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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • A New Theater for the Global Resource Wars?  A Look at Antarctica

    At ARPN, we have long argued that we need comprehensive mineral resource policy reform.  One of the main reasons we have finally seen some momentum on this front is the growing realization that there is a global race for the metals and minerals fueling 21st Century technology and our everyday lives — something that our competitors, and among them primarily China, have long figured out.

    We have reported occasionally about events relating to the Arctic as a theater of the global resource wars — but it appears that a new front has opened up:

    According to a recent news story, New Zealand – recognizing an uptick in international interest in the region – is looking to bolster its footprint in Antarctica. Writes RT.com:

    “New Zealand is not typically considered a major colonial power, but the country’s recent defense policy statement revealed hidden aspirations of expansion in one geostrategic area in particular: Antarctica.”

    The referenced policy statement, which contains numerous references to New Zealand’s role in the region, provides a little more context on why the country is looking to step up its involvement:

    “Interest by both state and non-state actors in Antarctica and its surrounding waters will likely grow over the coming years. This will lead to increased congestion and crowding, as well as pressure on key elements of the Antarctic Treaty System, such as the prohibition on mineral extraction. States are planning and building new facilities. The planned Italian runway in Terra Nova Bay could support broader activities by a range of states interested in the region. China has begun work on its fifth base in Antarctica, on Inexpressible Island.  

    While an evolved treaty system is likely to remain the key framework for governing activities in Antarctica, difficulty in distinguishing between allowed and prohibited activities under the Antarctic treaty system could be exploited by states seeking to carry out a range of military and other security-related activities.”

    New Zealand indeed is neither a major colonial power, nor is it considered a mineral resource power house.  And unlike the Arctic, where the U.S. claim to the region comes via Alaska, we don’t have a direct claim in the Antarctic circle.   However, what matters here is context.  As the RT story goes on to explain, and as the policy statement indicates, China is once more the elephant in the room:

    “In August last year, a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute warned that Australia’s leadership role was being eroded because of long-term under-investment at a time when other countries (read: China) were expanding their influence in the Pacific region. The report went on to warn that ‘China has conducted undeclared military activities in Antarctica, is building up a case for a territorial claim, and is engaging in minerals exploration there.’ According to the report, three out of four of China’s Antarctic bases and two of its field camps are in the Australian Antarctic Territory, further warning that China’s presence there is aimed at competing for resources, including minerals, hydrocarbons, fishing, tourism, transport routes, water and bioprospecting.

    The report stated that China’s military activities in Antarctica have the potential to shift the strategic balance that has maintained peace in the Asia-Pacific, as well as in Antarctica, for nearly 70 years.”

    With China continuing to jockey for a geopolitical pole position, here’s another good reason for U.S. policy makers to move forward with a comprehensive mineral resource policy overhaul.  And now, it seems the geopolitical resource map will need to extend to Antarctica.

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  • Space Force Plans Raise the Stakes to Overhaul U.S. Mineral Resource Policy

    Last week, the U.S. Government outlined plans to establish a sixth military branch – the United States Space Force.   According to Vice President Mike Pence, who announced the plans during a speech at the Pentagon, the new force would be led by a four-star commander, and funding in the federal budget would begin for fiscal year 2020.  Citing “rapidly growing threats to our space capabilities” stemming largely from “China and Russia, our strategic competitors, which] are explicitly pursuing space warfighting capabilities to neutralize U.S. space capabilities during a time of conflict,” a 15-page report released by the Pentagon outlines the overall framework.

    Of course, a new theater of war requires a different class of weaponry — but work on this front started a long time ago.

    Writes the Washington Times:

    “The notion of space as a battleground, or a staging area for state-of-the-art defense technology, dates back decades. It first came into the public eye with President Reagan’s call for a ‘Star Wars’ missile program. Since then, the U.S. and its global competitors have made dramatic technological strides.”

    Laser cannon technology represents one of these “dramatic technological strides.”

    As the New York Post reported in December of 2015:

    “[W]hile visions of lasers powerful enough to kill people or knock aircraft out of the sky or sink boats have been a staple of sci-fi since ‘Star Wars’ was just a gleam in George Lucas’s eye, laser cannons are only now on the verge of becoming reality.”

    The U.S. Defense Department began testing for high-powered silent laser weapons that just need a few short seconds to burn a hole in targets miles away at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in January of 2016.

