Africa Notes: The Strategic Minerals Maze - April 1986
April 4, 1986
The United States imports more than 50 percent of its needs for over two dozen minerals deemed of either "strategic" or "critical" importance to U.S. national defense. Three at the top of the list - chromium, manganese, and platinum - are obtained in large part from South Africa, and much of a fourth (cobalt) is exported from landlocked countries in the region through South Africa's transport system and ports. While there is no clear agreement among U.S. government agencies about which minerals are "strategic" and which are "critical," the term "strategic" generally refers to those minerals on which the United States is primarily import-dependent while "critical" refers to those minerals which do not have readily available substitutes in the event of a disruption.
In recognition of its minerals vulnerability, the United States has since 1947 maintained a strategic stockpile of minerals and materials deemed vital to support U.S. defense, industrial, and essential civilian requirements during a prolonged military conflict or declared national emergency. Use of the defense stockpile to alleviate supply shortfalls or price increases that negatively impact on civilian consumers is not authorized in the absence of a declared national emergency.