Graphite is designated as a critical mineral by the U.S. Department of the Interior due to its importance to the economy and national security.
In the words of the United States Geological Survey, “Mineral commodities are vital for economic growth, improving the quality of life, providing for national defense, and the overall functioning of modern society.”
As the USGS says on their web site:
Minerals are being used in larger quantities than ever before and in an increasingly diverse range of applications. With the increasing demand for a considerably more diverse suite of mineral commodities has come renewed recognition that competition and conflict over mineral resources can pose significant risks to the manufacturing industries that depend on them. In addition, production of many mineral commodities has become concentrated in relatively few countries (for example, tungsten, rare-earth elements, and antimony in China; niobium in Brazil; and platinum-group elements in South Africa and Russia), thus increasing the risk for supply disruption owing to political, social, or other factors. At the same time, an increasing awareness of and sensitivity to potential environmental and health issues caused by the mining and processing of many mineral commodities may place additional restrictions on mineral supplies. These factors have led a number of Governments, including the Government of the United States, to attempt to identify those mineral commodities that are viewed as most “critical” to the national economy and (or) security if supplies should be curtailed.
About Graphite specifically, the same USGS site explains:
Graphite is a form of pure carbon that normally occurs as black crystal flakes and masses. It has important properties, such as chemical inertness, thermal stability, high electrical conductivity, and lubricity (slipperiness) that make it suitable for many industrial applications, including electronics, lubricants, metallurgy, and steelmaking. For some of these uses, no suitable substitutes are available. Steelmaking and refractory applications in metallurgy use the largest amount of produced graphite; however, emerging technology uses in large-scale fuel cell, battery, and lightweight high-strength composite applications could substantially increase world demand for graphite.
This from a professional paper on the USGS web site called “Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply”. You can see the report in its entirety here.