Money, food and energy: The less obvious weapons of war

History has shown that wars are not only waged with missiles and bullets

Money, food and energy: The less obvious weapons of war

The weapons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are not only launchers, missiles, fighter jets, and drones. They are also food, energy, and cash, in a manner reminiscent of the famous Henry Kissinger quote:

“Who controls the food supply controls the people;

who controls the energy can control whole continents;

who controls money can control the world.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to his people on the anniversary of the Ukrainian Holodomor, which claimed millions of lives in the winter of 1932-1933, at the orders of Joseph Stalin to confiscate grain, seeds, and livestock from Ukraine.

"Once, they wanted to destroy us with hunger, now with darkness and cold,” Zelenskyy said.

He was referring to widespread power outages in the present day, caused by the Russian bombing of Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

At the international summit held in Kyiv on global food security, France’s President Emmanuel Macron denounced the Russian war against Ukraine, which threatens the world with a food crisis, stating that Russia "continues to use hunger as leverage and food as a weapon of war."

Russia continues to use hunger as leverage and food as a weapon of war. Then and now, the Ukrainian nation has shown its determination and earned our admiration.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France

International condemnation led to Russia reaching an agreement with Ukraine via the United Nations and Turkey to secure safe passage for Ukrainian grain exports to countries worldwide across the Black Sea.

The same thing happened with energy.

The Russian company Gazprom announced that it would suspend work on the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Europe, claiming intially that the suspension was temporary and due to a shortage of spare parts after the sanctions imposed on Moscow.

Then Gazprom made it permanent after finance ministers from the G7 club of nations imposed a ceiling on the price of Russian gas exports, followed by another on the oil price.

The Europeans have accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of using energy as a weapon.

A 'Gastastrophe'

According to The Economist, what it called the "Gastastrophe" has pushed energy bills up for Europeans and led to an increase in the operating costs for companies, which will raise prices, threaten recession, and force governments to spend billions of dollars to ease the burdens on their citizens.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts global economic growth will decline by 2% in 2023.

Accordingly, there will be an inclination toward other energy sources, such as nuclear power and renewable resources, like wind, waves, and solar panels. There might even be a return to coal, which has been shunned to cut carbon emissions to combat climate change.

The consequences for Russia may be extreme. Energy is the lifeline of its economy. Oil and natural gas exports generate about 40% of its budget and also make up about 70% of its total exports.

Cutting off supplies to Europe means depriving Russia of essential revenues of hard currency and, thus, a deterioration in its financial resources, including covering the costs of its military operations in Ukraine. This can be more significant as other markets cannot replace the European market.

China could increase Russian oil and gas purchases, but this is not enough. In addition, it will take time to expand the Siberian pipeline to China.

Even if this happens, the quantity remains much less than the annual Europe imports from Russia, which currently amounted to about 40% in 2021.

Moreover, China is making continuous technical progress in producing renewable energy, reducing the outlook for supply from Russia. Beijing will also stipulate to purchase at a low price, and it will most likely pay in the local currency or exchange payments for Chinese goods and services.

This certainly does not benefit the Russian regime.

It is also unlikely that Russia will be able to rely on India as a market for its gas as an alternative, due to the market there being significantly smaller, where gas imports constitute only 0.2% of Russia's gas exports. What is certain, anyhow, is that there will be no return to Europe relying on Russian oil and gas again.

The weaponisation of money

The weaponisation of money happened early. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Gazprom cut off supplies to Engie, the giant French gas company, and the largest in Europe, when it refused to pay in roubles.

The potential for money to be used as a tool of conflict dates back to when the US dollar was established as the global payment and settlement currency in the postwar Bretton Woods Agreement.

This role was consolidated after the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the beginning of 1995, with the aim of enhancing opportunities for the exchange of goods and services and the movement of people between nations.

In September of the same year, a group of world leaders met at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. They included President George H. Bush, late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, late President Mikhail Gorbachev, and brilliant economists, the most prominent of whom was Milton Friedman.

The most notable diplomat was Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US national security adviser. He was credited with coining the term 'globalisation' at the meeting, a concept that would go on to dominate international politics for years. The term was included by the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan in his volume The Gutenberg Galaxy.

Globalisation was challenged by many countries — led by Russia and China — which were dissatisfied with the monetary privilege that exclusively favoured the United States, which has the merit of printing dollars to obtain whatever foreign goods and services they wanted.

These countries claimed that globalisation turned the US dollar from a currency of "safety" to a currency of "dominance", by imposing it on the pricing of global commodities such as oil and its derivatives.

Rebels against globalisaton were killed, including late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who decided to sell his country's oil in euros, and late Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who called for the adoption of a new currency he called the gold dinar instead of the dollar in exporting his country's oil.

The dollar has also been used as a weapon in disputes with opponents by freezing their accounts with US banks, including freezing the accounts of their central banks.

In the latest chapter on the use of money as a weapon, Russia was banned from using the SWIFT interbank messaging system after its invasion of Ukraine.

Visa and Mastercard companies also suspended work with Russia, prompting the country to adopt the internationally-recognised Chinese "UnionPay" system while resorting to other, more expensive circumvention methods to evade penalties.

In the latest chapter on the use of money as a weapon, Russia was banned from using the SWIFT interbank messaging system after its invasion of Ukraine. Visa and Mastercard companies also suspended work with Russia.

Old and new US pressure on China also clouded the June 2022 summit meeting of the Brics nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

In response, the nations considered taking measures to liberate the international financial system from dollar domination, including preparations for issuing a reserve currency based on the money of the Brics countries themselves.

Putin explained that this step came in response to the Western tendency to print uncovered funds and pump them into the system, lifting debt and global inflation.

He pointed out that work was also underway to eliminate the SWIFT system. In fact, Russia even offered the participants to use its alternative system (The Financial Messaging System of the Bank of Russia - SPFS).

Currently, some parties urge that there is a need to amend the way the World Trade Organization works to prevent and even punish countries that rely on restrictions on trade for political ends.

These parties also point to the need to expand Brics to include countries that participated in its meetings in 2017, namely Egypt, Mexico, Guinea and Tajikistan, and others that did not participate such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, in a world that has become multipolar in monetary terms, a matter that had begun to take shape since the issuance of the euro currency, and is expected to get more momentum if the Brics succeed in issuing their own reserve currency.

In the meantime, money will remain alongside food and energy as one of the three weapons to subjugate nations and people.

-Toufic Chanbour is a lecturer in Central Banking laws. Before that, he was Director at the Banque du Liban for Legal and International Affairs. 

He is also a member of the Lebanese delegation to the negotiations to join the World Trade Organization and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

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