Intelligent Energy

China cuts off rare earths. World War ensues. It's Call of Duty, the video game.

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Beijing deprives world of vital metals after U.S. takes down Chinese stock exchange. Armageddon follows. Brave men to the rescue. Watch the trailer. See why the Congressman likes it.

Zombie-like retired U.S. marine sergeant Frank Woods and his brave buddies might save the world from China's rare earth shenanigans in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

It's June 19, 2025. Battered, disgusted, zombie-like and surprised to be alive retired U.S. marine sergeant Frank Woods growls and scowls, "Technology got stronger. The weak got weaker. We built computers. Robots. Unmanned armies. And no one ever asks - what happens when the enemy steals the keys?"

Ooooh. I don't know Frank. How about if we politely ask for them back?

Well, this is a shoot-em-up video game, so that ain't gonna happen. No room for diplomacy here.

Man on a rare (earth) mission. UK box art for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Wikipedia and the review site "PickMyPerk" describe the action in Call of Duty: Black Ops II as a Cold War between the U.S. and China. But events get a bit sizzling in the trailer for the Activision game due out later this year.

Los Angeles sinks, the Middle East rises and Armageddon breaks loose.

"The things they built to keep us safe are turned against us," Woods explains with told-you-so-jerks smugness.

Darn it.

Never fear! There will always be "men like us,"  Frank assures. What sort of men are those, oh grizzled one?  "Those who are willing to do what others cannot."

Thank goodness for that. You fight, Frank, along with your compatriots who can shoot with deadly accuracy while  wearing those scary looking black agualung gas masks. I'll eat some hot dogs at the baseball game tonight. We'll be both be proud Americans, performing our respective patriotic duties.

Here's what Frank and his brave buddies get up to:

Any way, what on earth is all of this killing and annihilation about?

Rare earth metals, of course. You know - those 17 elements that the global economy cannot do without, because they go into everything from missiles and weapons to wind turbines, cars, computers,  light bulbs and iPhones. Rare earths are also tied into thorium, the alternative to uranium that could usher in a future of safe nuclear energy.

Imagine a world without iPhones. Call of Duty does. China - which if you can come back to the present for a moment, controls over 95 percent of the market - takes its domination a step further in 2025, and outright cuts off America's supply.

Aqualung my friend? I hope he's on my side.

Serves the country right. You see, the final straw for China was that  - in the video game - the U.S. takes down "the Chinese Stock Exchange" with a cyberattack, according to Wikipedia.  So China retaliates by strangling the metals flow.

"Aside from the fact that I'm still alive," Sgt. Woods intones in the trailer before allowing the soundtrack a few beats of the doom-doom drums, "none of this surprises me." (I'm reporting his words in as much as I can make out what he's saying. Frank, I know you're a zombie, but please try to articulate).

Nor does it surprise congressman Mike Coffman, R, Colo., either. In May, he wrote of the game in an op-ed piece in the Washington Times:

Though the kinetic pace of the action is pure Hollywood, the competition between the countries for these critical materials is anything but fiction.

Coffman blasts the Obama administration for failing to enact policy that would assure American supply of rare earths, and faults recent actions as inadequate (yes, he's the same Rep. Coffman who recently questioned whether Obama is American). He points out that Call of Duty is way ahead of the U.S. government in comprehending the issue:

Although players have many options to win in the game, it is unclear whether the Obama administration, which is neglecting proven mining and development strategies that could develop a domestic rare earth supply, is playing to win in the real world. The contours of this neglectful rare earth policy have become clear through the attitude of the Department of Defense and the widely announced recent World Trade Organization case...

Sweeping our supply problems under the rug does not appear to be a long-term strategy for success. In the end, these actions align closer with the political agenda of the administration than with the needs of a high-tech economy or national security.

He's not the only one concerned.  In this YouTube video, aeronautical guy Rob from "PickMyPerk" explains why the video game plot is plausible, and why he thinks Chinese rare earth control could ground America's fleet of Blackhawk and Apache helicopters:

Somehow, I think we can avoid this mess.

Images: Frank Woods, and "Aqualung" from screen grabs of Activision's YouTube trailer. Call of Duty box art from Activision/Treyarch via Wikipedia.

More rare business on SmartPlanet:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure