THE WORLD is now in the grip of a second cold war. Like the first, this second cold war will not be short. And, as New Zealanders and the rest of the planet’s peoples are discovering, this war will not be cheap – in either blood or treasure.
Let us begin with that commodity which, even more than petrochemicals, has the power to break the world – bread.
Between them, the Russian Federation and Ukraine produce roughly a third of the world’s wheat and half of its Sunflower Oil. Much of Africa and most of the Middle-East depend upon the flour and cooking-oil produced by the two nations currently tearing apart the breadbasket of Europe. Without flour and oil, hundreds-of-thousands, swelling to millions, of blameless families will soon be experiencing the pangs of hunger.
The last time this happened in the Middle East (largely as a consequence of a poor Russian harvest and the effects of a long and devastating drought) the streets of the afflicted nations were soon filled with angry protesters demanding not only bread, but political change.
The so-called “Arab Spring” proved to be as fruitless as it was convulsive. Those states which were not hurriedly returned to the status-quo-ante, like Egypt, were, like Syria and Libya, reduced to rubble and anarchy – courtesy of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and (in Syria) the Russian Federation.
A second Arab Spring may not turn out to be as easily managed as the first. Eleven years ago, relations between Russia and the West were sufficiently settled to permit a high degree of Western intervention in the upheavals. Obviously, that will not be the case today. The Second Cold War will more-or-less require the Russian Federation to do all it can to disrupt Arab states beholden to the West – like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it is highly likely that the Russians will turn their wheat into a potent instrument of subversion.
None of these considerations applied at the outbreak of the First Cold War. The continental United States, untouched by the hand of war, its bank vaults bulging with the world’s gold, was in a position to feed a global human population approximately one quarter the size of today’s. The bountiful harvest of America’s Great Plains was more than enough to feed the world’s hungry, which it did, to the dramatic augmentation of American “soft power” wherever “US Aid” cargoes were unloaded.
As the Second Cold War unfolds, however, the USA’s effortless domination of 1945’s world population of 2 billion is unlikely to be repeated. Feeding the 8 billion human-beings of the 2020s will be a much taller order. In the years that lie ahead, food will be much too valuable to simply give away. Indeed, it will have become one of the most powerful weapons in the economic war that has already broken out between Russia and the West.
The other huge difference between the Second Cold War and the First is, of course, that in 1945 China was a devastated country, smashed to pieces by Japanese imperialism, and wracked by civil war. In 2022, China bestrides the world: not only an economic colossus, but also a military power it would be most unwise for the West to provoke too seriously.
The severing of all ties between Russia and the West, a decision which marks the end of the Age of Globalisation (and the neoliberal economic and political systems it sustained) can only result in the evolution of a gigantic Eurasian economic and military entity dominating the geopolitical pivot points of the entire planet.
Protected on their flanks by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the United States and its Western Hemisphere “allies” will have the option of splendid isolation.
Not so Europe, above which the Eurasian super-entity will tower like an angry Goliath. The never-ending civil war in Ukraine, prosecuted by ultra-nationalist guerrillas trained and equipped by the illiberal states of Eastern Europe will, like all such wars, engender unintended political consequences.
This new world-historical conflict may have started out as a fight for democracy and freedom, but it is unlikely to remain one for long. The comfortable states of Europe may be content to defend their affluence to the last Ukrainian, but Ukraine may not.
This Second Cold War will not be a repeat of the First.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 March 2022.
Thank you Chris, first some good news: Australia is having a record wheat harvest - though much of it forward bought by canny Asian interests as it turns out.
Events, the disruptions of war and disease, will surely force a re-think of over dependance on global supply chains - assuming anyone is actually thinking. Things fall apart, even global fertilizer supply will be severely impacted; heightening the food supply problem. The rush to end fossil fuel production and exploration in Europe and North America (and of course here in NZ) is being shown up for the foolishness it is. Leaving countries reliant on unreliable and inadequate alternatives or on supply from unstable and hostile, regimes. Let's hope wise heads are developing a strategy beyond the next election cycle though, in our case at least, there's not much sign of it.
