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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • The Arctic – A Looming Battlefield for Resource Supremacy?

    While relations between Russia and the United States continue to make headlines on a daily basis, one particular aspect of this relationship – in spite of the fact that it may be one of the most contentious ones – has been largely flying under the radar.

    As Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin recently wrote:

    “The next battle for supremacy between the U.S. and Russia is shaping up to be a lot chillier than the last Cold War with the Soviet superpower.”

    Griffin’s temperature reference invokes the geographic location of the site of contention rather than the intensity of the looming “battle” – the Arctic.  And while said “battle” will likely not escalate into actual warfare, stakeholders would be well advised to pay closer attention to what is happening to our North, as it is currently the site of “the focus of a resource grab by Russia and China.”

    Just last month, the Russian defense ministry invited visitors to its website to take a “visual tour” of its new military base in Franz Josef Land, a huge remote archipelago in the Arctic which President Vladimir Putin visited in March of this year.  The base is the second Arctic one built in the Putin era, with the Russian military planning the installation of four additional military bases in region in the coming years.

    While Russia has been flexing its military muscle in the resource-rich Arctic, which it sees as a key strategic location - all while touting peaceful cooperation on the diplomacy front – China, notwithstanding its cartographical lack of an Arctic footprint, has also made a foray into the region over the past few years.

    According to the country’s State Oceanic Administration, China, which considers itself a “near-Arctic state,” views the region as holding “the inherited wealth of all humankind.”  Consequently, China has not only sought, and in 2013 secured, permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, but has also stepped up investment and diplomacy in the region, with Chinese President Xi Jinping incorporating two Arctic stopovers – one in Finland and one in Alaska – into his trip to the United States to meet with President Trump this spring.

    These moves, coupled with the normalization of previously icy relations between China and Norway, and a free trade agreement between Iceland and China, have led professors at Tsinghua University to conclude that “Bejing’s [new Silk Road] strategy does not stop at belt and road”, and rather includes “One belt, one road, and one circle,” with the circle referring to the Arctic circle.

    Meanwhile, the United States is “woefully behind” in the Arctic race, as former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, who served as the State Department’s special representative to the Arctic, recently told Fox News, adding that:

    “We’ve got our minds on a lot of other things around the world, and we’re not focused on the Arctic. (…) Russia, on the other hand, is very connected. It’s part of their culture. They appreciate the riches, the oil and gas reserves that they have along that very long coastline, and they are looking to exploit it for their own prosperity.”

    China is obviously looking to do the same.

    As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty previously pointed out, the United States’ claim to the Arctic comes via Alaska, and what he said a few years ago, is perhaps even more pertinent today:

    “For the U.S., our Arctic claims come via Alaska – a.k.a. Seward’s Folly, and perhaps the best $7.2 million ever spent by the U.S. Government. Across a range of metals and minerals, expect Alaska – and by extension, our Arctic claims – to play a key role in resource supply in the 21st century. Forget the folly: let’s make that William Seward, futurist.”

    In this context, one can only hope that the recent settlement between the EPA and the Pebble Partnership over the Pebble Deposit in Alaska – albeit years overdue – will be part of a growing realization that it is time to assertively stake the United States’ claim in the Arctic and near-Arctic environs.  The other players have made it clear that they will not wait for us.

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  • Through the Gateway: The Geopolitics of Co-Product Supply – a Look at Scandium

    Throughout ARPN’s work, we have consistently highlighted the geopolitical dimension of mineral resource policy.  Where we source (or fail to source) our metals and minerals is an often forgotten – or ignored – factor, with implications for our domestic manufacturers, and, at times, even for our national security.

    Case in point – and in keeping with our current focus – Scandium.  As we pointed out last week, the main producers for this co-product mineral, which is “ready to take off,” currently are China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, none of which is among our strongest trading partners.

