Critical Materials behind Closed Doors

By the Strategic Materials Advisory Council

In recent weeks, several senior Obama administration officials have mentioned critical defense materials, and specifically rare earths, on Capitol Hill. Despite the obscurity of these materials in the minds of the general public, valid concerns are coming from the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury.

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, raised these rare earth concerns in his written testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 12. Along with an accurate description of the rare earths market, Clapper testified that, despite future plans, “China will also continue to dominate production of the most scarce and expensive REEs, known as heavy REEs, which are critical to defense systems.”

Following Clapper’s comments, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about rare earths in a discussion on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 18th. Kerry asserted, “Right now, today, there isn’t a cell phone in our nation, there isn’t a communications piece of equipment, missile control system that doesn’t have rare earth minerals in that system. China controls 90 percent of the market. Now, anybody who thinks that’s good for America’s national security has a, you know, strange sense of how we protect our interests.” The Strategic Materials Advisory Council wholeheartedly agrees with Secretary Kerry that this situation is most definitely detrimental to our national security.

The Council was extremely pleased to see Treasury Secretary Jack Lew join the discussion. In his testimony to the House Appropriations Committee on April 25th, Secretary Lew mentioned rare earths to highlight the Administration’s commitment to protecting fair trade and the U.S. economy. Comments from the Treasury Secretary underline the fact that dependence on rare earth elements spans vast sectors of U.S. manufacturing.

Clearly, senior administration officials are being briefed on the national security risks of the rare earths market. Defense Department reports are beginning to acknowledge the risk as well, although a clear path forward has not been laid out. Curiosity raises the question of what, if any, rare earths strategy is being discussed behind the closed doors of the policy makers.

Until now, the rare earths market has been neglected. However, the awareness arising from the arenas of foreign policy, intelligence, and finance may present the catalyst necessary for change. The hope of the Council is for increased dialogue to continue that would result in meaningful improvements to the dire conditions of the rare earths market.

About the Council

The Strategic Materials Advisory Council is a coalition of former U.S. Government leaders and industry experts who have significant experience with strategic and critical materials through decades of service in the public and private sector. The Council was formed with the clear objective to promote policy solutions that ensure continued access of both U.S. industry and military to those materials needed to support a robust 21st century economy and military.

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