REEs and ensuring their safe application in the manufacturing and disposal process. High quality and cost-effectiveness should be the goals. Cleaning up old and current sites to meet new environmental standards should be an objective as well. Many more REE sites should be developed across the U.S. and world and scholars and others can play a significant role in facilitating this and protecting the environment at the same time, all the while making the entire process and end-products relatively competitive price wise. But, given the vital interests involved, the U.S. should not let environmental issues prevent the creation of a large REE stockpile in the short term and self-sufficiency in the long term.
One final note on REEs: the Chinese black market. China is trying to crack down on its REE black market. If successful, then its newly imposed taxes and export controls will make it very detrimental to global REE needs and a major threat to the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. and others in the corporate and government sectors should encourage actively and covertly the Chinese black market. What China says is “illegal” is in all reality the global free market and the true letter and spirit of the WTO. Thus, the CIA and other intelligence organizations should work with corporations to conduct an intensive operation to sustain and, possibly, expand the Chinese black market for REEs. This will be critical for the next several years until the U.S. and others develop a sufficient number of REE sites and reserves. The black market can help maintain U.S. security and corporate existence and prosperity.
All public and covert efforts should be made to promote and fund any and all foreign activities in China and throughout the world that are intended to open up and sustain the free flow of as much REEs as possible. Once the U.S. establishes self-sufficiency and a substantial strategic reserve, then it can consider winding down the black market operations, but then again…. The U.S. should coordinate with foreign governments and intelligence organizations in finding and maximizing new and old REE black market sites, especially in China. And it should be prepared for some Chinese ire sooner or later. It should be made clear that China has violated constantly a number of international trade rules and regulations and is notorious for using the black market to sell its cheap knockoffs of American and other Western goods (including the iPad). It may seem proper justice and compensation for many to return the favor on REEs. One could surmise that there has to be at least some Western intelligence or corporate espionage already going on, since someone has to be buying up the tens of thousands of tons of REEs on the Chinese black market. So this recommendation should be expanded and intensified if anything. And if the Chinese government changes eventually its taxes and limits on REE exports and complies with the letter and spirit of the WTO, then there will not be much of a need for the black market any longer.
The U.S.’s top goal should be to keep the REE black market system going for as long as possible. The U.S. should try to expand the amounts, especially as demand grows and if China tries to reduce its REE exports or taxes them further. This will keep sufficient REEs coming to Western industries at reasonably cheap prices. But, the U.S. and others cannot rely fully on the long-term maintenance of a system that is largely in the realm of the Chinese government. Sooner or later, the Chinese may be successful in destroying to a large degree or entirely the REE black market. Thus, it is only a temporary solution for at least the next few years. The U.S.’s black market policy is meant to buy time and maintain well-priced REEs until new, non-Chinese sources are found. The U.S. economy and military need very much the REEs and they cannot afford any significant disruptions or threats. Any black market activities that assist in supplying the U.S. and Western industries with sufficient REEs is a good thing. Bu the sooner the U.S. and others break their dependency on Chinese REEs, the better it will be. The black market will suffice until then.
Overall, rare earth elements offer us the best of modern living and, on the other hand, the potential to be trapped in a very dependent and vulnerable relationship. REEs represent a broad-range of political, economic, and national security dimensions that should be researched further by scholars. It is a rich environment for many current and new political theories, models, and other equations. It offers a new area of research that is integral with the future advancements and well-being of the country and much of the world. REEs are expected to be in increasing demand in the coming decades, especially as new green and technological products are integrated into society and environmental regulations become more stringent.
