Column: The Business of War

International efforts to spare the world the horrors of World War II have failed. The United Nations has failed in its most important mission-being to stop international slaughters. Its members speak at length, but they are indifferent to what is being said. The Ukraine is being destroyed, one city at a time, and Russia will not withdraw. Russia has nothing to lose.  Its leader has a job approval rating amongst the Russian people exceeding that of most American presidents in recent decades.  If Russia held a democratic election for President of the Russian Federation tomorrow, Vladimir Putin would win by a landslide. Vlad’s friends and allies may lose a few yachts and winter mansions in countries with better weather than Moscow, but those trinkets are easily replaced when you have a few billion dollars stashed away in a ‘neutral’ country.  Thousands of Russian soldiers are dying in the Ukraine conflict, but this is an imperceptible loss in a country that lost more than 20 million Russians during World War II. The families affected are praised for their sacrifice in the ongoing struggle, the struggle to establish Russia as the most powerful and fearsome empire on our planet.

Russia demanded that the Ukraine not join NATO because its membership would interfere with the re-assimilation the Ukraine. A Russian invasion of a NATO member nation might trigger a full-blown conflict with more than a dozen European countries and the United States. As long as the Ukraine remains unaligned with NATO, Russia can continue to pick away at it with impunity. The U.S. and other NATO members proudly announce that they are sending antitank missiles and killer drones to the beleaguered citizens of the Ukraine while Russia dispatches hypersonic missiles and fighter jets to level Ukrainian cities. The Ukrainian government need not surrender: the Russian offensive is clearly intended to make that government irrelevant.

As we watch the conflict on our flat-screen televisions and worry about the cost of gasoline, we must wonder, “How could this happen in the Twenty-First Century?” How could nations so economically entangled with each other rely upon fire-power to achieve their national goals? Why are governments relying on extermination, rather than negotiation, to advance their self-interests? And who is supplying all those bombs and bullets, fighter jets and cruise missiles that keep popping up all over the world? 

The United Nations was established at least in part to prevent international slugfests.  It has a security council that was supposed to protect the interests of its member nations.  There are five permanent members of that security council: the United States of America, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China. All five of these nations also belong to another much more powerful group: they are amongst the top ten leading exporters of military hardware. In fact the U.S., Russia, France and China are the top exporters of armaments in the world. The United Kingdom [England} is not far behind, and Germany made the top ten list as well. The sale of military equipment to foreign nations is a major part of the economies of these security council members. Just a few years ago, a former American president boasted of the billions of dollars of military hardware being sold to our friends in Saudi Arabia, the same friends who supported the 9/11 attack that killed more Americans than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the same friends who orchestrated the murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist (Jamal Khashoggi), the same friends that promised to let women drive cars if they abided by cultural norms from the sixteenth century.

The United States is the world’s leading exporter of military equipment and has enjoyed increasing revenues from supplying these weapons of mass destruction to its ‘friends’ since World War II. Our country even supplies countries perpetually at each other’s throats with threats of nuclear annihilation, as is the case with India and Pakistan. Wars around the globe persist and proliferate, and the American economy profits from them.

Russia sells only half as much military equipment to foreign nations as the U.S.  Its major source of income is its oil and gas exports. Obviously, curtailing these sales would cripple the Russian economy and give its leaders reason to pause before launching military adventures, like the one in the Ukraine. Consequently, the U.S. and the member nations of the European Union vowed to stop buying oil and gas from Russia if it invaded the Ukraine. Although the U.S. gets virtually none of its oil and gas from Russia, the rejection of oil and gas imports from Russia by the twenty-seven European Union members could have sent shock waves through the Russian economy. The mere discussion of such a boycott sent the ruble tumbling. The President of Germany, who had lobbied for the massive, multibillion dollar pipeline from Russia to Germany, Nord Stream 2, announced that he was wrong in thinking this economic link to Russia would limit its expansionist activities.  There was considerable talk about this energy embargo, but little action.

As of today, Lithuania is the only member of the European Union that has actually initiated an oil embargo.  This country is less than half the size of Florida and has a population less than one-tenth that of Florida. Its brave stand will hardly be noticed by Russia, which has already agreed to additional diversion of its oil and natural gas to China and India. The ruble bounced back to its pre-outrage level, and the European Union announced that its contracts with Russia would remain in place until they expire in 2027.  The natural gas and oil from Russia will still keep European homes warm and European cars moving for years to come. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is still intact and is awaiting completion and certification.

The European Union has advocated the survival of the Ukraine, but it has not taken steps to ensure the economic survival of this devastated nation. The Ukraine relies heavily on revenues from its wheat exports. One of its major customers, Egypt, facing concerns that the Ukraine might not be able to deliver on wheat contracts this year because of the Russian invasion, looked for another supplier. France, one of the European Union members stridently supporting the Ukrainian resistance with words of encouragement, quickly snapped up the wheat contracts previously negotiated by Egypt with the Ukraine. Of course, the cost of French wheat is higher than that of Ukrainian wheat and the quality is deemed inferior to Ukrainian wheat, but business is business and uncertainty hurts business.  Surely, none of the members of the United Nations or the European Union would want business to suffer just because of a war.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

image_pdfimage_print