The security of the citizens of a country is not limited to the power of its national army; it also encompasses issues relating to civil cybersecurity, internal security citizens, food and sanitary national autonomy or struggle against the effects of climatic warming and, more generally, environmental pollutions. For at least half a century, economic wars and poverty have undoubtedly been more deadly than armed conflicts. Russia’s war in Ukraine highlighted both the widespread insecurity of international trade in the face of interstate military conflict, and the inability of a short-term financialized economic system to cope with war, industrial environmental damage and global warming. As a result of economic sanctions, international trade is experiencing disruptions in food and health supplies, and in value chains, particularly in the high-tech sector. European markets have been greatly weakened by their energy dependence.
Threatened by the eventual reduction in demand linked to the necessary ecological transition, countries with large hydrocarbon reserves have been able to control markets to their own advantage. Having failed to invest sufficiently in renewable energies, disputed nuclear power and polluting coal are the main resources of a Europe that was unable to anticipate Russia’s entry into the war, OPEC’s agreements to reduce world production, or the specific economic interests of the United States in the hydrocarbon and arms sectors. Europe’s economic performance has collapsed, and even as Russia bears the full brunt of Western sanctions, its GDP growth in 2023 is likely to be higher than that of most European countries. The existence of energy resources in a country’s subsoil is still an undeniable asset today, but one that is likely to become obsolete in the decades to come, given the environmental damage they worsen.
Gradually, the famous free trade of economic globalization has been eroded by the relative scarcity of a world whose population has quadrupled in a century (1). Against this backdrop, national economies must fight economic dependence, aiming to establish self-reliance for all goods essential to national economic development. To achieve this, trade agreements with reliable allies must be put in place, in the best interests of all participants.
Today, the globalization developed by the WTO is clearly being called into question by the major powers, at a time when the BRICS’ China and NATO’s USA are vying for world leadership. The lowest-cost exporting country for an essential product is not necessarily a reliable ally when political problems arise between States. In this context, globalization is no longer the rule, with friend-shoring replacing liberal belief and helping to reconstitute economic and military blocs, on the basis of still shifting borders. There are also questions about the defense of democracy, respect for human rights, sustainable economic development and the fight against global warming. In the settlement of international conflicts, national breaches of competition have always been more severely condemned than human rights violations by international organizations.
If economic relations are politically forbidden by states, prices further rise as the replacement ally has to cope with an increase in demand, with inevitable inflationary consequences. In a context where Europe has embarked on a liberal process of opening up its borders, it is now dependent on its exporters, importers and even multinational firms which, for many essential products, do not produce on its territory. Compared to the European Union, China is protected by the WTO thanks to its status as a developing country, which enables it to control its imports in particular, while the United States has embarked on a process of protectionism with the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), which aims to reduce fossil fuel consumption, develop “clean energy” and above all attract “green” technologies to its territory, through subsidies and tax cuts. In addition, Washington demands that public infrastructure be built using locally-produced materials, which is contrary to WTO rules.
Environmental issues could soon become a factor of inter-state conflict, given the international nature of pollution (especially carbon emissions) and its transmission to neighboring countries. When it comes to ecology and the environment, borders don’t exist, and the efforts of some can be thwarted by the particular or greedy interests of others. At the very least, the refusal to import products manufactured under polluting conditions could become the subject of conflicts between states, the intensity of which would evolve according to the economic, military and political forces at play, and diplomatic advances or setbacks. Policies that are Mercantilist (which reflect a belief in the benefits of profitable trading), or Keynesian-inspired (total spending in the economy strongly influences output and inflation), will ultimately prevail in the strategies of the great powers.
Finally, governments are called upon to anticipate the consequences of global warming (2). The famous ESG (“environmental, social and governance”) criteria used by corporate advisors are more evoked than systematically applied in government decisions. International economic bodies, too sensitive to lobbying and to power of states, will no longer be the undisputed guarantors of compensation for damage caused by pollution originating in a foreign territory. Threats of economic or military conflict will be evoked, and warlike action may be taken to destroy the causes of pollution. A new era of environmental warfare is beginning, which cannot be brought to an end without a major international agreement.
(1) Coulomb, F., Fontanel, J. (2011), War and capitalism, in The marketing of war and the age of the Neo-militarism, Routledge;.NY.
(2) Fontanel, J. (2022), L’humanité face au réchauffement climatique Le capitalisme en crise ⟨hal-03664892⟩
The opinions expressed throughout this article are the opinions of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vision of Humanity or the Institute for Economics & Peace.