Control over the production of critical minerals necessary for advanced defense and commercial manufacturing processes is a new feature of the escalating tensions between the United States and China over trade and security. This report explores the state of the supply chain for global critical materials—specifically rare earth elements (REEs)—and the near-monopoly that China holds over it. Additionally, it identifies unique aspects of the critical mineral production process that makes the supply chain particularly difficult to preserve and evaluates ongoing efforts by U.S. industry and policymakers to create a reliable critical minerals supply chain. The report concludes by assessing the likelihood that China cuts off U.S. access to their production capabilities and how effective current U.S. countermeasures are in preserving access to rare earth elements.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Suzanne Dickson)