    Russia is now stepping up its Scandium game. As reported by Platts, Russian Aluminum producer Rusal has just announced production of high purity (exceeding 99%) scandium oxide for the first time at its Urals smelter – an announcement following the launch of a pilot project for processing scandium concentrate into scandium oxide from red mud, a byproduct of alumina refining.  Target production — 96 kilograms per year; not quite 4 pounds per week — shows why Scandium is arguably the rarest of the rare earths.

    The announcement ties into the overall context of Scandium’s growing potential, particularly in the context of the aluminum-scandium alloys we discussed last week.

    Russian demand for Scandium has soared in recent years due to its use in various defense applications, including the 5th generation fighter, as well as its modernized version, and may well increase as Russia researches Scandium usage in combat equipment.

    Meanwhile, while some developers are studying the possibility of including co-product development of scandium into their portfolio, the U.S. at present does not produce any scandium, even though the Defense Logistic Agency in 2013 deemed the material “critical” from a national security perspective.

    This year’s U.S. Presidential campaign has sucked up a lot of oxygen — which is about the only element mentioned by the major candidates, despite the fact that any discussion of manufacturing, technology or economic competitiveness is rooted in raw material access.  Perhaps after November, our policy makers will be able to focus their attention on our growing mineral resource dependencies, and devising policies that help American manufacturers gain access to critical materials – the way to which (case in point Scandium) often leads “through the Gateway.”

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  • Ukraine, Food Security, and Russia’s Imperial Reset

    American Resources readers will want to see what ARPN expert Chris Berry has to say about the potash sector in light of recent events in Ukraine. Now that Ukraine, formerly known as the “breadbasket of the Soviet Union,” has lost Crimea to the Russian Federation as Russian forces mass along its border, it’s time to [...]
  • Resource Wars: EU zeros in on Arctic mineral riches

    While many of us in the continental U.S. are enjoying record-breaking temperatures this March, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton probably needed her down coat as she embarked on her new mission: laying the groundwork for a common EU policy on the Arctic. Traveling near the North Pole earlier this month, Ashton made a case [...]
  • Critical metals take center stage in border dispute: The Kuril Islands and Rhenium

    According to a recent article in the Russian daily Pravda, Russia finds itself locked in a territorial dispute that is becoming increasingly acute. The conflict over the group of four islands, which Russia calls the “Southern Kurils” and Japan calls the “Northern Territories, is the reason why Japan and Russia never signed a peace treaty [...]
  • A new dimension of Resource Wars – China throws hat into Arctic ring

    Having intensified over the past few months with Russia reportedly willing to risk a new “Cold War” over the area’s vast resources, the geopolitics of the Arctic’s race for mineral riches has just been elevated to a whole new level with China having thrown its hat into the ring. According to the Wall Street Journal’s [...]
  • Supply, Demand, and the March of Science

    Just when American Resources has read its thousandth story on companies substituting around scare metals like the Rare Earths to reduce usage, along comes this Platts report on a new discovery in Russia’s RUSAL research labs, working in conjunction with a team from the Siberian Federal University.  Scientists there have fabricated a new aluminum alloy [...]
  • Strategic Metals Flashback – or Flash Forward?

    Our Director of Research, Sandra Wirtz, unearthed this piece from the Time Magazine online archives  – “Strategic Metal: #1,” dateline October 13, 1941 – just weeks before Pearl Harbor.  It inspired me to do a little research on my own, with an eye toward our present-day approach to strategic metals. With war raging in Europe, [...]
  • Mongolia Weighs its Resource Options

    History is typically difficult to see up close, but it’s possible that resources are sparking a great geo-political reordering on par with the mass discoveries of oil that made the Middle East a rising economic power the mid-20th Century.  Witness the country of Mongolia, a geo-political pawn for much of the last hundred years, but [...]
  • Russia to rethink prospecting policies in Africa?

    In yet another indication that a global race for resources is in full swing, this opinion piece carried by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti suggests that Russia, a generally resource-rich country, should rethink its long-held position that prospecting for minerals outside its own territory is not necessary.  According to the author, Africa, another area [...]

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