There are many more REE questions to be answered and details to be filled in. Some of these REE questions and potential research areas for scholars include the following. What would an international REE regime entail? Specifically, how would it be configured and operate and what powers would it have? What happens if China retaliates economically or in some other manner? How can the U.S. and other countries reduce the chances of misunderstanding and conflict and promote peaceful negotiations and mutually beneficial solutions? What exactly should the U.S. government do and to what degree in both the domestic and international areas? How much of the burdens should corporations take on? What would the details be for a centralized U.S. organization for collecting and analyzing all the data and samples for REEs as well as seeking out new REE sites throughout the country and world? Moreover, significant research can be done on environmental issues. An area that should be debated, at least in the short term until better and more cost-efficient methods and equipment are found, is whether environmental laws and costs should be reduced to allow American REE companies the ability to compete better with foreign companies and prices and to give others the incentive to invest more in research and new mines? In addition, how should the U.S. government coordinate with all the various corporations and governments throughout the world? Should there be mostly multilateral or bilateral approaches, regional or global, and, depending on the selection, which one should take precedence, especially given the wide varieties of interests on this issue? Furthermore, if and when new REE deposits are found outside the U.S., who then should move in and mine and process the materials? U.S./Western companies or local foreign companies and governments? Who should be the primary stakeholders in these new finds, especially after major U.S. government assistance? Should the U.S. government be an investment partner, i.e. a receiver of business profits that will help fund and reward it for past and future actions (the public, likely, will expect this)? Finally, what role should the U.S. military and other security and intelligence forces play in protecting the overall effort and ensuring a free flow of REE research, manufacturing, and shipments? Or should local or private Western security forces take over once the new companies are up and running? Either way, this security equation can lead to a whole new type of protection and need for additional funding. And what should the public’s role in this issue be and how can they participate specifically? What can be done to help educate and train better the public for a future REE world and policy? These and many more questions can be asked and researched further by scholars.
From here on out, scholars should make every effort to analyze and evaluate the REE issue from many perspectives and come up with a wide variety of questions, answers, and policy recommendations. Everyone should contribute in whatever capacity on this increasingly critical issue that may ultimately determine the future international balance of power, peace, prosperity, and security through the 21st century. REEs, now, are divine in the technological sense, and they have ascended to the highest levels of the U.S. and global economy. They are in the process of forming a new world full of magnificent technological wonders and possibilities. But, if only the general public knew, then something substantial could be done about the issue. Maybe it is time that they did. Scholars, others, and, especially, the government officials at the highest levels should make an all-out attempt to publicize the REE issue and stress its importance in understandable and practical terms. The President and other world leaders should take to the front and center of this issue. A global effort should be made to promote a peaceful solution and policy for REEs that is beneficial to the general order. And, then, the 21st century may become a Pax Rare Earth Metalica.
Rare Earth Elements (REEs) Are the Following:
|Element||Symbol||Atomic Number||Products Used In|
|Scandium||Sc||21||lighting, lasers, consumer electronics, aluminum alloy for high-performance materials in aerospace and sporting goods industries.|
|Yttrium||Y||39||microwave communications devices for the defense and satellite industries, cellular communications, stabilizers for light-weight jet engine turbines and rocket nose cones, laser crystals for special military communications, high-temperature superconductors, microwave filters, and helps improve fuel efficiency and eliminate pollution,|
|Lanthanum||La||57||catalyst for creating fuel for vehicles and aircraft, fuel cells and batteries, optical lenses, camera lenses, night vision equipment, color television sets, X-ray films and certain lasers, fluid catalytic cracking catalyst for oil refineries.|
|Cerium||Ce||58||most abundant REE, catalytic converters in automobiles to reduce emissions, a catalyst in petroleum refining and in metallurgical and nuclear applications, carbon arc lighting for the motion picture industry, self-cleaning ovens, cigarette lighters, glass and ceramics, coating can be non-corrosive and can have military applications|
|Praseodymium||Pr||59||high-strength metals used in aircraft engines, fiber optic cables, carbon arc lighting, provides colors to glasses and enamels, welder’s masks, lighters, magnets, lasers.|
|Neodymium||Nd||60||cell phones, portable CD players, computers, sound systems, miniaturization of many technologies, (all much better because of strong permanent magnets from Nd), anti-lock brakes, air bags, anti-glare car light glass and mirrors, enhances picture brightness in televisions,
coloring pigments in ceramic tile, artistic glass,
and other products, ceramic capacitors, lasers
(absorption and emitting wavelengths), lasers
in material processing, drilling spot
welding/marking and medicine, the Nd light
laser is used for non- evasive surgical
procedures, MRIs (magnetic resonance
imaging), the flint in lighters.
