24 January 2014

Heavy metal resource warfare

High on the international agenda are terrorism and so-called cyber warfare and rightly so. However, there are more insidious threats to national security. For instance, communications, transport, food and water supply, healthcare and other aspects of infrastructure rely heavily on the fabrication of countless pieces of equipment that require rare chemical elements for their manufacture, not least the computers and portable devices that control so many aspects of modern life. It is of growing concern that essential systems might be compromised. One might imagine that the advent of a rogue government or an international argument between states might see a nation from whose lands those rare minerals are mined or otherwise sourced be blocked.

Zulfiqar Khan and Sarfraz Khan of Coventry University and Mils Hills of The University of Northampton, UK, explain how the importance of supply chain management has grown steadily over the last two decades and while efficient management can be to an organization’s competitive advantage, compromise of supply chain security can be a threat not only to commerce, but as alluded to above, a nation’s infrastructure. Raw metals, among them, copper, chromium, manganese, and lead as well as the likes of rhodium yttrium and others have no substitutes and are often found as accessible ores in remote regions of less than democratic regions of the globe, shall we say.

The UK team suggests that nations with a grievance need no longer send their troops to foreign shores, they might just close off the supply of a rare metal essential to the manufacture of smart phones and a rival nation might fall. They refer to this as “resource warfare” and it represents a more insidious threat to the long-term stability of a nation than one might forecast based on a “shock and awe” attack of bombs and bullets.

A separate study from Yale University emphasizes how so many of the rare metal resources on which the modern world relies for its computers and other systems cannot be substituted in current technology by other more common materials. And, so the UK team has focused on how supply chain management and presumably retrieval/recycling efforts might be used to best ensure nations and the manufacturers they support do not lose their metals regardless of the activities of rogue states or other entities intent on blocking the supply.

Research Blogging IconKhan Z., Khan S. & Hills M. (2013). Resource warfare: considering the challenge of supply chain security in an era of unrestricted warfare, International Journal of Logistics Economics and Globalisation, 5 (3) 240. DOI: 10.1504/IJLEG.2013.058824

Heavy metal resource warfare is a post from: David Bradley's Science Spot

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