U.S. Reliance On Africa For Strategic Minerals
SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues
U.S. RELIANCE ON AFRICA FOR STRATEGIC MINERALS
Mr. Rudy Wiggins
In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
for Written Communications
The Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Major R.A. Hagerman
United States Marine Corps
April 6, 1984
U.S. RELIANCE ON AFRICA FOR STRATEGIC MINERALS
Thesis statement: Since World War II the United States has
become increasingly dependent on imported
strategic minerals. A major source for
many of these minerals is Africa, a vola-
tile region in which the possibility of a
major disruption of U.S. mineral supplies
is distinctly possible.
II. Impact of U.S. Reliance on African Minerals
III. A short analysis of four minerals
IV. Economic and political actions
Since World War II, the United States has become in-
creasingly dependent on foreign sources for almost all non-
fuel minerals. Included among these minerals are the"stra-
tegic minerals"; minerals not found or produced domestically
in sufficient quantities to meet our needs in times of foreign
threats to national security and/or the economy.1 Of the 24
major nonfuel minerals consumed by industrial nations, the
United States is substantially dependent on imports for 21
of them.2 This places the U.S. in a vulnerable position with
a direct threat to our defense production capability if the
supply of strategic minerals is disrupted by foreign powers.
A major source for many of these minerals is Africa.
This is a volatile region in which there is a distinct possi-
bility of major disruption of U.S. supplies of strategic
minerals. Because of the internal political and economic
problems in many of the African countries along with the ever
present Soviet adventurism in the area, the issue of U.S. re-
liance for vital mineral resources is extremely relevent.
The purpose of this report is to examine the growing
U.S. dependence on four strategic minerals for which Africa is
a primary source. Also discussed is the potential for Afri-
can suppliers to exert political and/or economic pressures on
the United States through cartels or unilateral actions to
halt or reduce supplies. Finally, a quick look is taken at
the Soviet Union's ability to effect our mineral supplies by
competing in the market place or by restricting our access
to African resources through military or political actions.
Impact of U.S. Reliance on African Minerals
Since the Arab oil embargo of 1973, the American public
has become aware of its dependence on foreign sources of pe-
troleum. Little known to most Americans is a second depen-
dency, a dependency potentially more dangerous than petroleum,
that has slowly risen over the past few years. This is the
U.S. dependence on imported minerals. In 1975 the United States
imported $12 billion in nonfuel minerals. By 1980 the figure
was up to $29 billion and is expected to reach $85 billion by
the years 2000.3
The availability of these minerals have an extremely
important impact on American industry and in turn, on U.S.
defense capabilities. Without just a few critical minerals,
such as cobalt, manganese, chromium, and platinum, it would
be virtually impossible to produce many defense products such
as jet engine, missle components, electronic components,
iron, steel, etc.4 The severity of the problem becomes more
apparent when the location of these minerals is considered.
Virtually all the worlds reserves of some strategic minerals
lie either in the Soviet Union or in Africa. Between them,
these two areas contain over 90% of the world platinum,
manganese and chromium ores.5 Since the hostility of the
Soviet Union towards the United States is deep rooted and ex-
pected to continue in the future, the supply of these min-
erals from Africa takes on an added significance.
A Short Analysis of Four Minerals
This section is designed to analyze these minerals to
determine the impact on the U.S. if the normal supply of any
of them were disrupted. Only four will be discussed (chromium,
cobalt, manganese and platinum) because the majority of the
free world reserves of each is located in Africa, each has
a major impact on the U.S. economy, and the U.S. imports a
majority of its needs from Africa.
Chromium is a white, crystalline, very hard metallic
chemical with a very high resistance to corrosion. It is used
in alloys required in stainless steel, tool steel, and
high-temperature applications. It is also used in jet air-
craft engines and aircraft structural members and areas of
high skin friction. Of the total chromite consumed, the metal-
lurgical industry uses 63%, the refractory industry 17%, and
the chemical industry 24%.6
Since 1961, the U.S. has relied on foreign sources for
100% of its chromium needs. Major concentrations of chromium
are in Africa, with the largest known reserves in the Republic
of South Africa and the purest grades are in Zimbabwe. These
two countries together account for 98% of the world's reserves.
The only other significant sources of chromium are the Soviet
Union, Turkey and Albania.7
The extent to which other minerals can be substituted for
chromium is quite limited. There is no material which can
adequately replace chrome in the steel industry and no substi-
tutes exist for its aerospace industry and no substitutes ex-
ist for its aerospace applications.8 In a crisis some consumers
of chromium could continue to function by reducing their use-
age of the mineral. However, most critical industries, par-
ticularly defense, could not continue to operate without nor-
Due to the lack of substitutes, the limited capability of
industry to operate without chromium, and the minerals concen-
tration in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the U.S. would be forced
to draw extensively from the defense stockpile in the event of
a supply disruption. The stockpile could meet domestic needs for
up to three years.9 Therefore, the U.S. is capable of meeting
any short term disruption of its chromium supply but does not
have sufficient alternate sources in the event the production
of either Zimbabwe or South Africa were permanently lost.
