Much of the world, including our military allies, have become dependent on China for rare earth minerals, which are key components of some advanced military platforms.
One of the biggest strategic blunders committed in recent years happens to be something that is rarely talked about:
Letting China gain dominance over Rare Earth Minerals.
This refers to the following elements that are found in low concentrations in the earth:
“lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, scandium, and yttrium.”
The minerals are used in many products, including smart-phones, and China controls roughly 60% of the market, something that downplays China’s true advantage since Myanmar (basically a client-state of China) is third with 10%, and since much of the expertise and supply chain for the rare earth metals industry is in China.
Additionally, China dominates the heavy rare earth minerals market, the minerals most highly valued.
The video below goes over some of the details:
This leads to the security implications, which are focused on military applications.
Currently, rare earth minerals are used in precision-guided missiles and jets, including production for the United States military and the militaries of other advanced nations.
As noted by Mining News North, the US Army has started looking into addressing the vulnerability created by depending on China for the supply of these materials:
“From helmet mounted radios to laser guided missiles, rare earth elements (REE) are an essential ingredient to the advanced hardware used by the U.S. military. These high-tech metals, however, are not produced in America, forcing the Pentagon to depend primarily on China for its supply.
As part of a joint armed forces effort to establish a domestic source of rare earths, the U.S. Army is looking to invest in the processing facilities needed to ensure a reliable supply of these important ingredients in military weaponry and other high-tech devises.”
What does this have to do with Canada?
Well, it turns out Canada has immense potential when it comes to rare earth mining.
Natural Resources Canada points out that while Canada doesn’t produce any rare earth elements (with a few exploratory projects in early-stages), we have some of the largest reserves in the world:
While not a current producer of REEs, Canada is host to a number of advanced exploration projects and some of the largest reserves and resources (measured and indicated) of these metals, estimated at almost 15 million tonnes of rare earth oxides.
REEs are categorized as being either “light” or “heavy”:
- Light REEs (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium and scandium) are produced in global abundance and are in surplus supply
- Heavy REEs (terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium and yttrium) are produced mainly in China and are in limited supply. Global efforts to bring new resources to the marketplace continue.
Many of Canada’s most advanced REEs exploration projects contain high concentrations of the globally valued heavy REEs used in high-technology and clean-energy applications.
Canada needs an aggressive rare earth minerals mining plan
In a safe and peaceful world, it would perhaps be fine to leave those rare earth minerals in the ground.
But that’s not the world we live in.
It has been made abundantly clear that China intends to use every shred of an advantage they have to gain economic and military dominance, seeking to supplant the US and relegate NATO to a weaker position on the world stage.
With that in mind, it would be insane to remain dependent on China for rare earth minerals.
Imagine a scenario where – even in the absence of military conflict – China simply blocks all exports of rare earth minerals, throwing the supply chain and production capacity of our allies into chaos.
That would be disastrous, but there’s no reason it has to happen.
Canada has the potential to dramatically shift the situation, by aggressively mining our rare earth minerals and building up a large industry to supply our allies with what they need to ensure the security of the supply chain.
This is a national security issue
In this case, we can’t wait for the market to emerge and boost the industry, particularly since China has already interfered in the market with heavy state support for the sector in order to control the price and dissuade competitors.
Thus, this is an area for government to take action, with a clear purview of national security.
We need a partnership between the armed forces, government, and private industry to build a military-focused rare earth elements industry in Canada.
We should also seek to work with our allies, many of whom may be willing to invest in the build up of such an industry.
Some cost now could save far more later.
After all, if the world does descend into conflict, imagine how difficult and expensive it would be to try and desperately build a rare earth metals industry in the chaos?
Far better to start now, and at least build the foundation before it truly seems needed.
A change of attitude in Canada
Of course, proactively addressing a problem, acknowledging the danger posed by China, investing in our national security, and having a willingness to actually support tangible economic activity are all increasingly rare in Canada, especially among the political class.
This would require a change in attitude, and would certainly face criticism from both environmental groups and from those who think it would cost too much.
There may indeed be valid concerns, but we simply cannot allow ourselves and our allies to be so dependent on China for our rare earth element needs.
Will we learn the wrong lesson?
There’s a saying about ‘fighting the last war,’ and it’s not always even about war. It’s about how we seem to learn from history, but don’t apply those lessons to the past.
For example, after the Wuhan Virus exposed our dangerous dependence on China for PPE, there was an effort to build up our domestic PPE industry. That was a good move.
However, as we face another situation in which we are dangerously dependent on China, it’s easy for people to fail to see the parallels.
Sure, spending big on the build up of the Rare Earth Elements industry would be expensive, and sure it ‘seems’ more efficient to continue depending on China, but it also seemed more efficient to be dependent on China for PPE, until we actually needed it and it was nowhere to be found.
With national security and the security of our allies at stake, Canada must truly learn from history, and step up to build our Rare Earth Elements industry while we still have time.
Photo – YouTube