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Review: Grand Strategy, Great Power Competition, & Seabed Resources, Thea Dunlevie (27/11/23)

The Emerging Threats group convened on November 27 for its final seminar of term on Great Power Technology Competition and Grand Strategy. The session began with an overview of the evolving landscape of great power competition, reviewing the work done by the Emerging Threats Group throughout the year. The session then focused on the emerging security challenge of critical resources, seabed mining, and great power competition, led by subject expert Thea Dunlevie, Senior Analyst at the Center for Maritime Strategy.

Landscapes of Great Power Tech Competition

The session began with a review of different fields of great power tech competition according to the ‘landscapes’ scheme developed by the Emerging Threats Group. This conception includes the traditional domains, as well as biological landscapes, atmosphere and climate, the space-cyber nexus, time acceleration, cognition & information, and finally, the subsea/seabed landscape.

Critical Resources in the Seabed

The session highlighted the importance of seabed minerals for great power technology competition, focusing on polymetallic nodules containing cobalt, nickel, and other essential elements. Mining the seabed is seen not only as a potential solution for the transition to green energy but also as a rare chance to diversify critical resource supply chains, which China dominates. China has shown its willingness to pressure other states by cutting off critical resource exports over political issues, highlighting the potential risks of dependence.

Pros and Cons of Seabed Mining

Some of the concerns emerging in this session included the potentially devastating environmental impacts, international opposition from many allies, and the late U.S. entry into the seabed mining “gold rush.” Nonetheless, demand for rare earth elements and critical resources is predicted to skyrocket in the future. An advantage to staying involved in developments in this domain is not to leave it uncontested for China and Russia, especially regarding lawfare in international regulations.

Q&A and Future Considerations

During the Q&A, participants raised crucial questions about regulation, surveillance and enforcement capabilities, and the relationship between seabed mining and maritime activities. Concerns were voiced about significant environmental trade-offs, the impact on naval security, and strategic considerations of seabed warfare. Alternatives may be found in further traditional mining, exploiting land-based deposits. It was also questioned how far deep sea exploration and tech may also be dual purpose for more traditional naval warfare issues.

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