How China Could Shut Down America’s Defenses

Advanced U.S. weapons are almost entirely reliant on rare-earth materials only made in China—and they could be a casualty of the trade war.

Foreign Policy
Date: June 11, 2019
By: Keith Johnson, Lara Seligman

Sailors aboard the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) prepare to moor at the historic submarine piers at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam June 6, 2019 following their latest deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Patrick Dille)

The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Hawaii prepared to moor at the historic submarine piers at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on June 6. Each Virginia-class submarine uses nearly five tons of rare-earth materials. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Patrick Dille

President Donald Trump has often argued that China has much more to lose than the United States in a trade war, but critics say his administration has failed to address a major U.S. vulnerability: Beijing maintains powerful leverage over the warmaking capability of its main strategic rival through its control of critical materials.

Every advanced weapon in the U.S. arsenal—from Tomahawk missiles to the F-35 fighter jet to Aegis-equipped destroyers and cruisers and everything in between—is absolutely reliant on components made using rare-earth elements, including critical items such as permanent magnets and specialized alloys that are almost exclusively made in China. Perhaps more worrisome is that the long-term U.S. supply of smart bombs and guided munitions that would have to be replenished in a hurry in the event of U.S. conflict in Syria, Iran, or elsewhere are essentially reliant on China’s acquiescence in their continued production.

But is it too much for him to at least show some foreign-policy common sense?

Chinese threats to cut off U.S. supplies of rare earths, first floated by Beijing in late May, haven’t abated. Over the weekend, Chinese state media suggested that high-end, finished products using rare earths that the U.S. defense industry requires could be included in China’s technology-export restrictions, themselves a response to U.S. pressure on the telecoms giant Huawei. “China is capable of impacting the US supply chain through certain technical controls,” said an editorial in China’s Global Times that pointedly referred to processed rare earths.    [FULL  STORY]

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