I was brought up as a child of the 1990s and I can just about remember the Berlin Wall coming down in 1990 (my parents told me history was happening. The 5-year-old version of me barely registered it at the time).
The collapse of Communism heralded a new, post-Cold War era where the West was dominant, liberal and democratic values spread around the world and in the industrialised world at least, we lived in a largely peaceful and prosperous time.
Of course, there were wars and as discussed on my blog before, the living standards for the majority in the industrialised world were slowly declining, leading to the political revolts of the 2010’s. But, in historical terms and compared to the situation in the majority of the world where famine, civil war, revolutions and dictatorships are more common, it was a golden age to be growing up.
I first became aware of the wider issue of peak oil, resource scarcity and Limits to Growth in the early 2000s, around the time of the Iraq War. I came to a realisation that this strange, rather ahistorical moment of peace and abundance was not going to last forever. Indeed, the LTG BAU model suggested that after 2020, it would start to fall apart as resources declined, food costs soared and economies crumbled under the pressure of worsening fossil fuel scarcity.
We also know, from history, that as critical and strategic resources get scarcer, the risks of wars increase. Therefore, you don’t need to be a genius to work out, looking at the LTG graph, that the probability of conflicts, whether internal (different factions of a population or elites fighting over a stagnant or shrinking economic pie) or external (countries fighting over water, fossil fuels or arable land) was always going to increase.
On a personal note, I loath war and as a child of the post-Cold War era, find it personally hard to imagine a world of endless bloodshed and wars in the future. I certainly hope we can avoid such an outcome, even if it is the historical norm.
On an intellectual level though, the recent invasion by Russia of Ukraine hasn’t come as a huge shock to me. The Russians have certain strategic objectives and President Putin has decided, that invading Ukraine is the only way to achieve these strategic goals.
Peter Zeihan, a top geopolitical writer, has published before why successive Russian Tsars and Soviet era dictators have pursued the same geopolitical goals. In the map below, he explains why Russia will always seek to reach defensible borders and control the gaps between these to ensure the internal security of the Russian heartland.
Zeihan on Geopolitics
Now, there is a legitimate debate, within Russian circles, on the best tactics to achieve these goals, and clearly there are some factions within the Russian elite who think Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine is reckless. But the overall concept that Russia secures its borders from any current and future invasion threat would be a core of any Russian foreign policy, irrespective of whether President Putin was leader or not.
Not only that, Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat and fertiliser, strategic commodities that literally feed the world population. A neo-Russian Empire that controls a quarter of the world’s wheat production would be a serious global player in a world of rising food scarcity.
In terms of the actual conflict, I broadly agree with this analysis, click here and here, on the conflict. My view is that Russia made some tactical mistakes at the beginning of the war, underestimating the Ukrainian resistance, but they are now regrouping, and will use to the maximize their military capability to seize key areas of Ukraine, encircle the major cities and force the Ukrainian political leadership to surrender.
In other words, Russia will win the war (albeit at high cost both reputationally and in terms of casualties). In terms of sanctions, clearly, they will have a negative impact on the Russian economy but I don’t think it will “move the dial” fundamentally. You won’t hear it much from the Western media, but the majority of the world has not imposed economic sanctions on Russia.
US allies, including India, UAE, Saudi Arabia and even Israel have refused to impose crippling sanctions on Russia. These countries have their different reasons to continue to engage with Russia and do not want to be dragged into what some view as an intra-European war.
This is just one example of how Western influence and ability to impose their will on the rest of the world is shrinking fast. Something that John Greer comments in his latest blog post.
What I want to focus on today, is not so much the war itself, which I have outlined above my view on the outcome (a Russian victory with the majority of Ukraine neutralised over the coming weeks and months) but the wider impact.
Peter Zeihan has recently posted about the impact on global agriculture from this war. It is worth quoting his words in full; “Keeping the global population alive requires global peace and global supply chains. In the former Soviet world, that peace and those supply chains are gone forever. I’ve long said that we will never reach a global population of 9 billion. That future deglobalization will result in the death of a billion people by starvation. The future is here. The leading edge of the famines of tomorrow begin in 2022.
The breaking of trade relationships, spasms in energy pricing, and most certainly the Ukraine War will limit sharply what is possible in the world of agriculture, and do so more quickly than I have ever feared.”
Zeihan on Geopolitics
And this Bloomberg article on the impact of soaring fertilizers costs of farmers in America. The short version, there will be less food next year. The same dynamics are happening across the world. Costs are soaring and production is going to slump, leading to hundreds of millions dying of starvation this decade.
Already, the UN is warning that millions in Afghanistan are starving and that was before the outbreak of war in the Ukraine and the ending of wheat and fertilizer exports. The most vulnerable countries are in the MENA region, already under growing pressure due to water shortages, loss of arable land and climate change caused extreme weather. Egypt is one to watch.
The last time food price soared was in 2010, which triggered the mass unrest, revolution which the Western media rather naively called the “Arab Spring”. There is a risk that something similar could happen again. Should soaring food prices tip large parts of the developing world into famine, expect to see massive social and political upheaval across the world.
Within a few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if new and far bigger waves of migrations start to impact the southern borders of the European Union. This is the nightmare facing the increasingly vulnerable core of European states surrounded by a growing sea of chaos. Europe chose to effectively disarm since the end of the Cold War and is now incredibly vulnerable to military incursions from any serious state actor, whether that is Russia, Turkey or even Egypt. That isn’t a prediction, but a statement of fact. Without American military support, European countries are unable to defend their countries (with the exception of France, Switzerland, UK and probably Poland).
The war in Ukraine is a wake-up call to the Europeans to get serious about their defence. In that sense, the announcement by Germany to spend billions in re-arming is a good thing and we are likely to see similar moves by other European countries. But I fear that it is all too little, too late given the worsening global security situation facing the world.
North America, protected by the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, is in a far more secure place to handle the massive challenges coming down the line. John Greer has warned in previous posts that western and central Europe, will by the end of this century, be a demographic, cultural and military extension of the Maghrib region of North Africa.
The states of Eastern Europe will likely be within the sphere of influence of a revived Russian Empire. In other words, Western Europe is doomed to collapse, fuelled by massive waves of armed invasions from the global south in the coming decades just as the Western half of the Roman Empire collapsed.
For those readers of this blog who are based in Europe, we face a terrible choice. Do we stay, hope for the best and go down fighting if the worst happens? Or, do we, like those wealthy elites who fled Europe before Hitler invaded during World War 2, pack our bags and quietly flee before the horror, death and destruction visits our friends, family and neighbours.
It is something that myself and my wife are now talking about. We have provisionally agreed that the United States is the most logical place to prepare our second home, should Europe descend into savage warfare and violence in the decades to come. Other people are certainly thinking along the same lines.
If history is any guide, the signals build up over years – and only a few take the hint and make their plans to escape – until the dam breaks and mass panic occurs. For those interested, I recommend my blog post on how the wealthy survived (or in some cases didn’t) the brutal wars of the World War 2.