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The Shocking Reason Why America's Military Has One Weakness (And It Involves China)

Nevertheless, for nearly two decades defense policymakers have insisted on ignoring this threat in favor of misplaced ideas about globalization. Consequently, our defense industrial base is growing “increasingly brittle” with long-term consequences for military readiness, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in recent testimony. Despite the criticality of REEs to our nation’s ability to fight and win wars, action on the issue remains stagnant. A 2016 GAO report stated that the Pentagon could not identify the REEs it needs. After three separate Pentagon offices researched the issue, there is no consensus, let alone a clear path to a stable US supply. Meanwhile, the last producing rare earths mine was sold to a Chinese mining firm for $20 million in June.

The Pentagon is foolish to advertise a grand strategy of technological prowess when it doesn’t even have a secure supply of the strategic materials it needs to innovate. President Trump’s recently announced Industrial Base Review could be an opportunity to fix this problem by insisting that the Pentagon support domestic supply lines. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee authorization bills included additional funds for development of domestic rare earth capability, though the all-powerful Appropriations Committees have not matched this investment to date. We need to put some money toward fixing this critical supply chain issue before we get caught short and embarrassed when it’s a matter of life and death in defense of the nation.

Though seemingly unimportant things like a $2 rare earth element magnet steering a billion dollar weapons platform may sound inconsequential, when our adversaries cut off our supply leveraging our greatest weakness against us, we won’t have anywhere to turn. With unpredictable international relations, we can no longer ignore our greatest strategic liability. We must act now to establish a coherent rare earth policy and end our dependence on China. When it comes to keeping America safe, we can’t take any chances.

Dean G. Popps was the US Army's Service Acquisition Executive (SAE) and Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Logistics and Technology in both the Bush and Obama administrations. Currently, he is Senior Counsel to FH+H law firm in McLean, Virginia and serves on various corporate and advisory boards.

This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.

Image: Creative Commons. 

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