A Eurasian (wasn't that the name Orwell used in "1984") super entity, especially with anti democratic types like Putin literally calling the shots is certainly concerning. His latest rant against his own people is deeply worrying, they've as much to fear as anyone I suggest. He really is a psychopath, some sort of crazy anyway. Putin:
Russians “will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” he said. “I am convinced that such a natural and necessary self-purification of society will only strengthen our country.”
Sounds a lot like the sort of thing Hitler would have said, and we know where that ended up going.
World War Three began, I think, in the 1990s. Not a shooting war, withal - not to begin with. But certainly an economic war. And it was NEVER a war for 'democracy' and 'freedom' - at least not by the politicians and the Fat Cattists. It might be for the ordinary Joe and Jo trying simply to survive. It is a war of class against class (as in fact been openly admitted occasionally by some of the more human Fat Cattists).
Russia has been demonised - how else was NATO to justify its continued existence and arms sales? - ever since. Especially in the wake of the eviction of US Chicago School Economic vandals from thence, Russia has been always under threat from NATO sabre-rattling these last 25-30 years. Paranoid Vladimir Putin might be (though I believe such Western jibes to be largely Western 'projection'); but they were sure lord 'out to get him.'
Recall the comment of E. Wayne Merry:
"“We created a virtual open shop for thievery at a national level and for capital flight in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the raping of natural resources and industries on a scale which I doubt has ever taken place in human history.”
—E. Wayne Merry, a U.S. Embassy official in Moscow during the 1990s.
Elsewhere he has spoken of Washington imposing an economic reform on Russia (under Boris Yeltsin's watch) DESPITE the will of the Russian (and other ex-Soviet) people, in the astonishing 'belief' (yeah, right) that somehow this would lead to some kind of Western-style democratisation. The 'economic reform' was, of course, the same Milton Friedmanite, Chicago School nonsensical 'let 'em eat shit' crappola that has bedevilled New Zealand's economic 'policy' since 1984.
What the HELL is so special about Western 'democracy'? Do US politicians still imagine - or even bother to pretend - that the US is a democracy? The US has never been a democracy. An elective oligarchy does not a democracy make. And - guess what - Russia has an elective oligarchy. So what is the difference? Really. What is the difference?
Russia has something the US covets. That is all this World War is about. Ukraine has simply been callously used by the US (NATO) as a cat's paw. What did they expect would happen?
Ion A. Dowman
I doubt somehow if China and Russia will stay bosom buddies for too long, although anything is possible. The Chinese economy makes the Russian look sick, and I don't think Putin wants to play second fiddle – there is still a great deal of racism in Russia with regard to Asians.
And the EC is itself close to being a superpower, it's GDP is much, much bigger than the Russian, and its armed forces are roughly on a par in numbers, but almost certainly superior in training and equipment, judging by Putin's conscripts'performance in Ukraine.
Economists would probably argue that the world is far too economically integrated to become as divided as it was in the Cold War. I don't know – 'interesting times' though right?
"ultra-nationalist guerrillas"..... just to be clear when you use THAT phrase of ultra-nationalist. Do you mean the ethnic Russian "ultra-nationalists" fighting in for their homeland in Ukrainian army fatigues... or the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian president whose family were murdered during the Holocaust?
Maybe it's time to admit that those on the liberal left were hoodwinked by their own rose hinted glasses when it came to Putin. The KGB has always when about holding power, & maintaining power through violence against its perceived enemies whilst assuming the motives of all others are as under handed as their own.
When I read phrases such as "ultra-nationalist" being peppered into the piece, I sense the backtrack
A master political chess player?!.... never was; just a blunt force standover enforcer whose days inside the Kremlin are numbered.
The bond market deadline at the end of May will determine the end of this more
The 'west' needs to very careful about the desire to subdue Russia. The expansion eastwards of NATO was in breach of a promise not to.
If Russia is pushed too much the leadership may feel that they have nothing to lose, that the 'west' isnt listening and the Russians could well decide to use battlefield nuclear weapons.
Pushing them into a corner may not be smart.
Yep: an enemy with nothing to lose is an enemy to be feared.
Ion A. Dowman
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