Migrants, finance, gas … are now weapons in our hyperlinked world | Marc Leonard


Sometimes a gas bill isn’t just a demand for payment – it’s a secret weapon. And as millions of British voters see their bills skyrocket this spring, they will find themselves in his sights.

Recently, three other energy sources went bankrupt – Bulb, Orbit Energy, Entice Energy – bringing the total number of failed suppliers to 24 in less than 12 weeks. In October, European gas prices were six times higher than a year earlier, meaning suppliers have to pay more for wholesale energy than they can sell under the EU’s price cap. government energy. And in the spring, when the government raises the price cap, the few surviving companies will raise their prices to recoup the losses they suffered during the winter. It’s a frightening prospect, but readers trying to understand our cost-of-living crisis must look beyond the business pages to delve into geopolitics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not cause the global energy crisis, but he used it to turn his country’s gas reserves into a loaded weapon directed against the West. He took a look at the conditions – a long winter, growing demand from India and China, destruction of gas storage facilities in countries like the UK, maintenance delays in gas fields. gas elsewhere – and seized its moment. And, in this specific case, he had a specific goal in mind beyond his continuing desire to humiliate the West: to force European and German regulators to certify the now completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will transport large quantities of gas. most important under the Baltic Sea. to Europe and provide valuable currency to a struggling Russian economy. Don’t expect more offer is its unsubtle message, unless you are playing ball on Nord Stream.

Russia is in the form of using gas as a weapon. It cut the gas supply to Ukraine and its Western government twice in the 2000s. When Moldova elected a new pro-EU government this year, Gazprom significantly increased its tariffs and cut by a third deliveries, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency. This time, Putin didn’t even have to turn off the taps to put pressure on his rivals. Russia honored its existing contracts, but simply refused to pump more gas as European demand skyrocketed after the lockdowns ended. Far more dramatically than any number of Russian warships or bombers flying close to British airspace, it underscored Putin’s message that Europe should be careful in dealing with him. After all, he has his hand on the jugular of Europe. Putin’s tactic may not have worked in the short term – Nordstream’s approval is currently on hold by German regulators and he ended up ordering more gas pumped. But it is playing a long game and has sown fear in the hearts of European politicians.

British consumers unwittingly found themselves playing a leading role in a geopolitical revolution, of which Putin was a pioneer. Carl von Clausewitz called war the continuation of politics by other means. But in the nuclear age, the price of war is unfathomable. This is why connectivity conflicts are becoming the “other means” of global politics. Countries lead conflicts by manipulating the very things that connect them.

The politics of the great powers have become like a loveless marriage where the couple are unable to divorce. And, like an unhappy couple, it’s the things they shared during the good times that become means of doing harm. In a falling apart marriage, vindictive partners use the children, the dog, and the vacation home to harm each other. In geopolitics, it’s gas, supply chains, finance, movement of people, the internet and even issues like Covid and the climate that are militarized.

Just look at the world’s response to Covid. Rather than working together to increase global supplies of vaccines, masks and gowns, countries like China have used their stocks to intimidate others – 98 countries have imposed export restrictions on PPE and medicine.

When it comes to trade and finance, one of the reasons Putin wanted to fight the West is the fact that his country has been subject to strict sanctions since he annexed Crimea in 2013. The sanctions have become a weapon of first resort with China targeting Japan, Russia sanctions Turkey and the United States listed more than 800 entities in 2020 alone.

Russia is one of the many countries that have used the Internet to interfere in the affairs of other nations. Between fall 2016 and spring 2019, there were attempts to interfere with elections in 20 democracies representing 1.2 billion people – and that’s before looking at issues like Cambridge Analytica.

Even migrants are turned into bullets. Witness the Belarusian dictator and his secret services who have attracted refugees from the Middle East via Belarus to Poland and Lithuania, to put pressure on their governments. Academic Kelly Greenhill has documented more than 75 occasions over the past decades where countries ranging from Cuba and Morocco to Libya and Turkey have used forced migration to achieve political, military or economic goals.

We may be on the cusp of a new silent pandemic. Like Covid-19, it is spreading exponentially across the planet, exploiting the loopholes in our networked and ever-changing world to escape our defenses. But unlike the virus, which pits all of humanity against a disease, this new pandemic is transmitted deliberately. It is not biological, but a set of toxic behaviors that multiply like a virus. The links between peoples and countries become weapons.

It is connectivity itself that gives people the opportunity to fight, the reasons to compete, and the arsenal to deploy. Conventional wars have been declining for decades – each year more people commit suicide than die in armed conflict. But that does not mean that we live in an era of peace.

Academics working on cyber issues sought to describe the gray area their world was immersed in, where they saw millions of attacks every day that did not conform to conventional warfare. They rehabilitated an Anglo-Saxon word: unpeace. And as violence spreads from the internet to commerce, finance, migration and beyond, their word sums up our condition perfectly. British gas customers are familiarizing themselves with an unstable world, prone to crises, of perpetual competition and endless attacks between competing powers. Welcome to the era of peace.

Mark Leonard is the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and the author of The age of peace.


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