Rare earth elements – implications for defence and security policy


  • Malek Finn Khan
  • Martin Lundmark
  • Jerker Hellström

Publish date: 2012-12-31

Report number: FOI-R--3604--SE

Pages: 45

Written in: Swedish


  • Rare earth metals
  • defence
  • China
  • industrial dependence
  • defence
  • policy
  • recycling


Rare earth elements (REE) have unique properties and they have a great and growing importance for both military and civilian high-tech applications. 95% of produced REE comes from mines in China. From a defence perspective, many states consider it as an undesirable uncertainty that China has such a strong control over this important asset. This report systematically identifies the defence capabilities and industries that rely on access to REE and also the resources Europe currently lacks in order to ensure supply of REE. The latter include commercial mining of REE; recycling of REE on a commercial scale, a chemical process to manage commercial quantities of REE and manufacturing of components with REE. To manage concerns relating to these missing resources and ultimately the dependence on REE, we propose in this report the following strategies. Reduce dependence on REE - Measures can be implemented to develop research on alternatives to REE and also research on how to develop efficient production methods in order to avoid waste in manufacturing. Develop commercial mining of REE in Europe - In order to identify more suitable deposits of REE, a geological survey should be carried out in Europe. The world market price for REE fluctuates greatly and is strongly influenced by the dominant player China. Consequently, developing commercially viable mines is risky and expensive and it is of interest to investigate how these projects can be supported. Develop research and commercialization of recycling - The idea is to source REE from recycled materials as electronic waste and tailings. This is not commercially viable yet. The proposed research involves everything from chemical separation technology to logistics of collecting electronic waste. Investigation and development of the European process industry for processing of REE - Processing of REE is currently concentrated to China and it is unclear whether there is sufficient competence and capacity in Europe that can take care of future raw materials from European sources. Development of component manufacturing on REE - It is important to secure supply of components containing REE. This can be addressed on many levels, e.g. by implementing programs to strengthen European manufacturing and research into how the defence industry can otherwise ensure access to safe components in a long-term perspective. From a dependence perspective, it is important not only to ensure access to REE minerals (or alloys of REE), but in the end, to the components that contain REE. The strategies above are all part of a balanced package of actions that ensure access to REE from raw materials to finished components so that the European defence industry can maintain high international quality for their end products. For commodities in general and REE specifically, it is impossible for the defence sector alone to manage the proposed programs that can secure supply of REE. The defence sector might, however, lead the civilian sector to realize the area's strategic importance (both civilian and military) and initiate programs to address the dependence of REE.