National Security Trumps Globalization & Free Trade in the Critical Minerals Race


Do national security trump globalization and free trade? Apparently so. The CMI Table of Comparative Critical Minerals’ Lists below tells the story. But, first, some background.

The surface and near-surface distribution and accumulation of the minerals, from which modern mechanical and chemical engineering extract useful chemical elements, is a result of billions of years of the geological evolution of the earth’s crust. Most recently some mineral deposits (accessible and economically workable concentrations) have also been created by volcanic activity and “weathering,” the breakdown and sometimes dissolution of minerals by the periodic freezing and heating, we call the seasons and by thousands, perhaps millions, of centuries of rain.

The only effect that humans have had upon the distribution of the minerals containing the metallic chemical elements is to have removed them to places of human habitation as technologies became available to recover them, extract the desired chemical elements from them, and process the chemicals thus obtained into metals deemed necessary for survival.

Metals, the first known of which either copper or gold, which can both be found in “native” (metallic) forms, and then, after that, probably tin and iron were “discovered” some 6 to 8 thousand years ago. The ancient world knew less than 10 metals and just a very few alloys of them (bronze, brass, electrum, tin, iron, mercury). All of the rest of them were “discovered” only in the last 250 years.

The “Birth” of Technology Metals

In fact, it is only during and after World War II that a new class of metals, which I have called the “technology metals” were prepared in commercial quantities and have now enabled the age of miniaturized solid-state electronics, alternate energy storage, and nuclear generation of electricity to flourish and transform our society.

Those minerals, which were critical up to World War II were pretty much the same ones that the Romans and the British needed to establish and maintain their empires: iron and copper.

There is a disconnect between the identification of the metals they deem to require sourcing critical minerals by individual nations and national groupings, and why they are in particular, critical.

Comparative List of Countries’ “Critical Minerals”

There are different emphases and priorities used by different nations in choosing critical minerals. But, it seems that all such selection agendas have one overriding theme, national self-interest. Most of the world’s nations consider the most critical minerals to be those that support their domestic economy first and their export economy second. For the two current “great economic powers”, the USA and China, we have so far only the USGS list, which is contained in the CMI Table of Comparative Critical Minerals’ Lists below. I have not seen a comparable list for the PRC.

In any case, the American USGS list is an “official” compilation that includes the needs of the world’s largest military, that of the United States. And, quite frankly, although it is the US military’s needs that get the most media coverage, that usage is just a fraction of the critical minerals contained in products for the American consumer economy. For example, I estimate that although the military may use 20% of all of the rare earths consumed annually in the USA, by far the biggest user of them is the OEM transportation (cars, trucks, passenger planes, railroad rolling stock, and civilian ships and boats, etc.) industry followed by the manufacturers of industrial motors and civilian appliances and infotainment devices.

In the table below, the elements in the solid blue lines are those that all of the shown national or regional (EU) critical minerals list agree upon. Those in the lighter blue background are chosen by some but not all of the nations/groups, and those with no background represent the choice of individual nations alone.

The perspective of most of the lists is either (almost) all-encompassing or ridiculously narrow.

The key metal of our age of technology, copper, does not appear on anyone’s list!

The structural metals for both the peacetime and war economies, iron, aluminum, and copper do not appear at all!

China is Winning the “Critical Minerals” War

More than 50% of the production of end-user forms of all of these metals (copper, iron, and aluminum) are today produced in China, for which we have not yet found a critical minerals list, but I suggest that we simply look at the relative proportions of any metal today processed and produced in China to reason out the Chinese critical minerals’ list. In fact, China has a monopoly on all of the critical war minerals and metals processing.

This is the result of the first successful industrial policy in history.

Talking doesn’t produce structural or technology minerals and metals. Only action does.


