Food as a (re)New(ed) Strategic Lever

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The slew of stories on the fallout from rising food prices have primarily concentrated on the immediate political effects of riots and social upheaval mostly in developing nations. But the long term political effects — especially if high prices endure as some reporting and expertise suggests — could follow the “energy security” trend and pose real implications for balance-of-power politics.
The lesser reported story is that the spike in food prices has precipitated interesting deals and swaps between nations — not simply in exchange for food stuffs but for more strategic assets and commodities (e.g. land and gas). Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal page one coverage of the food crisis seemed to hint at this emerging effect producing some odd-couple partnerships:

With the international financial institutions working on a slow track, countries have been cutting their own deals. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on Tuesday that he had agreed to let Libya grow wheat on 247,000 acres of land in the Ukraine. In exchange, Libya promised to include the former Soviet republic in construction and gas deals.
Brazil recently invited Egypt’s minister of commerce to discuss a possible trade deal which would have a strong agriculture component. China also cut its first free-trade deal with a rich country, picking New Zealand, a major food exporter, and is talking about a pact with Australia, another big agricultural producer.
Meanwhile, Uganda plans to sell more coffee, milk and bananas to India. “Our problem is too much food and little market,” Uganda President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni told reporters, according to news reports.

This trend makes make one curious whether food will also follow the path of energy products — like the rise of the national oil company — steered by national interests towards less open markets to be wielded as the next geopolitical asset or weapon.
If OPEC is globally recognized as a cartel that has produced inordinate gains and influence for otherwise less than ordinary nation states, it should come as no surprise that leaders seeking to maximize national self-interest and unhindered by moral scruples will soon use food to that same end.
These vulnerabilities could even be magnified if this food crisis turns out to be a result of something more structural in nature than the global food stock — namely the global food supply chain.
– Sameer Lalwani

Comments

8 comments on “Food as a (re)New(ed) Strategic Lever

  1. Wendell W Solomons says:

    Here’s a key passage from “Oil price mocks fuel realities”, by F William Engdahl, May 24, 2008–
    [quote] Goldman Sachs announces oil could in fact be on the verge of another “super spike”, possibly taking oil as high as $200 a barrel within the next six to 24 months. That headline, “$200 a barrel!” became the major news story on oil for the next two days. [unquote]
    Yet (!!!) the Iraq war makes independent, oil-rich states beneficiaries too but a competitive difference exists.
    Governments can’t tack in the winds like privateers, the pirate ships. The governments of Iran, Russia and Venezuela, for instance, are seen to use their sudden oil windfalls to benefit consumers locally or to help the populations of neighbouring countries.
    As was forecast by the middle of 2007, energy price rises would spark unrest. Energy prices flow on to food price increases. Upsets are not exclusive to continental Africa where news reports disturb us. We must also consider the effects of price shocks and distortion in competitive economies such as that of India and China who have giant populations. On Wednesday, women from all parts of the country gathered in Sri Lanka’s largest park to express their anguish over prices that hit the family.
    Don’t those Bush-administration affiliated companies hidden from the general public that pump out oil from Iraq, become immediate beneficiaries of the rise in oil prices during the war of 2001 – 2008?
    They are commercially organised entities that can swiftly invest profits in buying future harvests of food (or more generally, futures trading.)
    Do we get to a bottom line now? Beneficiaries of the oil price windfall include independent states but a commercial bonanza has been gained from the Iraq war by Anglo-American oil middlemen.
    The Iraq war has hit home budgets severely; consider the populations of industrialising China and India too. Losses hit EU and outsider oil corporations but they distribute onwards through the prices we pay, you and I, in the shops.
    Best wishes
    –wendell

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  2. David says:

    You’re right, I think, bubba. And this theocon GOP really got its start under Reagan, when all those puffed up sanctimoniae were wandering the halls of power wearing little bejeweled crosses in their lapels, a rather unnerving precursor of the bejeweled flag lapel pins which public officials are supposed to wear, lest they be blacklisted.
    I don’t know how old you are, but I learned the Pledge of Allegiance in its unadulterated form as an elementary school student. Then Eisenhower got the misguided idea that children should all pledge allegiance to god, which is kind of surprising for a level-headed Republican who came to hate war and the military-industrial complex. We are paying a heavy price for his suggesting that the government should screw around with what was a popular folk pledge that originally appeared in a children’s publication. Particularly ironic is the placement between one nation and indivisible. And while Eisenhower might have thought it was a generic god, with each child (except for non-believers) to fill in the appropriate deity in his or her own mind, it was one more injection of Christianity into what was for the founders to be a secular nation boasting religious freedom for all. Oh, well…

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  3. bubba says:

    “…that leaders seeking to maximize national self-interest and unhindered by moral scruples…”
    Like Cheney? Bush? Any of the theocon GOP?
    I can also see the theocon GOP using food in this way to ‘convert’ heathen countries who are short on food.

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  4. JohnH says:

    What if food supply were to follow the trajectory of energy supply? Try substituting the word ‘food’ for the word ‘energy’ in the following article:
    http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/041508D.shtml
    At this rate, foreign policy blogs like this one won’t be talking about food, water or energy!

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  5. David says:

    Meanwhile, John McCain is actually a serious contender to be the next president of the United States and Hillary Clinton is hell bent on bringing down Barack Obama, since she believes she should win, and that is the only way she can.
    God forbid America should get its head out of its posterior and actually look to the future through informed, enlightened, unafraid eyes. How a nation with this much potential could degenerate into such an abject failure, in no small part because it was ok with re-electing two abject failures, is really beyond me. And how it could be so frightened as to think a tragedy of quite limited scope compared to some of the truly devastating tragedies visited upon people – including our destruction of Hiroshima an Nagasaki – justified defining America’s place in the world as myopic avengers hell bent on defining the world because we believe we and our military can is genuinely appalling. And please don’t anyone try to make of the foregoing the idea that I do not consider what happened to the people in those towers a tragic crime.
    The world is faced with real, potentially overwhelming crises, crises for the future of earth’s inhabitants, and all we seem to know how to do is either deny and/or exacerbate them. Yeah, I am well and truly pissed off. We’ve known better for at least three decades, some thinkers for much longer.
    The nations of the world are indeed realigning themselves according to their own particular interests. Common humanity? Not when food, water, and other commodities are limited and self-interest isn’t. And the people at BB&T think Atlas Shrugged is the most important book they can promote in our schools? Please.

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  6. Tony Foresta says:

    More than food, drinkable water, or more accurately access to drinkable divide nation from nation, tribe from tribe, and people from people in the near future. Of course water issues are also directly interelated to and interpenetrating with food and agriculture production, but is food is a weapon, drinkable water is WMD.

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  7. Mr.Murder says:

    The favorite part of Bush policy is the time we spend putting food on our country.

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  8. JohnH says:

    Kissinger springs to mind: “Control the oil and you control entire nations; control the food and you control the people.”
    Since food production is energy intensive, those who control the oil control nations and a major input for food production that in turn controls the people. Once again the energy producers are in the catbird seat: the terms of trade have shifted dramatically in their favor since Bush took over.
    [But let's keep this quiet--it's not politic to discuss crude matters on a foreign policy blog.]

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