|Promethium||Pm||61||nuclear powered battery (current 5-year life
span), portable X-ray machines, heat source
to provide auxiliary power for space probes
and satellites, lasers for communications with
|Samarium||Sm||62||combined with cobalt makes a permanent magnet
with the highest resistance to demagnetization,
including up to 250 degrees, thus essential to
aerospace and military applications, magnet
motors for precision guided munitions and to
direct the flight control surfaces (fins), stealth
technology in helicopters to create white noise to
cancel or hide the sound of rotor blades, aircraft
electrical systems, samarium-cobalt magnets are
also used to move the flight control surfaces of
aircraft, including flaps, rudder, and ailerons,
moth missile and radar systems, traveling wave
tube (TWT), defense radar systems and electronic
countermeasure equipment, such as the Tail
Warning Function, carbon arc lighting for the
motion picture industry, optical glass to absorb
the infrared, neutron absorber in nuclear reactors,
|Europium||Eu||63||few commercial uses yet, making of certain
lasers, possible use in nuclear reactors, red
phosphor in television sets (and activator of
|Gadolinium||Gd||64||unique magnetic behavior, allows it to form the
magneto-optic recording technology used for
handling computer data, MRIs, detect power
plant radiation leaks, microwave applications
(with yttrium), can improve the workability and
resistance to high temperature and oxidation by
alloying with iron and chromium and other
metals, phosphors for color televisions, lasers,
X-rays, neutron capture.
|Terbium||Tb||65||crystal stabilizers in fuel cells that operate at high
temperatures, energy efficient fluorescent lamps,
metal alloys that provide metallic films for
magneto-optic recording data, lasers.
|Dysprosium||Dy||66||critical to improve the coercive force of high
efficiency, high performance motors used in
next-generation vehicles, energy-conserving
home electronics, and wind power generation,
helps make electronic components smaller and
faster, can enhance the coercivity in neodymium-
iron-boron magnets, laser materials.
|Holmium||Ho||67||no commercial uses yet, but has unusual
magnetic properties that may be utilized in the
|Erbium||Er||68||amplifier for fiber optic data transmission, lasers for medical and dental uses because it is suited to energy delivery without thermal build up in human tissue, color glass, sunglasses and decorative crystal glassware, uses in nuclear and metallurgy, including reducing the hardness and improving workability when added to vanadium.|
|Thulium||Tm||69||rarest REE, similar to yttrium, X-ray machines|
|Ytterbium||Yb||70||increases electrical resistance, stress gauges, nuclear applications, improving the grain refinement, strength, and other mechanical properties of stainless steel, infrared lasers, chemical reducing agent.|
|Lutetium||Lu||71||catalysts in cracking, alkylation, hydrogenation,
and polymerization, detectors in positron
emission tomography (PET) scans, X-rays.
1. Cindy Hurst, “China’s Rare Earth Elements Industry: What Can the West Learn?” March 2010, http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/rareearth.pdf, 35-42, United States Department of Energy, Critical Materials Strategy, December 2010, www.energy.gov/news/documents/criticalmaterialsstrategy.pdf, 114-126, Stephen B. Castor and James B. Hedrick, “Rare Earth Elements,” 2006, www.rareelementresources.com/i/pdf/RareEarths-CastorHedrickIMAR7.pdf, 785-786, and United States Geological Survey, “Rare Earth Elements—Critical Resources for High Technology,” 2002, http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2002/fs087-02.
2.Hurst, 5-6, 35-42, Castor and Hedrick, 770, 785-786, and Keith R. Long, Bradley S. Van Gosen, Nora K. Foley, and Daniel Cordier, “The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States—A Summary of Domestic Deposits and a Global Perspective,” 2010, http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5220, 11.
5.Hurst, 6-25, Keith Bradsher, “Chasing Rare Earths, Foreign Companies Expand in China,” New York Times, August 24, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/business/global/chasing-rare-earths-foreign-companies-expand-in-china.html, Castor and Hedrick, 770-771, and Karl Russell, “Many Want Rare
Earths, but Few Mine Them,” Plain Dealer, February 15, 2011, A2.
