Russian-Ukrainian War: Can International Trade Bring Peace?


On April 12, 1861, rebel artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter, sparking the American Civil War. The war eventually became a catastrophe for the South, which lost more than a fifth of its young. But why did the secessionists think they could achieve this?

One of the reasons was that they believed they had a powerful economic weapon. The economy of Britain, the world’s leading power at the time, was heavily dependent on cotton from the south, and they believed that cutting off that supply would force Britain to intervene on the Confederate side.

In fact, the Civil War initially created a “cotton famine” that put thousands of Britons out of work.

In the end, of course, Britain remained neutral, in part because British workers saw the Civil War as a moral crusade against slavery and rallied to the Union cause despite their suffering. .

Russian gas addiction

Why tell this old story? Because it has an obvious connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It seems quite clear that Vladimir Putin viewed the dependence of Europe, and Germany in particular, on Russian natural gas in the same way that the slave owners viewed the dependence of Great Britain. -Brittany vis-à-vis the cotton king: a form of economic dependence it would force those nations to indulge their military ambitions.

And he wasn’t entirely wrong. Last week, I punished Germany for its refusal to make economic sacrifices in the name of Ukrainian freedom.

A power station in Drogenbos, near Brussels, Belgium. Photo: EFE

But let’s not forget that Germany’s response to Ukraine’s requests for military aid on the eve of the war was also pathetic. Britain and the United States rushed to supply lethal weapons, including hundreds of anti-tank missiles that were so crucial in repelling Russia’s attack on kyiv. Germany offered and delayed in delivering… 5,000 helmets.

And it’s not hard to imagine that if, say, Donald Trump was still president here, Putin’s bet that international trade would be a force for coercion, not peace, would have been justified.

Globalization and war

If you think I’m trying to shame Germany into becoming a better defender of democracy, you’re right. But I also try to make a broader point about the relationship between globalization and war, which is not as simple as many people have assumed.

Western elites have long believed that trade is good for peace and vice versa.

The long American push for trade liberalization, which began even before World War II, has always been partly a political project: Cordell Hull, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of state, firmly believed that lowering tariffs and increased international trade would help lay the foundations for peace.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia on Tuesday.  Photo: EFE

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia on Tuesday. Photo: EFE

The European Union was also an economic project as well as a political one.. Its origins go back to the European Coal and Steel Community, created in 1952 with the explicit aim of making French and German industry so interdependent that there could never again be a European war.

And the roots of Germany’s current vulnerability go back to the 1960s, when the West German government began enforcing the Ostpolitik -“eastern policy”- seeking to normalize relations, including economic ones, with the Soviet Union, in the hope that increasing integration with the West would strengthen civil society and lead the East towards democracy. Russian gas started arriving in Germany in 1973.

So, does trade promote peace and freedom? Of course, this is the case in some cases. In other cases, however, authoritarian rulers more concerned with power than prosperity may see economic integration with other nations as a license to misbehave, assuming that democracies with a strong financial stake in their diets will do. bold before their abuse of power.

        The European gas pipeline network

I’m not just talking about Russia. The European Union sat idle for years as the Hungarian Viktor Orban systematically dismantled liberal democracy. To what extent is this weakness explained by the significant Hungarian investments that European companies, and especially German ones, have made while seeking to outsource to reduce their costs?

The mystery of China

And then there is the big question: China. Does Xi Jinping see his country’s tight integration into the global economy as a reason to avoid adventurous policies, such as the invasion of Taiwan, or as a reason to expect a weak response from the West? Nobody knows.

Now, I’m not suggesting a return to protectionism. I suggest that national security concerns about trade (real concerns, not ludicrous versions like Trump’s invocation of national security to impose tariffs on Canadian aluminum) should be taken more seriously than I, among other things, I didn’t believe it.

More immediately, however, law-abiding nations must demonstrate that they will not be deterred from defending freedom. Autocrats may believe that financial exposure to their authoritarian regimes will make democracies afraid to stand up for their values. We have to prove them wrong.

And what that means in practice is that Europe must act quickly to cut off Russian oil and gas imports and that the West must provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs, not just to hold Putin from a distance, but to achieve a clear victory. . The stakes here are much higher than just Ukraine.

The New York Times




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