Cobalt is a hard, silver-grey metal which closely resembles
both iron and nickel in hardness, strength and other properties.
It is used as a high-temperature, high-strength alloy agent
in stationary gas turbine and jet engines. It is also
used in magnetic alloys in electronic equipment.
Because domestic production cannot compete with the
price of foreign sources, no cobalt has been mined in the
U.S. since 1971. Increases in the price of cobalt or
severe reductions in its availability would be required
before domestic production could be profitable.11
Four countries in Africa possess 52% of the free world's
reserves: Zaire, Zambia, Morocco, and Botswana. Loss of the
output from Zambia, Morocco, or Botswana would have a critical
impact on the marketplace. However, Zaire produces over 60%
of the free world's cobalt of which the U.S. purchases 65%
of its needs. A loss of Zaire's cobalt would have a drastic
impact on the United States.12
Some substitution can be made using nickel and chrom-
ium. However, 50 to 60 percent of the cobalt consumed is
essential in high-temperature alloys for jet engines and
steam turbines. In the event of a shortage, industry will
not be able to drastically cut back on its uses of cobalt
without a serious impact on U.S. defense requirements. About
70% of U.S. consumption of cobalt is used in alloys that will
not tolerate substitutes.13
Because the use of cobalt plays a significant part in
both industrical and military applications, and with limited
substitutes available, the U.S. must ensure an adequate
source in the event of supply disruptions. Other foreign
sources may offset a minor shortfall, but a total loss of
Zaire's cobalt would have serious consequences to the U.S.
Manganese is a prime ingredient in the production of
steel and is the third most consumed mineral in the U.S.
More than 90% of all manganese is used in the production of
steel, aluminum, and cast iron in which it imparts hardness
The U.S. has no manganese ore deposits concentrated
enough for economic production. Many countries around the
world have manganese deposits but only two dominate the
world market: the Soviet Union with 51% and South Africa
with 37%. The Soviet Union, however, has virtually ceased
exports of manganese. Consequently, South Africa has 75%
of the free world reserves. The U.S. only receives 39% of its
manganese ore from South Africa. However, loss of South Af-
rican exports would have a devastating effect on the world
economy which would indirectly affect U.S. supplies.15
There is no economical substitute for manganese in steel
making. The steel industry could not operate without man-
ganese and would be forced to curtail operations in the event
of a loss of supplies.
The key role that manganese plays in the steel indus-
try and the absense of acceptable substitutes shows the
critical nature of manganese. This problem is compounded
by the lack of domestic reserves and the role that South
Africa plays in the world marketplace.
Platinum group metals are silvery or greyish metals.
They are extremely corrosion-resistent, do not tarnish at
high temperatures, and make excellent catalysts. The plat-
inum group metals are not used in large quantities in industry
but they have a large effect on the economy including num-
erious military applications.16
The U.S. produces only small quantitites of the plat-
inum group metals and that as a byproduct of copper mining.
These metals are dominated by South Africa with 73% and the
Soviet Union with 25% of the world reserves. No other country
has reserves which could even begin to offset the loss of
South African exports. In 1979 the U.S. imports amounted
to over 1000% of the entire world production excluding the two
Gold, silver, and tungsten are potential substitutes
for the platinum group metals in specific electrical uses, but,
no substitutes exist for the use of the metals as catalysts.
In a crisis situation U.S. industry would be capable of cut-
backs in platinum useage for some industrial uses. However,
petro-chemical and electronic consumption would remain virtually
The status of the platinum group metals in the world
marketplace is extremely critical. Virtually no flexibility
exists in the event the South African supply is disrupted.
The U.S. could only partially offset the shortages from its
national stockpile but would have to rely on production cut-
backs and the relaxation of laws governing the need for cata-
Economic and Political Actions
As long as the United States is dependent on the Afri-
can nations for its chome, cobalt, manganese, and platinum,
it will be vulnerable to the actions of these nations. As
this mineral dependence grows, the U.S. will be less capable
of reacting effectively to disruptions in supply. Therefore
it is necessary to evaluate the liklihood of economic and
political actions which could threaten our channels of supply
or adversely effect the American economy.
Economic leverage can be achieved by the actions of a
single producer or through cartels. Cartels are collusive
agreements among producers to increase their monopoly profits
by such actions as fixing prices, dividing up markets, and re
stricting output.18 The likelihood that the major producting
countries of a particular mineral can establish a cartel
depends on how large a share of the minerals world exports,
output, and reserves they control; how small a drop in de-
mand occurs as the price rises; how small the supply from
other sources outside the cartel increases as the price
rises; and how strong the bonds are between the cartel members.19
All four minerals mentioned earlier are potentially
capable of applying economic leverage against the United
States. Each is characterized by a concentration of reserves
and production in Souther African countries and, for manganese
and platinum, the situation is aggravated by the fact that the
vast majority of the remaining reserves are located in the So-
viet Union. Finally, all four minerals have applications consi-
dered essential to industry for which little or no substitu-
tion is possible.
