The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, warned last week that in respect of the War in Ukraine
“if things go wrong, they could go horribly wrong”
and could eventuate in a full fledged war between NATO and Russia.
This is an alarming statement from a man who is not given to alarming statements.
While this is a war of aggression by Russia, the aggression was driven, at least in part, by fear.
Russia feared being encircled by NATO and EU countries, that were hostile to it. Yet these same countries had clamoured to join NATO because of their fear of Russia.
For its part, the US pushed the expansion of NATO into central Europe, because it feared a China/ Russia alliance dominating the Eurasian land mass.
My direct experience is that security issues dominate diplomatic thinking in Washington DC, in a way that they do not dominate thinking in Brussels.
The loss of life that has already taken place as a result of the Russian invasion is enormous. The physical infrastructure destroyed by Russian missile will take 10 years, and tens of billions of euros, to replace.
There are 8 million Ukrainian refugees in EU countries, and that number is bound to increase. The EU is directly helping a country at war, something it never did before in its 70 year history.
The war could widen. The possibility of Russian forces using Belarus as jumping off point for a new front in Western Ukraine is being discussed. This would bring the fighting much closer to NATO members, Poland and Lithuania. It could set off a chain reaction.
The preparedness of EU countries for such a wider war is not great. EU countries have significant and well equipped forces, but getting these forces to the front, where they would be needed, is something for which Europeans rely on America. Airlift capacity is a major European weakness.
The road and rail systems in Europe have not been designed for the swift transportation of heavy military equipment.
There is a lot of duplication and waste in European armies.
Between them they have 170 different (national) weapons systems, whereas the US, with a much bigger military, has only 30 different systems.
Meanwhile the weapons that have been supplied to Ukraine from European stocks have not all been replaced. Money has been allocated but orders have not been placed.
The war has penetrated every aspect of daily life in Ireland.
The dramatic increase in food prices, and in the price of inputs necessary to produce food ( fertilizer and energy), is a direct consequence of the Russian invasion. Over 10% of the world population is already facing hunger. The FAO estimates that the number of people facing “acute hunger” has multiplied 2.6 times since 2019.
Wheat prices will stay at 250 euros per tonne for the next two years, as against an average of 175 euros per tonne over the previous 20 years. The price increase for cereals since 2004 has been almost twice that for meat and dairy.
The world is facing an escalating, war driven, food price crisis. What can Europe do?
I would make a few suggestions to the EU
- It should reconsider the policy of subsidizing leaving arable land lie fallow. 6 m hectares of land are lying fallow for this reason
- It should not encourage the use of land , that could produce food, to produce biofuels. 9m hectares are currently in use for this purpose
- It should encourage farming systems that maximize the efficient conversion of sunlight into consumable calories.
- It should discourage food waste. 17% of food is wasted , mostly by house holds, because of over purchasing and poor meal planning.
Meanwhile a concerted effort must be made to identify the fears that are fanning the war like atmosphere in the world today. While it may be impossible to do business with the current regime in Moscow, Russia will still exist when the war is over. The West needs to think through the sort of post war relationship it might have with a Russia that was willing to respect the territorial integrity of all its neighbours.