Trade has no redemptive power

However, the post-war Western history of dealing with evil regimes betokens faith in the opposite theory.

Following Henry Kissinger’s lead, our politicians believe, or at least often say, that, by drawing evil regimes into an intricate system of trade relations, we could help them see the light. They’ll abandon their wicked ways and become less evil. In due course, they’ll be just like us, mutatis mutandis.

That belief, which can only charitably be called naïve, has been thoroughly debunked every time it has been put into practice. When we trade with totalitarian regimes, they don’t become less evil. They just become richer – and stronger.

Russia and China are prime examples of this. A massive transfer of Western investment and technology has built up those enfeebled, possibly moribund, regimes into the monsters they’ve become, capable of threatening Western interests all over the globe.

Without the West, neither Russia nor China would be able to present a credible threat to world peace, indeed to the survival of the world. Russia in particular totally depends on Western high-tech equipment and information technology to keep her economy in general, and war machine in particular, rolling along.

The most basic fact: Russia doesn’t make her own computers (nor anything else worth having, other than weapons). Wherever she gets them from, the technology is Western.

Even the Russian oil and gas industry wouldn’t have become the weaponised giant it is today without Western, especially American, equipment: drilling, exploration and production systems, pumps and compressors, pipe-layers, monitoring gear – just about everything.

Trade is supposed to be bilateral, and so it is. The West has been procuring cheap energy from Russia and cheap labour from China. The feeling was that we were getting a good deal.

We weren’t. On the one hand, we have built up the military muscle of the only two powers capable of blowing up the world or, more likely, using that ability as a blackmail weapon. On the other hand, we have made ourselves largely dependent on evil regimes for our supply of strategic goods and commodities, putting those regimes in a strong bargaining, or rather blackmailing, position.

Even the financial ledger doesn’t show a good balance. Yes, we’ve made and saved billions. But it will now take trillions to counteract the evil powers we’ve nourished to healthy maturity. And that’s even if no nuclear mushrooms get to adorn our skies.

None of this is to suggest that we should only trade with countries we like. However, our trade policy should be guided not only by this quarter’s profits but also by long-term geopolitical considerations.

Russia in particular can’t survive without Western technology – she never could. Hence a transfer of such technology should have been made contingent on Russia’s good behaviour.

Each new tranche should have come packaged with a demand for verifiable concessions, be that a reduction in armaments, withdrawal from occupied territories or a better record on basic liberties. That way trade would have had an outside chance of making Russia (and China) less dangerous.

As it is, no such conditions were ever imposed. No bestial act on the part of wicked regimes has ever been punished beyond a gentle rap on the wrist. The rape of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia and the Ukraine by Russia – or for that matter Tibet and the Uighurs by China – never slowed down Western trade with those regimes.

Even now, when the West is making a show of some kind of unity in the face of Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine, a billion euros flows into Putin’s war chest every day. Europe’s thirst for Russian energy makes his war self-financing.

At least this time around nobody even pretends that trading with that regime will make it less evil. It’s nothing but unadulterated greed, with a political dimension. After all, no current government will stay in power after the electorate spends a winter in unheated houses.

Yet the problem goes deeper than that. The West has lost the ability to think about anything in terms of evil. We are suffering from the typical intellectual malaise of philistines: certainty that everybody is, or desperately wants to be, like us. And when they demonstrably don’t act like us, there must be some hitch keeping them from the holy grail.

A man burns his wife alive not because he is evil, but because he suffers from ‘mental issues’. It’s his tough childhood, not evil nature, that makes another man drive a car through a crowd. And it’s not evil but a sense of historical injustice that makes Russia pounce on her neighbours like a rabid dog.

We have lost this basic concept because we have abandoned the only system of thought within which it makes sense, having replaced it with another within which nothing makes sense. That’s why we regularly fail exams on human nature and the nature of foreign regimes.

The price of failure is high, and it can climb much higher. The sky is the limit, with those mushrooms turning it into an inferno.

4 thoughts on “Trade has no redemptive power”

  1. Hello! The ‘western’ trade with the USSR in energy was started by German Willy Brandt in 1969, much to the consternation of the Americans.
    And I believe that it’s BP that has had to take the largest write-down concerning ‘investment’ in Russia.
    You blame the Americans for the “Arab Spring” even though the drought in Western Siberia in 2010 led Putin to forbid the export of wheat, thus preventing the Arab countries from filling their strategic wheat reserves.
    Whatever else of British culture you have absorbed Mr. Boot, a reflexive anti-americanism is apparent. Damn new money!

    1. Throughout the piece I talk about the West, not specifically America. The only place where I mentioned the Land of the Free by name is in the context of oil and gas equipment that Russia mostly gets from America. That’s simply a fact. As for America’s trade with, and transfer of technology to, the Soviet Union, I recommend the books on this subject by Prof. Anthony Sutton of the Hoover Institution. The books are long, so skip the text and go straight to the figures. But then he too must have suffered from reflexive anti-Americanism.

  2. Certainly there are no evil people. All people wish the best for others, it’s just that sometimes things go wrong. You write of China and Russia, so I am thinking of leaders such as Mao, Lenin, and Stalin. All three wanted to make the world a better place, and they knew that would require some sacrifices (not by themselves of course, but by others). That the sacrifices ended up being million of human lives was just bad luck, not evil.

    Even if we are to consider these as “bad men”, there are certainly extenuating circumstances. I think Lenin grew up in a council estate with a father who drank and beat him; Mao was made fun of in grade school for his clothing and haircut (his single mother could not afford a tailor or the best barber), and Stalin watched too many violent cartoons on television. Or was it that he consumed too many Cokes and Twinkies? All men are born pure of thought and deed – any deviation is the fault of society.

    As for the redemptive power of trade, saving 10 cents is all the incentive we need. I have commented before on the opening of diplomatic relations and trade with China. It should not have happened. While many claim China has free markets, this is far from the truth. Most of the labor force is still very near to slave labor. Hard to compete with that, at least on the bottom line. People are willing to pay extra for “dolphin safe” tuna, but not for a “person safe” iPhone.

  3. Same would go for Venezuela and most of the Middle East, who unlike Israel , were lucky to have oil 6 feet under their feet !

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