Best Defense

China’s minerals diplomacy and you

If you saw the news item the other day that China, in a huff over some oceanic turf claims, was threatening to cut off the export of certain rare minerals to Japan, I bet you shrugged and turned the page. But Business Week offers up the intelligence that U.S. smart bombs also rely on neodymium, ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

If you saw the news item the other day that China, in a huff over some oceanic turf claims, was threatening to cut off the export of certain rare minerals to Japan, I bet you shrugged and turned the page.

But Business Week offers up the intelligence that U.S. smart bombs also rely on neodymium, an essential part of magnets on the fins that guide smart bombs. Guess who dominates that market? "The Pentagon has been incredibly negligent," Peter Leitner, a former trade adviser at the Defense Department, reassuringly tells BW. "There are plenty of early warning signs that China will use its leverage over these materials as a weapon."

Interested now? Good. My CNAS colleagues Christine Parthemore and Will Rogers run a blog titled "Natural Security" that specializes in issues like this. Minerals, energy and the political effects of climate change — it’s a growth market.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1
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