The weaponisation of necessities

The G7 and NATO face the new realities of world politics with energy and food potentially used as weapons to counteract western sanctions.

| 6 min read

The German hosts of the G7 this week sought to reassure and calm, calling for strong alliances for a sustainable planet, seeking “progress towards an equitable world” and telling us we are stronger together. Their well-meaning pleasantries were rudely interrupted by the Russian missile attack on a shopping centre in Kremenchuk in Ukraine.

The summit rushed out a statement condemning the violence as state terrorism and asserting there would be consequences to this war crime. The G7 reaffirmed its wish to assist Ukraine in every way short of committing western military forces directly to the conflict.

Green aspirations revisited

The summit wanted to reconfirm working together to “accelerate a clean and just transition” to climate neutrality”, although the language had to include a new preoccupation with energy security and some dilution of the strength of intentions for the near future.

The underlying preoccupation is with keeping European Union (EU) industry turning, despite possible shortages of Russian gas, and keeping the lights on by opening coal power stations for longer to deal with days when there is little wind to power the turbines. The pledge is now to “phase down coal” rather than to eliminate it soon. Decarbonisation sits alongside a twin aim of “universal access to affordable and sustainable energy”, which is going to take some delivering against the current background of disrupted markets, high prices and continued reliance for the majority of the world’s energy on fossil fuels.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has recently returned from a visit to Senegal and Niger in the Sahel region of Africa where he offered more EU food supplies as a counter to Russia’s reduction in Ukrainian wheat exports. Working with the EU, he has a wish to rebuild some European influence in the region, after a bad period for EU/Sahel relations.

The EU, through France, had a close relationship with Mali, where French troops assisted in trying to create stability for the government against terrorist forces within. When the military took control of the government in a coup in 2021 the relationship with France broke down and she withdrew her troops. The EU closed its Embassy, and Russia moved in as a more accommodating and permissive military partner to the new government.

This year, the new document makes clear Russia “poses the most significant and direct threat” to NATO security instead of the 2010 vision of Russia as a strategic partner.

The EU seeks to maintain better relations with Niger and Burkina Faso, but here too the bloc has some worries about the governments of these countries. The EU is talking of three new military or training missions in this part of Africa to sure up its position and to seek to contain terrorism and the mass movement of people northwards seeking entry to Europe as migrants.

As the EU requires progress to democracy and observance of the international rules-based order it does not always offer what an autocratic African government wants, whilst Russia may. Germany invited Senegal to the G7 as a symbol of the need for a Sahel partner, and also invited South Africa to develop a Just Energy Transition Partnership. Germany works with Sasol on new low-carbon fuels.

The recent pictures of migrants ripping down part of the high fence in Melilla, which separates Morocco from Spanish territory, has worried Spain and the wider EU. People died and some broke through into the Spanish enclave. There are rumours that Russia is out to destabilise this part of the world to encourage migration into the south of the EU, so Spain was keen to put the Sahel on the map and agenda for NATO in Madrid this week.

NATO reborn

This year, the new document makes clear Russia “poses the most significant and direct threat” to NATO security instead of the 2010 vision of Russia as a strategic partner. For the first time NATO talks of China, arguing that Beijing’s coercive policies “challenge our interests, security and values”. NATO is not just going through some modest mission creep but is being reborn for a new era of two main competitive power blocs led by China and the US. Korea, New Zealand, Japan and Australia attended the NATO summit as Asian partners, recognising the importance of the Pacific as well as the Atlantic to world security.

More NATO members will hit the 2% of GDP spending target for defence by 2024. NATO is aiming for 300,000 personnel at high readiness, with more forward deployments of battlegroups in Eastern Europe close to Russia. It is also offering cash for technology start-ups and wish to develop capabilities in artificial intelligence and cyberspace. Turkey removed its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance.

The evolution of the world’s democracies under the stewardship of US President Joe Biden is both a response to a more aggressive Russia and China and succour to those in the autocracies who believe in the conspiracy theory that NATO is a threat. The G7 and NATO meetings have been designed to show greater unity and resolve by the democracies in resisting aggression by the autocracies. They have confirmed that the democracies see themselves at odds with Russia and China and are aware that energy and food can be used as weapons by the autocracies.

Russia has been testing out reducing gas flows to Europe and is keen to keep Ukrainian supplies of grains off world markets. Its conduct is damaging to the world economy and particularly tough on low-income countries needing to import food and fuel. The political risks have just got larger, and the world is set on a course of greater division into competing blocs. There will be more rearmament and more tensions over border flare points.

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The weaponisation of necessities

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