Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Conflict in Russia - Natalie Sante

At what point does conflict become genocide? Genocide is a form of extreme ethnic cleansing that takes place for economic, political, and ethnic reasons. While the conflict between Russia and Georgia could not by any stretch of the imagination be termed genocide, many of the same factors that allow genocide to take place are also present in this situation. The most important similar factor is economics. This is the level at which the most powerful change can take place. The purpose of this blog is to discuss those similarities as well as possible courses of action. My aim in writing this article is to deepen and share my understanding. 

The signs of genocide are economic, political, and ethnic. These are the levels in their order of importance. Genocide is allowed to exist primarily because of economic reasons. Stopping genocide at the economic level is equivalent to pulling out a weed by the roots. Russia cannot be stopped at the economic level because it has an absolute advantage in oil supply. Russia is the major supplier of oil for all of Europe. And even though the United States does not rely on Russia specifically for oil, a trade embargo would have adverse affects on our already weak economy. Russia is aware of these factors and therefor is not concerned about the repercussions of their recent actions concerning Georgia.

Genocide is often fueled by the government for economic reasons. In Darfur, for example, the Chinese government sells weapons to the Darfur government to turn a profit. The Darfur government then supplies these weapons to insurgent groups that further their own political agendas. Ethnicity also plays an important role in genocide. When one hostile ethnic group gets support from the government, the result is often ethnic cleansing. The group with the backing preys upon other groups. which is what the government planned.

The structure of this conflict is a pyramid. The government supplying weapons is at its base, making a profit and staying out of the fray. The government buying the weapons and supplying them to a group is furthering their own plans. The group getting the weapons has leverage over other groups in the area. Someone always loses in the pyramid scenario, and in this case the loser is the ethnic group that gets attacked for economic, political, and ethnic reasons.

The primary mover is economics. The base of the pyramid – supply – would not exist if there was no economic incentive. It would logically follow that in order to stop genocide action must be taken to cut off its economic incentive. However, the situation in Russia is unique because they supply gas to all of Europe. They have what is called an absolute advantage over the rest of Europe. The economic incentive of genocide cannot be stopped without hurting the rest of Europe. The reason action has not been taken against Russia is because of the repercussions those actions would have on Europe. In order to stop genocide in Russia without cutting of oil to Europe, action must be taken on the political and ethnic platforms. 

Because America does not rely on Russia for oil, a trade embargo would be possible. However this course of action would be disastrous for several reasons. In reaction to a trade embargo, oil prices would go up. After all, where else are we going to buy it from? Even if we were to start developing alternative sources and drilling on our own reserves, we would still be dependent on outside suppliers for many years. The affect a trade embargo would have on our already weak economy would be detrimental. Russia knows these things; it is no coincidence that they have chosen this time to act.

Are these the early signs of genocide? What can we do in the face of worldwide injustice when our country is struggling within its own borders? Do we even have a world wide responsibility? We tried to remain isolationists in WWII. But our economies, and thus our fates, do not recognize borders. I’m not a single issue voter or a single issue person. I do not know the answer to the questions I have presented. I feel like raising awareness is a cheap cop out. What can I really do? I believe that someone who truly understands economics has the power to change the world. So, I’m working on developing my understanding and sharing it. Maybe someone else can take it from there.