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6 responses

  1. Alastair Avatar

    Interesting review. I doubt China would publicly release the list but their recent moves in Lithium are an indication. Also the move to nuclear power would raise Uranium to a similar level. Likely Vanadium, PGMs and Cobalt would also be included IMHO

  2. Tony Simpson Avatar
    Tony Simpson

    It is beyond belief that Zirconium & Hafnium are not deserving a seperate mention if these are not on your radar they should be

  3. Jack Lifton Avatar
    Jack Lifton

    I don’t think that China wants attention drawn to the complete success of its industrial policy aimed at total security of supply of the critical minerals and their processing into metals and chemicals to support China’s transformation from a third world backwater to a first world economic and now growing military power. China does not want to do anything to interrupt the flow of critical minerals from its overseas networks to be impeded, so it pretends to care about WTO rules and climate change. Both are deemed annoyances, but, are tolerated by Chinese leaders for political purposes.
    Since only the Pentagon, in the US governmental structure, has a true industrial policy, the American government dumbly mouths the precepts of the greens and avoids taking any regulatory reform to advance the security of supply and/or self sufficiency in critical minerals. The oxymoronic “Inflation Reduction Act” gives cover to political giveaways to lobbyists, donors, and cronies. A great deal of profit was made by those who built the 100 million dollar fighter jet and the two 4 hundred thousand dollar missiles and let’s not forget the jet fuel vendor and the rocket fuel provider all of whom contributed to the shooting down of the Chinese(?) spy balloon over Lake Huron. Perhaps the Chinese will simply continue to send spy balloons, so that the Pentagon can request more money for missiles to engage balloons as well as Russian aircraft over Ukraine. The politicians are clearly outclassed.

  4. Hugh Sharman Avatar
    Hugh Sharman

    Thank you Jack! All these minerals, including lithium, that will ever be found, mined and refined on this lovely planet, were forged as a consequence of the (literally!) miraculous physics of this extraordinary Universe that we are fortunate to inhabit. Every milligram of these was created billions of years ago, “shortly” after the big bang.

    No matter how much money is printed as a consequence of the IRA, not a single milligram of any mineral can ever be created by any foreseeable Science!

    This is thought provoking stuff as the Human Race heads into 2023 and China’s overwhelming command of global mining and refining of these is, in a sense, further clarified by the work, recently published and currently undergoing peer review, by Finland’s Geological Survey.

    I hope and/or the Critical Minerals Institute will soon publicly challenge the outrageously impossible claims for free, clean, affordable energy trumpeted by the self-righteous but technically ignorant “environmentalists” who are loudly proclaiming that “net zero”, financed by the iRA or other massive quantities of printed money, can solve the Global energy crisis, caused by insufficient upstream investments into decreasing reserves of fossil fuels, made blindingly obvious to us all by the murderous and obviously incompetent gangster, temporarily called “president” of the Russian Federation.

    The Finnish work can be accessed and downloaded at

    1. Jack Lifton Avatar
      Jack Lifton

      I think now that the real problem is the lack of common sense among non-Chinese politicians. They don’t even take a moment to understand or try to find out about the real-world necessity for cheap energy and about the limitations of the supply of natural resources that the human race can recover economically. I think that, ultimately, we will have a Western world depression caused by the consequences of simply running out of trust in debt financing. China is facing the dilemma of a growing activist South America, Southeast Asia, and ominously for all of us dependent on their non-fuel minerals, Africa. China is, I think, in critical mineral sufficiency, but this is highly dependent on its access to critical minerals from the rest of the world. Deglobalization is, in fact, a path to slowing Chinese expansion into permanent self-sufficiency in critical minerals, but until Western politicians and financiers understand energy and mineral economics the Chinese cannot be countered.
      Nonetheless, the American and European OEM manufacturing industries have decided to follow the green flag no matter what, so we will see critical mineral economics drive markets, not just follow them. The existential crisis for the OEM automotive industry is upon us. Only those who have the lithium for batteries will survive. OEM automotive is throwing billions at the walls of the mining offices. No one knows how much will stick.
      Fifty years ago the economist, Emma Rothschild (Yes. One of those Rothschilds) wrote a seminal volume called: Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto Industrial Age She was prescient, but just a little premature.

  5. Hugh Sharman Avatar
    Hugh Sharman

    Thanks Jack! The end of adequate, affordable energy will, I fear, precipitate a mighty economic therefore social and political collapse is more or less inevitable

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