Jeffrey A. Green is president and founder of J.A. Green & Co., a bipartisan government relations firm.
There is more to President Trump’s engagement with Greenland than meets the eye. Though some have panned his comments, seasoned observers believe the president’s motivations are part of a broader effort to secure a U.S. supply of rare earth elements amid a burgeoning reliance on China for this essential material.
In June, the U.S. quietly signed an agreement with the Arctic country to survey its land to help spur mineral exploration. Greenland is believed to house a significant resource of rare earths, a group of elements necessary for critical defense and commercial technology.
These efforts follow a growing interest, within U.S. policy circles, in rare earth dependency. However, if policymakers want to get serious about securing U.S. access to rare earths, any real solution must include investing in our domestic production capabilities.
That the United States, the fourth-largest country in the world by land area, should have enough reserves of rare earths to power energy sources and military forces for the foreseeable future is unsurprising. After all, the U.S. was the world’s largest, and often sole, producer of rare earths for much of the 20th century.
What is surprising, however, is that the U.S. no longer holds this distinction in the 21st century — in fact, far from it. Our ceding of leadership in the mining and processing of critical materials has contributed to China’s rise as the world’s number one producer of rare earths.