There are, however, a couple of factors that tend to lessen
the risk of cartels being established on these minerals. First,
is the dependence of several African producers, particulary
Zambia, Zaire, Gabon, and Zimbabwe, on the revenues these min-
erals generate and their inability to maintain financial stabil-
ity if deprived of these revenues for more than a few months.
The leaders of these countries are fully aware of the threat
that the economic chaos would pose to their own regimes, par-
ticularly if coupled with retaliation with the Western nations.
A second factor is South Africans desire to maintain good re-
lations with the West. The government realized the need for
peaceful neutrality from the major western powers to guarantee
its long-term survival. Maximizing profits is considered an
acceptable form of economic activity but they realize that
causing economic disruptions would quickly erode what little
support they now have. Until South Africa reaches stability
with the countries to her north, she will no be in a position
to use her potential economic leverage to win price concessions
from the west.20
Political leverage is used to achieve desired political
objectives through the threat of causing economic disruption.
The most common form of political leverage is the embargo which
is designed to harm, discipline, or influence the behavior of
foreign countries.21 The concentration of these minerals in
southern Africa and the Soviet Union and the important role
they play in industry make these four minerals particularly
effective weapons in a minerals embargo. However, a reason must
exist for one country to place an embargo of its goods on another
country. In the case of southern Africa only one issue is
considered important enough to prompt such a drastic step,
the existence of the ruling white regime in South Africa. In
particular, the black countries of the region are concerned
with the South African refussal to surrender control of Namibia.
The United States, which is dependent on both sides for
strategic minerals, is in the middle of a serious dilemma.
So far neither side has challenged the U.S. with an embargo to
win support for its goals. However, in the event that a cri-
sis were to develop in which the U.S. were forced to support
one side, we would risk a retalitory embargo by the other
side. Still, such an action must be considered unlikely since
both sides recognize the implications of such an action. As
with economic actions, the black states would risk losing needed
revenues and South Africa would risk loss of political support
from the West. Furthermore, political actions invite retaliation
from the country being embargoed. Neither side seems willing
to face the actions the U.S. is capable of taking. However,
this could very well change, if they were assured of the eco-
nomic support from the Soviet Union.22
To the Soviet Union, political control of strategic min-
erals is only a means to a greater goal, dominance of the West.
They have long recognized the link between economic vitality
and military capability. They feel that they need only to gain
control of the key mineral exporting countries of Africa to
form a strategic cartel with the potential of endangering the
security and economic well-being of the NATO countries and Japan.23
The Soviet strategy of mineral starvation appears to be cen-
tered around three courses of action. First, they are restrict-
ing the sale of their own minerals to the West. In recent years
Soviet exports of several strategic minerals have been sharply
curtailed or halted entirely. These actions have had the desired
effect of tightening supplies and increasing the West's depen-
dence on the African supplies. Secondly, the Soviets have moved
into international markets competing with the west for their tra-
ditional sources of supply. The result is that they are conser-
ving their own resources while limiting supplies available to
the western countries. Such actions could have unfortunate con-
sequences for the United States. They tend to restrict supplies
of strategic minerals, send prices to inflated levels, and
cause short term shortages. In addition, Soviet supplies become
more valuable and this gives them undue influence over western
economic markets. The third course of action the Soviets have
embarked upon is a program of extending its influence over
southern Africa. They are attempting to obtain a foothold in
the region to secure mineral sources that otherwise would be
used to supply the west. This can be accomplished either by
supporting friendly governments or by the overthrow of pro-wes-
tern governments.24 At this time, the major mineral producing
states of the region cannot be considered pro-Soviet. However,
their dispute with South Africa has given the Soviets an oppor-
tunity to gain presence in the region by portraying herself
a friend of the black majority. In addition, the Soviets are
attempting to undermine pro-western governments by a strategy
of encirclement by which the region is surrounded by Marxist
states which provide havens for anti-government activities.25
Neither South Africa or the black nations to her north
are likely to use their minerals as a political lever against
the U.S. or the countries of western Europe. Both sides have
close economic, political, and military ties to the west and
have far too much to lose from such actions. The soviet Union,
on the other hand, appears determined to use the strategic min-
erals of Africa as another weapon against the west. She has
correctly assessed the west's vulnerability in these minerals
and has focused her attention on the area of the world where
this vulnerability can be best exploited. As a result of this
strategy, coupled with recent Soviet successes throughout
Africa, the Soviet Union is certain to expand its support of
pro-leftist movements in southern Africa.
