Rare Earth Elements and Strategic Mineral Policy – by Jaakko Kooroshy, Rem Korteweg and Marjolein de Ridder (2010)

This report was produced at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) and TNO


Newspapers report almost daily on international tensions around ‘strategic’ or ‘critical’ minerals such as rare earth elements. The temporary freeze of rare earth exports from China to Japan in retaliation of the capture of a Chinese sea captain near the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China sea is but one example of the strategic use of non-fuel minerals in international relations today.

Ensuring and safeguarding access to rare earth elements and other strategic mineral resources is quickly emerging as a strategic policy priority and a number of states are designing and implementing new policies aimed at increasing material security.

By analyzing the strategic mineral policies of three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, this report provides an insight into what drives policies on strategic non-fuel mineral resources.

Mineral policies do not develop in a vacuum. Therefore, this report consists of three parts. Before analyzing individual countries’ mineral policies, the first chapter examines the conceptual context in which policies on strategic non-fuel minerals (i.e. mineral resources other than hydrocarbons) take shape and emphasizes the important role of economic and policy factors.

The following chapter analyzes the development of strategic mineral policy of three advanced economies located in three different continents: the US, the UK and Japan. These chapters form the heart of this report. They are the first of a larger set of case studies that the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) intends to develop as part of our ongoing research on strategic mineral resources. The US, UK and Japan have been selected because these countries are all (a) advanced, industrialized economies, which (b) depend on the free global flow of mineral resources for the supply of their economies an (c) have very different policies towards strategic non-fuel minerals, both in terms of key strategic concerns and the policy instruments they use.

Thirdly, in the Annex, this report provides a comprehensive overview of 37 metals that are considered strategic non-fuel minerals by some countries. The list includes well-known base metals like copper or nickel as well as less known minerals like beryllium or hafnium. For each of these chemical elements, we provide key producing countries and their reserves, their main physical properties, key technical applications an information about the extent to which these mineral resources are currently being recycled.

Our analysis shows that the strategic value of non-fuel mineral resources stems from two factors. First, these resources possess properties that make them essential to key applications and technologies in defence, aerospace and (green) energy industries. Second, the supply of these resources is vulnerable to disruptions. This vulnerability may be due to the absence of a transparent market and limited production or to geopolitical tensions associated with the supply or sourcing of these materials from a limited number of countries with a disproportionate share in global production.

Concern over access to strategic non-fuel mineral resources is not a new phenomenon. The country analyzes provides historical context to the current discussion over material security. They deal with previous periods marked by heightened concerns over the supply and access to specific mineral resources; and discuss strategies that have been used in the past to address these insecurities.

These historical examples also demonstrate that the policy debates that have taken place in the past are quite similar to the discussions we are witnessing today, for example with respect over rare earth elements.

However, as the geography of production, technologies, and international relations change over time, different mineral resources attract the focus of policy-makers. While rare earth elements currently dominate the policy agenda, other strategic non-fuel minerals, for example platinum group metals, were considered to be of ‘strategic’ importance in the past. Strategic concerns also vary considerably from country to country.

This report provides valuable data and insights that contribute to a better understanding of the tensions that arise around rare earth elements and other strategic non-fuel minerals. The analysis provided in the report may also offer a basis for more informed policy-making in those countries that are currently considering policy options on strategic non-fuel minerals.

For the full report, please go to the following website: http://www.strategyandchange.nl/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Strategy_Change_Part1.pdf