Letter: Securing critical minerals is essential for America’s national security


Courtesy of Andre Klimke via Unsplash

The war in Afghanistan has lasted 20 years and cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion.

Joni Ernst

Over the past year, we’ve seen the world become a more dangerous place. From Afghanistan to Ukraine, America’s enemies are on the march. Today, our country faces threats from emboldened adversaries around the planet like Russia, Iran, China, and violent extremist organizations in Africa and Afghanistan.

As our nation faces these emerging and amplified threats, the need to support and modernize our defenses is increasingly important. A vital component of that, which is becoming more essential every day, is the use of what are known as critical minerals.

Critical minerals include things like rare earth minerals, cobalt and lithium, all of which are used to produce engines, night vision equipment and other modern military technologies. America’s defense in the modern era increasingly demands the use of these materials. For instance, the Air Force’s premier fighter jet, the F-22, is made with layers of titanium alloy, much of which is sourced from Russia and China. This makes it more important by the day for our nation to have a sufficient stockpile and reliable access to these critical minerals.

But, at this very moment, our adversaries, like Communist China, dominate the supply chain of these increasingly vital materials, threatening our readiness in an emergency situation and jeopardizing our national security. China is on the move in regions we’ve disgracefully abandoned in particular. In Afghanistan, for instance, the Taliban is negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party on mineral extraction. They’ve already confirmed 60 contracts, giving our adversaries access to a mineral bed valued at close to $3 trillion.

We need to bolster the U.S. supply of critical minerals, move toward ending our nation’s dependence on China, and protect America’s national security interests. That’s why I’m partnering with my friend and Democratic colleague, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to do exactly that. This week, we introduced our HARD ROCK Act, or the Homeland Acceleration of Recovering Deposits and Renewing Onshore Critical Keystones Act.

This bipartisan bill refocuses the nation’s stockpile to ensure we are securing the strategic and critical materials we need to meet our national security demands for the modern era. The Department of Defense is required to maintain a stockpile of critical and strategic materials, known as the National Defense Stockpile (NDS), which in times of war or national emergencies is used to provide defense and essential civilian manufacturers with immediate access to the raw materials required to produce such goods.

The reality is that right now when it comes to certain strategic and critical minerals, the U.S. is simply insufficiently positioned to meet military and essential civilian needs. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from 2019, the U.S. was 100 percent import-reliant on 14 minerals on the critical minerals list and more than 75 percent import-reliant on 10 other critical minerals. Our bipartisan bill gives the NDS manager the authority to update a list of strategic and critical minerals to be acquired that reflects America’s modern-day defense needs.

Our bill also pushes the Pentagon to work with our partners and allies worldwide to ensure stable access to these minerals. It requires the Department of Defense to examine potential updates of statutory authority for broad collaboration with our partners and allies to ensure reliable access to critical and strategic materials from our friends around the world.

I was extremely pleased that just this week, after Senator Manchin and I introduced our new bill, key parts of our HARD ROCK Act were included in the Senate’s annual defense bill, what’s called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2023, which was released publicly Thursday. As members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that worked on the NDAA, we fought to get major parts of our legislation included. We are thrilled the Committee agreed with us in making it clear that securing reliable access to critical minerals should and will be a priority in this year’s defense bill.

It’s past time we take seriously the risk we face in allowing China to run our national defense and critical mineral supply chain. For decades, China has been working to build a global monopoly on the critical minerals that our nation needs to defend itself and create the future. America cannot fail to make important investments in securing this supply chain and strategic minerals. We must ensure that America has the essential materials we need to meet our defense needs for an increasingly dangerous world.