In conclusion, it can be seen that the American defense
industry is highly dependent on a number of strategic minerals
whose source is largely from Africa. Among these strategic
minerals whose source is largely from Africa. Among these stra-
tegic minerals the four most critical are chromium, cobalt,
manganese and platinum. Each is considered critical because of
the major role it plays in American defense, the lack of do-
mestic supplies, the lack of adequate substitutes, and the
lack of alternate foreign sources. This dependency has given
the African states which supply these minerals a substantial po-
tential for exerting economic and political leverage against
the United States. However, this potential is unlikely to be
exercised to any significant degree. Almost all of the major
mineral producing nations of southern Africa have economies
that are highly dependent on the revenues generated from these
mineral sales. Although cartel actions to raise profits are pos-
sible, actions to disrupt the market and lead to lower overall
sales would not be in their best interest. South Africa may be
able to withstand economic repercussions but is constrained due
to a need for political support from the West.
A major obstacle in the entire issue is the Soviet Union
which as attempted to exploit the West's dependence on these
critical minerals. The Soviets have the only major deposits
of platinum and manganese outside southern Africa and possess
large reserves of chromium and cobalt. They have been using
their position as the only major alternate supplier to manipu-
late the mineral markets, creating high prices and tight supplies.
In addition, their actions into several African countries have
endangered the stability of the entire region. Overall, the
situation regarding U.S. supplies of these four strategic min-
erals can be expected to deteriorate as world supplies dwindle
unless steps are taken to counterbalance the expected shortages.
1Hankee, William B., and King, A.H. The Role of Security
Assistance in Maintaining Access to Strategic Resources, Carlisle
PA: USAWC, September, 1981, pp. 1.
2Jordan, Amos A., and Kilmarx, Robert A. Strategic Mineral
Dependence: The Stockpile Dilemma. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage
Publications, 1979, pp. 15.
3U.S. Bureau of Mines. Minerals Yearbook 1976. Vol II:
Area Reports: Domestic. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Print-
ing Office, 1979. pp. 40-41.
4Jordan, Amos A., and Kilmarx, Robert A. Strategic Mineral
Dependence. pp. 16
5Meyer, Herbert E. "Russias Sudden Reach for Raw Materials".
Fortune, July 28, 1980, pp. 43
6U.S. Bureau of Mines. Minerals Yearbook 1978-79. Vol. I:
Metals and Minerals. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
office, 1980. pp. 195.
7Toohey, John A., Major, USAF and McWilliams, Howard H.,
Major, USAF. "Assessment of Potential Mineral Shortages: Chro-
mium, Cobalt, and Platinum." Research study prepared at the Air
Command and Staff College, Air University, Maxwell, AFB, Ala-
bama, May, 1976, pp. 37.
8U.S. Office of Emergency Planning, Strategic and Critical
Materials Descriptive Data. Washington, D.C.: Government Print-
ing Office, March 31, 1963, pp. 12.
9U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook 1980. Vol. I:
Metals and Minerals. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1981, pp. 189.
10U.S. Office of Emergency Planning. Strategic and Critical
Materials Descriptive Data. pp. 16.
11Toohey, John A., Major, USAF and McWilliams, Howard H.,
Major, USAF. "Assessment of Potential Mineral Shortages." pp. 78
12Ibid., pp. 79.
13U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Intelligence and Re-
search. Cobalt Prospects: Trouble Ahead., Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Government Printing Office, May 12, 1980, pp. i.
14U.S. Office of Emergency Planning, Strategic and Critical
Materials Descriptive Data. pp. 14.
15Toohey, John A., Major, USAF and McWilliams, Howard H.,
Major, USAF. " Assessment of Potential Mineral Shortages." pp. 83.
16Ibid., pp. 85.
17U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook 1976. pp. 163
18Tilton, John E. The Future of Nonfuel Minerals. Washing-
ton, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1977, pp. 80.
19Ibid., pp. 82.
20Ibid., pp. 83.
21Ibid., pp. 89.
22Ibid., pp. 91-94.
23Ibid., pp. 93.
24Kroft, D.J. "The Geopolitics of Non-Energy Minerals."
Air Force Magazine, June 1979, pp. 76-80.
25Meyer, Herbert E. "Russias Sudden Reach for Raw Materials.,"
THERE IS A PAGE MISSING FROM THIS FILE
13. U.S. Office of Emergency Planning. Strategic and Criti-
cal Materials Descriptive Data. Washington, D.C.:
Government Printing Office, March 31, 1963, pp. 12.
14. Williford, Richard L. Major, USAF. "Economic Disparity
and U.S. Policy in SouthernAfrica." Research study
prepared at the Air Command and Staff College, Air
University, Maxwell, AFB, Alabama, May, 1982.
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