8.Scott Canon, “U.S. Hunts for Domestic Sources of ‘Rare Earths:’ Industry Fears Chinese Control Over Minerals Vital to Technology,” Plain Dealer, July 3, 2011, D5, Russell, DOE, 72, Keith Bradsher, “Molycorp Set to Announce a Rare Earth Discovery,” New York Times, October 3, 2011, www.nytimes.come/2011/10/04/business/molycorp-to-announce-rare-earth-deposit-at-
9.Bradsher, “Molycorp…,” Keith Bradsher, “China Consolidates Grip on Rare Earths,” New York Times, September 15, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/business/global/china-consolidates-control-of-rare-earth-
industry.html., Stratfor, “China: Guidelines Issued For REE Industry,” May 19, 2011, Stratfor.com, Stratfor, “China: Plan Studied to Build Reserves and Cut REE Exports,” November 3, 2010, Stratfor.com, Stratfor, “China: Rare Earth Minerals Tax Begins April 1,” March 24, 2011, Stratfor.com, Stratfor, “China: Rare Earths Should Not Become Issue—Vice FM,” January 12, 2011, Stratfor.com.
10.Ibid., Hurst, 15-25, Keith Bradsher, “China Said to Widen Its Embargo of Minerals,” New York Times, October 19, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20.business/global/20rare.html?sq=china said to widen its
embargo of minerals&st=Search&adxnnl=1&scp=1&adxnnlx=1318565968-9XnH7HpX 30IK1DTcQu1L7g., and Keith Bradsher, “U.S. Called Vulnerable to Rare Earth Shortages,” New York Times, December 15, 2010,
vulnerable%20to%20rare%20earth%20shortages&st=Search. Keith Johnson, “Bill
Passes to Boost Rare-Earth Elements Production,” Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2012,
14.USGS, www.usgs.gov/aboutusgs, Long, et al. See also USGS, “Rare Earth Elements—Critical Resources for High Technology,” USGS, “Rare Earth Elements in U.S. Not So Rare: Significant Deposits Found in 14 States,” www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2642&from=rss_home,
and, for a large list of USGS publications on REEs, USGS, “Rare Earth Statistics and Information,” http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/rare_earths.
19.Canon. Hurst and others suggest that Molycorp will produce approximately 20,000 tons of REEs starting in 2012, half of what Canon says. Also, it should be pointed out that Molycorp closed its facility in 2002, after cutting down its production in 1998, as a result of intense Chinese competition, a major reduction in market prices, and high domestic costs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California both have stringent regulations on REE mining and refining, especially when REEs have a radioactive element of thorium. China’s water and land around REE mines have been damaged severely as a result of aggressive mining and processing, along with lax environmental regulation. China’s government states that it is now trying to improve its environmental regulations and enforcement, but so far it does not appear to have been implemented fully. It seems that too much money is at stake to end a process that has worked so far in the business and financial sense, even at the expense of the environment and human health. The U.S. government and others have recognized China’s problems and, thus, maintain tough environmental regulations and enforcement. This, on the other hand, discourages much investment and research in REEs, since the costs and complications are very high in terms of setting up mining operations and then operating all of the facilities.
20.Bradsher (all articles), DOE, Hurst, 24-25, and Nathan Hodge, “Pentagon Says China Hold on Key Elements is Risky,” Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204294504576613273456560538.html
(see also U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s House website for the full article, which he posted
right after it was published by the WSJ, at
Itemid=10), Lydia Mulvany, “Pentagon, Toyota Fight China’s Rare-Earth Hold,” Plain
Dealer, November 8, 2012, C2.
