American negligence has allowed China to seize control of the rare-earth elements critical to our national defense. President Trump should reverse this sorry state of affairs.
That our government sat idly by as we became completely dependent on other countries to supply us with defense-critical rare-earth elements (REEs) is scandalous. That the country we are now dependent on for REEs is China, a hostile power, is unforgivable. China is not our friend; any objective analysis of its actions and comments over the last 30 years would conclude that Beijing views the U.S. as its primary enemy.
That is why Republican congressman (and former Marine) Duncan Hunter of California has proposed a bill to redress this dangerous situation by allocating 1 percent of the Department of Defense’s administrative-overhead budget — about $50 million per year — to incentivize the resumption of domestic production of defense-critical REEs.
The summary of Hunter’s METALS (Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security) Act warns that the rights to the largest REE mine in the United States, Mountain Pass in California, are in danger of being purchased by a company with strong ties to Russia.
Incredibly, the Pentagon has also issued multiple waivers allowing the use of Chinese-made military-grade magnets in building the radars for our F-35s. The waivers were issued because of the dramatic shift in production of these magnets to China. Alarmingly, as that shift has occurred, the U.S. has begun spending less money on research into the magnets, which are critical to our defense.
This state of affairs is unacceptable. REEs are used extensively in jet-fighter engines, night vision, radars, missile-guidance systems, missile-defense systems, satellite and communication systems, high-tech rare earth permanent magnets, and many other technologies critical to our national defense. Such critical natural resources need to be produced in the U.S. by U.S.-owned and -controlled companies.
The U.S. did not always depend on China to supply the specialty metals/REEs critical to our defense industry. Up through 1990, the U.S., blessed with one of the three richest reserves of REE ores in the world, was the world’s largest producer. Today no REE mining or refining is done on U.S. soil; China controls nearly 100 percent of worldwide REE production. A 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service describes how China used anti-free-trade tactics to destroy American REE mining:
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