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The contributors argue that rare earths are essential to the information technology revolution on which humans have come to depend for communication, commerce, and, increasingly, engage in conflict. They demonstrate that rare earths are a strategic commodity over which political actors will and do struggle for control.



1. The Strategic and Security Implications of Rare Earths

Patrolling near the contested Islands of Senkaku/Diaoyu in the East Asian Sea on 8 September 2010, a Japanese Coast Guard crew detained the captain of a Chinese fishing boat whose crew was plying their trade near the Islands claimed as Japanese territory. The waters around these contested islands contain rich fishing grounds in addition to potentially large deposits of oil and natural gas. The fishing boat captain was taken to Japan. Meanwhile, the Chinese government vehemently protested, and, ultimately, the fishing boat captain was returned to China, 16 days later on, 24 September 2010. During the 16-day diplomatic imbroglio between China and Japan and, it would appear, as part of an effort to increase pressure on Japan to release the Chinese fishing boat captain from custody, the government of China, on 10 September 2010, ceased rare earth metals exports to Japan. This action led to substantial distress within the tight knit circles of Japanese government and business elites owing to Japan’s absolute dependency on rare earth imports from China to feed its production of high technology products on which its economic model is based. In effect, China, in combination with other forms of diplomatic pressure, used rare earths as a bludgeon to forcibly coerce Japan into aligning its policy with Chinese interests or suffer economic hardship.
Ryan David Kiggins

2. China’s Rare Earth Industry and End-Use: Supply Security and Innovation

This chapter analyzes the supply security of the rare earth industry and end-use applications in China. The rare earth supply chain includes the mining and refining of rare earths — the rare earth upstream sector; the consumption of rare earths for semi-finished applications such as magnets and phosphors — the rare earth downstream sector; and the end-users such as hard drives and wind turbines. China is in the unique position to produce nearly 90 percent of global rare earth supply. It is the major supplier for all countries.
Jost Wübbeke

3. Rare Earths and Japan: Traditional Vulnerability Reconsidered

Rare Earth Elements (REE) have become an indispensable component of modern life. Commodities containing rare earth, such as personal computers, hybrid cars, smart phones, and tablets, are now an essential part of daily life. A dependency on such high-tech products will most likely only increase in the future. Several forecasts show that the global demand for light REE and heavy REE are projected to rise (Humphries, 2013, p. 4).1
Kyoko Hatakeyama

4. Rare Earth Elements and the European Union

Political and economic risk in the supply chain of raw materials can lead to supply bottlenecks. The security vulnerability and threat in the supply chain of high tech industries is an important challenge to the economic performance of economies around the world. Within this volume on supply chain vulnerability with regard to rare earth elements (REE), this chapter focuses on Germany and the European Union (EU). It will highlight Germany’s different policy initiatives on national, European, and international levels showing how Germany seeks to develop policy instruments on all three levels to ensure ready access to raw materials. It will also discuss the perception of criticality in Europe. Ultimately, it seeks to assess the degree of supply chain vulnerability associated with rare earth elements.
Maximilian Rech

5. The Curious Disjunction of Rare Earth Elements and US Politics: Analyzing the Inability to Develop a Secure REE Supply Chain

In late 2010 Paul Krugman of The New York Times piercingly questioned why no one was warning the country about the vital REE issue (Krugman, 2010). Fast forward to 2014 and it is clear that there is widespread recognition of the fact that REE are essential to many of the modern world’s technological wonders in military and consumer affairs. Under ideal circumstances, REE would be purely an economic benefit and raw material for the entire world. In the present period however, politics have driven REE into a position where China controls approximately 97 percent of the REE market. China, in the last several years, has made threatening moves that could deny REE to other countries and, in effect, collapse their economies or pressure their domestic businesses to relocate to China for a stable REE supply. The Chinese government’s intervention in the REE global market has transformed a simple raw material issue into one of the world’s paramount security challenges and risks (Bradsher, 2011). Despite their significant value, the US government has yet to affirm decisively the nation’s specific REE policy objectives and means of achieving them. There is no common consensus on how to deal with an extremely unbalanced supply chain that can lead almost instantly to massive economic devastation. It is a strange case of acknowledging REE to be of the utmost importance but then being unable or unwilling to resolve the blatant threat that China poses to the US and world community. Whatever free market principals have been espoused, China has altered the equation by taking advantage of its monopoly and letting politics drive REE production and prices.
Steve Dobransky