21.DOE, 133-139, Mike Coffman, “Coffman Introduces RESTART Act to Develop Rare Earths Supply Chain,” March 17, 2010, http://coffman.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=259&Itemid=
8, Legislative Digest, H.R. 6160: Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act, September 28, 2010, www.gop.gov/bill/111/2/hr6160, United States Congress, Senate, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, “Subcommittee On Energy Hearing: To Examine the Role of Strategic Minerals in Clean Energy Technologies and Other Applications as Well as Legislation to Address the Issue, Including S. 3521 the ‘Rare Earths Supply Technology and Resources Transformation Act of 2010,’” 111th Congress, 2nd Session, September 30, 2010,
192e/208-95df-db80-4f96-b6318e73a56d (Video of hearing at
id=192e1208-95df-db80-4f96-b6318e73a56d), Mike Coffman, “Coffman RESTART Act
Creates Rare Earths Supply Chain, April 6, 2011,
10, Hank Johnson, “Rep. Johnson Digs In on Rare Earth Elements Crucial to Clean-
Energy, Defense Manufacturing,” March 31, 2011, http://hankjohnson.house.gov/2011/03/rep-johnson-digs-in-on-rare-earth-elements-
crucial-to-clean-energy-defense-manufacturing.shtml, Keith Johnson.
26.Bradsher (all), Keith Bradsher, “Amid Tension, China Blocks Vital Exports to Japan,” New York Times, September 22, 2010, http:// www.nytimes.com/2010/09/23/business/global /23rare.html?scp=2&sq=%22amid tension, china blocks vital exports to japan%22&st=cse, DOE, Hurst, 28-29, Canon, and Stratfor, “ India, Japan: Nuclear REE Deals to Be Discussed,” October 24, 2010, Stratfor.com.
28.For more on Realism, see Hans J. Morgethau, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, with Kenneth W. Thompson, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1985). For Neo-Realism, see Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979) and “Structural Realism After the Cold War,” in G. John Ikenberry, ed., America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002), 29-67.
29.For more on Liberalism and Neo-Liberalism, especially in terms of the international economic system, see Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., eds, Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 2001), Robert Gilpin, The Political Economy of International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), Stephen D. Krasner, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), and Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace, edited with an introduction by Lewis White Beck (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1957). It should be pointed out that even Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations advised that countries should protect their key industries related to national security. Thus, politics should be used and, at the very least, domestic backups and alternative foreign suppliers should be kept in place, in order to prevent becoming highly dependent on one single country for a strategic resource or product, especially a potential rival.
31.For more on Radical/Marxist theory, see V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York: International Publishers, 1939). For more on Dependency theory, see Andre Gunder Frank, Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969). For more on World-System theory, see Immanuel Wallerstein, The Essential Wallerstein (New York: The New York Press, 2000) and The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Academic Press, 1974).
33.DOE, 61-67, 143-145, Hurst, 28, Stratfor, “India, Japan…,” Stratfor, “Japan: Aid to Rare Metal-Rich Countries Offered,” April 5, 2010, Stratfor.com, and Hiroko Tabuchi, “Japan Recycles Minerals From Used Electronics,” New York Times, October 4, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/business/global/05recycle.html?scp=1&sq=japan%20
recycles%20minerals%20from%20used%20electronics&st=Search. Tabuchi states that Japan has an estimated 300,000 tons of REEs in discarded electronics that could be recycled.
37.Hurst, 13-15, 28-29, Russell, Long, et. al., 25-31, DOE, Castor Hedrick. See also Michael T. Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).
38.My own suggestions and DOE, 59, 61-67, Hurst, 29, Canon, Long, et al., 25-31, USGS, “Rare Earth Elements—Critical Resources for High Technology,” Bradsher, “Molycorp Set to Announce…,” and Bradsher, “U.S. Called Vulnerable….”
39. Appendix information. See Note #1 for REE basic characteristics and products used in. Copy of data and map page from Castor and Hedrick, 771. Even Dilbert understands REEs. Scott Adams, Dilbert, February 28, 2011, http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2011-02-28.
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American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.
Steve Dobransky is an Adjunct Professor at Cleveland State University and Lakeland College. He is completing his Ph.D. at Kent State University and is ABD. He has an M.A. from Ohio University and a B.A. from Cleveland State University. He majors in International Relations and Justice Studies. Contact: email@example.com.