War in Ukraine will leave NATO powers globally vulnerable
Sanaa is ramping up its attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the two states resort to hysterical levels of bombing in order to forestall the fall of Marib.
A coordinated series of regionally-based retaliations by Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and even Sanaa could impose unbearable economic costs on Europe and North America for the duration of any war in Ukraine.
As the world continues to hold its breath to see whether war between Ukraine and Russia will break out, NATO’s leadership seems increasingly determined to strike the match that will set such a disastrous conflagration in motion. Far from the north European plains, this week’s unprecedented strike on the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi by Yemen’s Ansar Allah movement further highlights the extreme fragility of the global economy. The outbreak of hostilities between Russia and its former Soviet republic would thus open a window of extreme vulnerability for the core capitalist countries that other resistant countries far beyond the Ukrainian theatre could exploit at the regional level to enormous effect.
With the northern hemisphere already experiencing a pandemic-induced energy crisis, a war between Kiev and Moscow would have particularly dire consequences for Europe. As illustrated by the unlikely-to-ever-be-operational Nordstream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, Moscow is among the continent’s top suppliers of energy and feed grains, both of which it would not even have to go to the trouble of embargoing if the US were to employ its much-vaunted “crushing sanctions”. Even the US will likely be thinking and rethinking the wisdom of cutting Russia off from the global financial system were it to go ahead with an invasion of Ukraine. One of the more unusual features of 2021 was that the US economy had been kept humming by historically abnormal imports of Russian oil. Not only would all-out economic warfare against Russia cripple an already crisis-ridden Europe, but Washington would be directly shooting itself in the foot in the midst of its own bitter winter of fuel shortages and a still surging death toll from Covid-19.
Yemen’s beleaguered Ansar Allah movement could conceivably sever maritime trade through the Straits of Mandab and by extension the Suez Canal in Egypt, forcing seaborne trade between Europe and Asia to circumnavigate Africa at enormous costs in both time and money. The interminable global supply-chain chaos has been due in part to the weeklong grounding of the Ever Given cargo ship in the Suez Canal in May of last year. A drawn-out interruption of Red Sea shipping would have far longer-lasting and painful repercussions.
Concurrently, Sanaa is ramping up its attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the two states resort to hysterical levels of bombing in order to forestall the fall of Marib and with it the deposed western-backed, UN-recognized government in exile. Regardless of whether this is done to take advantage of temporary western weakness at the global level, Ansar Allah has already demonstrated their ability to strike at the very nerve center of the world energy system. In November 2019 a daring barrage of drones and ballistic missiles targeting the al-Buqaiq and Khurais oil facilities temporarily wiped out half of the Saudi oil production. Sustained strikes on the airports of the UAE like those of the past week would disrupt one of the most internationally vital air routes as well as the region’s maritime arteries whose lifeblood could simultaneously be constricted.
Iran could likewise use its command of the world’s most strategic waterway, the Strait of Hormuz to constrict the flow of a fifth of the global energy imports from the Persian Gulf, dramatically exacerbating what will by this point be excruciating economic pain. Tehran would have to do very little, simply stopping or slowing down oil tankers in its territorial waters to carry out lengthy inspections, to have an international impact.
The onset of war, which would inevitably fix both Russian and Turkish attention to the north may also give Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran their long-awaited opportunity to seize the last holdouts against Damascus. If the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war is anything to go by, Turkey may withdraw their militant proxies in Idlib for use in the Ukrainian theatre, paving the way at last, for an end to the decade-long NATO-backed proxy war against Damascus and its allies.
Far to the east, China faces its own souring of relations with the west, with some observers speculating that a “great decoupling” of the two economic blocs from one another might already be underway. Were Beijing of a mind to wound its western counterparts, one of the more likely and effective avenues open to it would be to enact an export ban of rare earth minerals. Beijing continues to be the world’s primary supplier of these resources which are already essential in modern manufacturing and which will only continue to become more critical. A notable hallmark of the pandemic-induced crisis was the worldwide shortage of computer chips, many of which are made in Taiwan. A sustained and deliberate Chinese embargo of these vital minerals would cause incredibly deep economic disruptions that would wound American technology companies in particular, for years to come.
A full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine would be one of the most significant events thus far in the post-Cold War era. Due to the world economy’s continuing weakness, it could well be just the opening salvo of several moves by an increasingly coordinated coalition of independently minded states that might accelerate the degeneration of the globalized environment so many of us have grown up in. In the end, it may be that consideration that forces NATO to dial down the temperature and to begin seriously engaging with Moscow’s demands of security.