Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
War shows global alliances in new light
Growing up where I now live has some interesting benefits. Often, when I am talking to a someone I have just met, a name will get mentioned and we will get to talking about someone we know in common and that will often lead to a string of other social ties. These conversations usually end with the words, “small world.”
Really it is just a small town, one where business and social circles overlap in a lot of places. Over the centuries, the world’s nations have been engaged in the process of making the world smaller. We have gone from the Silk Road and spice routes to the internet and smart phones. We are now in near immediate contact with people from all around the world, capable of sharing culture and conducting commerce from anywhere to anywhere. We have extended business and social circles to the world’s farthest reaches.
But as the world started to recover from the shutdowns caused by the pandemic, our heavy reliance on foreign-made intermediate goods — especially computer chips — exposed itself as a potential weakness. The resulting slowdown in domestic production has contributed heavily to inflation. While production was slowed by a pandemic this time, next time it could just as easily be a capricious leader, a trade war, or a real war.
And what we have in the world right now is a real war. Most Western nations have been very vocal in their support for Ukraine, many contributing material support to Ukraine and joining in economic sanctions against Russia.
But there are countries who are trying to find alternative ways to describe the conflict in order to avoid having to condemn Putin’s actions, notably the world’s factory: China. In fact, Chinese Prime Minister Xi has been more openly critical of the sanctions imposed on Russia than the death and destruction being caused by Russia.
One of our longstanding preconceived notions about globalization has been that by having a network of interdependent economies, great wars between nations would be less likely. It is a form of non-nuclear deterrence. This interconnectedness is far reaching and vastly important, and has put many nations in a tight spot. In the last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and had a virtual meeting with President Biden. While Russia is not one of India’s top import or export partners, both China and the US are. Modi measures his words and actions with tremendous care to stay on the fine line between two important trade partners.
This week the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin publicly stated that he wants to see Russia’s military degraded to the point where it cannot wage a similar attack in the future and the US gathered 40 countries together to commit to continued aid for Ukraine, including heavy military equipment.
Lavrov blustered that this amounts to a proxy war that could escalate to a nuclear war. The Russian military’s rather poor showing in Ukraine and the resolve of many Western nations to abandon trade with Russia have left Lavrov very little else with which to threaten the West.
Between what the pandemic has taught us about interdependence and what the war in Ukraine has taught us about informal international alliances, it is clear while our world was shrinking, some large fissures have been growing.
This could be the beginning of a “Balkanization” of the global community where the West pulls back on its engagement with Russia, China, and possibly India, not because of some kind of populism or nationalism that has run amok here, but because we are learning that being even slightly at the mercy of countries that do not share our moral compass has real potential downsides.
It should be easy to cheer for a more independent nation, one that prioritizes ethics at least as much as cheap consumer goods. But America derives most of its global influence from our ability to trade with other countries. Whether or not Putin succeeds in subjugating Ukraine, the divisions his war is causing have the potential to diminish our influence, and that was always part of his objective.