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“The economic weapon will be decisive in the long term”

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The cross : With the sanctions against Russia, does the economic weapon today play an unprecedented role in the history of conflicts?

Eric Delbecque: Until the two great world wars of the XXand century, the powers resorted to economic weapons, notably the blockade. It consists of preventing the movement of goods between territories. But in the context of a total war, that is to say a conflict where all the resources of one nation are mobilized against another, the economic tools are somewhat incidental.

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We have since moved away from the total war model. During the Cold War, two blocs stared at each other with the atomic threat and more sophisticated theaters of operations. We clash via economic espionage, cultural war or satellite conflicts, in Africa or Asia. Since the 1990s, we have experienced a fragmented planetary landscape and a globalization that has created interdependence. Economic sanctions measures now occupy an important place.

In this integrated global economy, what impact can sanctions have?

ED: Perhaps Vladimir Putin imagined that his strategy would be easier to execute. With gas in particular, he thought he had a strong card in hand. Now, let’s wait and see what will happen in the coming months.

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There was a rapid reaction, but the European will will have to hold. The longer the economic sanctions last, the more they are likely to have negative effects for the countries that impose them, in particular with regard to our energy dependencies on Russia. Still, the interest of the economic weapon is to show an ambition, to push the adversary to the negotiation rather than to the confrontation.

If the military weapon is still decisive in the short term, it is the economic weapon which will be in the medium and long term. In globalization, relations between nations revolve around mutual economic interests.

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Did the scale of the economic measures decided surprise you?

ED:This war illustrates above all our past blindness. Some have been calling for a powerful Europe for decades. Not a federal Europe but a Europe of nations capable of asserting itself as a military power.

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On the one hand because the Americans are no longer in a position to provide all the solutions, and on the other hand because the world is governed by power struggles, with great powers – Russia and China – which do not are not our friends. And we failed to consider them as adversaries.

Do the economic measures taken reveal an awareness?

ED: For twenty years, the Europeans have been particularly ingenious in their strategies of influence with regard to Moscow. We remonstrated, which only annoyed Vladimir Putin without imposing a real balance of power. This war should encourage us to reconsider our economic relations with others, Russia and especially China.

We were the naive ones of globalization, and the awareness came late. Are we able to reverse things? I have doubts. The Chinese intelligence community dedicated to economic security (industrial espionage, cybersecurity, etc.) represents 130,000 agents. For all European countries, it is a few thousand people. The gaps are still 1 to 10. There has been an awareness, that’s good, but there is still a lot of catching up to do.

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