6. Afghanistan from Barrier to Bridgehead: The Political Economy of Rare Earth Elements and the New Silk Road

Some crude analyses claim the quest for mineral and energy resources are the ‘real reason for the war in Afghanistan’ (Chossudovsky, 2010). Some authors even claim the quest for rare earth elements (REE) alone was sufficient cause for the US led invasion of Afghanistan (Derzko, 2009). These crude analyses are easily debunked; yet, like any good myth, they rest on a base of truth. It is true that private corporations and state enterprises could net immense wealth in future decades and gain strategic advantages over their competitors, provided they can: (1) develop Afghanistan’s vast resources; (2) build the massive regional infrastructure needed to do so; and (3) either eliminate, coerce, or co-opt the diverse resistance groups who either oppose resource extraction or demand a bigger share of the benefits. This is a tall order, but not beyond the scale of other seemingly impossible development projects such as the rapid development of western North America from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.
Michael Skinner

7. The Environment-Security Nexus in Contemporary Rare Earth Politics

If we are serious about demystifying the political economic peculiarities of the contemporary rare earth sector, we must move the environmental question from the category of unfortunate externality to center stage. This is essential because the market and security logics of rare earth supply chains are fundamentally shaped by the tension between the necessities for these resources and the known environmental hazards posed by mining and beneficiation. The environmental hazards push production to secluded regions far from population centers. Yet, rare earths are so strategically important that this outward push by the environmental pressures is reined in by the need to ensconce production within a national border, or at the very least, within a broader sphere of influence. This tension is played out in the negotiation over which spaces are sacrificed in order to mine and process rare earth elements. The question of national security has entered into the equation primarily to sequester the acute environmental and epidemiological hazards in landscapes and lives whose devastation does not portend immediate political consequences. Based on extensive fieldwork and official interviews in China and the United States, this chapter demonstrates how environmental destruction has been a central determinant of market dynamics, security considerations, and resource geopolitics of rare earth elements over the past three decades.
Julie Michelle Klinger

8. Recycling Toward Rare Earth Security

Historically, recycling has proven to be an efficient way of securing materials availability for a range of metals. Recycling initiatives have flourished all the more when metals share the following features: little diversity of mining and exporting countries, political instability in these countries, high and increasing demand from the industry. One famous case of the above is cobalt, a non-ferrous metal used mostly in the preparation of magnetic, high-resistant alloys, as well as catalysts and batteries. Being relatively rare in the earth crust, and historically having half of its production originate in the politically instable area of Zaïre and Zambia, cobalt started being recycled as soon as the 1970s. The cobalt crisis of 1978, during which cobalt prices skyrocketed, fostered an even greater interest for both substitution and recycling. Twenty years later, cobalt had an EOL-RR (End-of-Life Recycling Rate) of 68 percent (UNEP, 2011).
Fanny Verrax

9. Rare Earth and One-Dimensional Society: Mining the Foundations of Counterrevolutionary Seduction

The question of how rare earth supplies affect security greatly hinges on how the meaning of security is perceived. In a very straightforward way, the scarcity of rare earths is often represented by government, industry, and media as a threat to security inasmuch as many examples of contemporary production rely upon these materials. Technologically advanced consumer goods, as well as military equipment, integrate rare earths, many of which have no known substitute at present. Consequently, threats to the supply chain of rare earth elements are also apparently threats to those technologically advanced consumer goods and the military that defends them. But threats to the supply of advanced consumer goods, and the military that defends them, may not actually be the worst of all possible fears. Rather, a continued supply of rare earths may perpetuate a far more fundamental and pervasive source of insecurity — late capitalism.
Sean Noah Walsh

10. Of Cursed States: Contentious Energy Narratives in Contemporary Bolivia

In one of the last essays published before his death, the anthropologist Fernando Coronil referred to Latin America as being located within an ‘international division of labor and of nature.’ Arguing against ‘resource curse’ explanations of the region’s volatile mineral markets, Coronil emphasized how ‘resources do not do anything by themselves but through the social relations that make them significant’ (Coronil, 2011, p. 243). Rare earths, lithium, and other strategic resources are insignificant outside of certain social relations, only gaining strategic significance through increased demand for devices connected with information technologies. As with rare earths, without lithium many of the information technology connected devices on which we rely would not function. Baldly put: no lithium, no power storage capability for many of the technologies on which we have come to rely for communication, commerce, and, increasingly, to engage in conflict (see Klinger, this volume). Offering an alternative through which to scrutinize the social relations behind the ‘resource curse’, this chapter looks at changing representations of lithium as one instance of these social relations, focusing on contending energy narratives over lithium in contemporary Bolivia.
Mauro J. Caraccioli


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