    Of course — followers of ARPN may have been waiting for the “resource angle” in this post, so here it goes: — said weapon technology relies on Rare Earth Elements (REEs), slabs or strips of which are used as gain medium in bulk lasers.

    Meanwhile, as Jeffery Green, president and founder of J. A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts recently outlined:

    “The nation’s only domestic rare earth producer was forced into bankruptcy in 2015 after China suddenly restricted exports and subsequently flooded the market with rare earth elements. Adding insult to injury, the mine was then sold last summer for $20.5 million to MP Mine Operations LLC, a Chinese-backed consortium that includes Shenghe Resources Holding Co. Now, according to MINE Magazine, this same mine is exporting critical minerals to a processing plant in China—because the United States cannot process or refine these materials at commercial scale. Without a dramatic change in minerals policies, the United States will not be able to minimize the economic damage that will come when China decides to leverage its minerals monopolies against us.”

    So while a U.S. Space Force, creation of which will require legislation, is certainly going to be subject to much debate and will have many implications, we’re looking at a peculiar conundrum from a resource perspective:

    Staving off our “strategic competitor” China, which is threatening our space capabilities, will require the use of the very mineral resources for which China has a near-total supply monopoly. It would appear the stakes have just been raised to overhaul our mineral resource policies.  Are policy makers paying attention?

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  • Rare Earths Issue Back in the Mix As Trade Tensions With China Escalate

    At ARPN, we have long highlighted the inter-relationship between resource policy and trade policy. While more recently, we looked at tensions in our relationship with Canada over tariffs on aluminum and steel, other areas of concern are coming into focus. Mounting tensions over trade with China have brought the Rare Earths issue, with which ARPN [...]
  • America’s Critical Mineral Issues are Largely Home-Grown

    A recent commentary piece by Printus LeBlanc, contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government, draws attention to the home-grown nature of America’s critical mineral resource issues and their geo-political context. LeBlanc sets the stage using the example of a relatively unknown Chinese phone company becoming the focus of Congressional concern because the Administration was in [...]
  • USGS Scholars Provide Insights into Resource Interdependency and Conflict Potential in New Study

    The advances in materials science have been fundamentally transforming the way we look at metals and minerals – both from a usage, as well as a supply and demand perspective.  With that, the nature of potential resource conflict has also changed. As USGS National Minerals Information Center scholars Andrew L. Gulleya, Nedal T. Nassar,  and [...]
  • Africa Taking Center Stage in China’s Quest for Resources

    It is “the single largest source of mineral commodities for the United States, particularly for resources like rare earth elements, germanium, and industrial diamonds,” according to the United States Geological Survey, which notes in its most recent Mineral Commodity Summaries report that “of the 47 mineral commodities that the United States is more than 50 [...]
  • USGS Report Bellwether for National Security Crisis?

    For over two decades, the United States Geological Survey has released its Mineral Commodity Summaries report.  And while ARPN followers will know how important this publication is, as it provides a snapshot of our nation’s mineral resource dependencies, in most years its release has gone largely unnoticed beyond the circles of mineral resource wonks. This year, a [...]
  • Japan Pursuing Long-Term Critical Mineral Strategy in Kazakhstan

    In an effort to secure ongoing access to Rare Earths (REEs) for its domestic industries, Japan, which in geological terms does not have much of a resource profile, has entered into a series of cooperative agreements with Kazakhstan, a nation quickly ascending into the league of top REE suppliers in the world. The latest one [...]
  • The “Electronification of Everything” Raises Specter of “War Over the Periodic Table”

    Via our friend and ARPN expert Simon Moores’ Twitter feed, we came across a three-part must-read series for Bloomberg View, in which author and policy expert David S. Abraham discusses the role of rare earths in today’s increasingly high-tech world.   Perhaps most interestingly, Abraham clarifies a common misconception in part two of the series: “Although [...]
  • The Geo-Politics of Rare Earths: China Reported to Add to Stockpile

    ARPN readers know that one of the core tenets of the Resource Wars thesis is that the market for strategic and critical metals is never immune to government interventions. Witness today’s Bloomberg report: “China Said to Add 10,000 Tons to Rare Earths Stockpiles.” Bloomberg reports: “China may stockpile more medium-to-heavy rare earths this year such [...]

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